Lessons from nature


What can we learn from addiction?

We wake up in the morning, brush out teeth, eat a tasty bowl of cereal, get in our car and drive to work. We’re all right yeah? Nothing wrong, just another day. But back up a little.

We slept in a bed made of a multitude of man-made materials, brushed our teeth with a plastic toothbrush, used a ceramic bowl fired at super high temperatures to eat our cereal from....and then got into our car fuelled up with petrol. Everything still all right yeah?

It is just an ordinary day for the addict. The extraordinary, the thing you’d never do in a million years becomes the normal accepted behaviour. Habbitualised to a pattern of behaviour so in grained that we do not even notice anymore. We are not even at the pre-contemplation stage.

If you have read this far then you are doing well. What is going on? If you were an acknowledged addiction you’d be right here with me. Yes, you’d recognise the pre-contemplation stage of an addict; not yet acknowledging that there is a behaviour that needs to be changed. Why?

We are addicted to oil and most of us don’t even know it. Everything we do, eat and even wear relies on fossil fuels. Sure we know too much carbon from burning fossil fuels causes climate change, and we want to use a bit less. Like saying to the alcoholic that it’s OK to drink just a little.

The work of James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente at the University of Rhode Island could help us. They observed and studied how smokers were able to give up their habits or addiction. They found that following from the pre-contemplation stage is the contemplation stage; acknowledging the problem but not yet ready to make a change. Then comes preparation, getting ready to take the steps necessary to change. And now comes action, making the change happen. But it does not stop there, we need to maintain our new behaviour to stop from going into relapse.

Is this something environmental educators could learn from? The Transition Towns movement certainly thinks so. They believe that models like this can help steer us away from our addiction to fossil fuels, transitioning to a better and healthier society. There a thousands of environmental programmes exhorting us to take action for the planet. How many address the core addiction at the centre of the need to take action? Consider the pros and cons of change in a way that challenges deeply held assumptions? Recognise that our addictions are deeply help within us?

We resist change because western societies live comfortable lives, blind to the addiction upon which they are based. Until we start to peel away the layers of our addiction, most education programmes will continue to fail.

Author: Richard Date: 04.07.2013