Pollution, Native Americans, Priorities, and the Opposite of Progress

August 14, 2017 by Joshua
in Nature, Visualization

Working on leadership and the environment, I’ve thought of people trying to reduce pollution. People my age and old will remember the public service announcements of the 70s with the Native American amid scenes of garbage and pollution, a tear rolling down his face at the tragedy of what we’ve done to the land, blithely ignorant of it.

Here are two versions:


The Opposite of Progress

These announcements came out in 1971, nearly half a century ago. I bet we pollute on scales few dreamed of then. At least then we drank water from faucets where it was clean. Now we use multiple bottles per day, even when we can get cleaner, cheaper water from the tap. Last I heard, 9% of plastic bottles are recycled, so all those unnecessary bottles become garbage.

I bet humanity has polluted more since those ads than in the 300,000 years of homo sapiens existence prior.

People say they care, but not enough to resist driving, flying, not using air conditioners, and having lots of children.


When I was a kid, people called the announcements the “Crying Indian” ads.

I believe that words are important. Today, I think more people would protest calling the man “Indian” than the litter and pollution. I don’t begrudge people concerning themselves with names we call people, but not at the expense of working on pollution.

If I mention how long the announcement ran, at one minute, and compared it to the length of today’s ads, often 15 seconds or less, I bet you’d feel more motivated to talk to people about how long ads were than about how to reduce pollution.


The announcement says, “People start pollution. People can stop it.” I agree with the first statement. I’m not sure if my observation agrees with the second.

Can people stop pollution? It seems like some can sometimes, but to stop pollution in general, I don’t see evidence of it. I’m working toward it. I think we can lower pollution in some areas, but as far as I can tell, we’ve increased pollution nearly monotonically since we started.

How long have you gone without polluting? Hmm… I never thought of it that way. I wonder how many Americans, for example, have gone, say, 24 hours without polluting? Could you do it?

I don’t think I’ve done it. I guess I’d have to unplug my fridge, not use my phone or computer, and so on for a day. I don’t know if I’d count living in a building.

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