Breaking addiction

Joern Fischer recently provided some excellent insights into the similarity between addictions and humanity knowingly destroying the future of our children (see Joern Fischer: Treating unsustainability: learning from addiction).

Anyone ever heard that overeating, too much sugar or alcohol are bad for your health? Especially for your health in a couple of years? Easy conclusion, right?

It is a habit. Habits are hard to retrain. It is a source of pleasure that is often very hard to replace with something else.

Some of my thoughts on this in relation to sustainability:

1. Despite interpreting our behavior as an addiction, we cannot give up talking about dangers and our responsibility to our next generation. One of the first rules of treating an addicted person is that the person must be 100% motivated to break the addiction. None of ”half-hearted“, ”maybe“, ”my-spouse-says“ will do. We need to own the problem and face reality.

2. Behavioral treatment is good. Replace addictive habits with good habits. Doing is more important than thinking. Decoupling qualitative growth from environmental and social destruction is a necessity.

3. Do it together in peer groups. Accept that not everything can be done at once. Accept that it takes time and relapses are normal.

4. Have a positive vision, make a plan with steps, and control whether you are on plan or not. Have others help you with this. (I see a big deficit in our treatment of sustainability in society and politics in this respect!)

5. We need to treat the addiction as a societal addiction. We cannot leave it to the enlightenment of each individual person. Warning labels help. Taxation and tariffs help even more. Prohibition and strict control can help (but sometimes taxation and partially enforced rules may be more effective than strict prohibition, because they allow more room and time for experimentation and finding new solutions).

What do you think?

PS: As a society

  • Are our plans detailed and validated enough to make success likely?
  • Do we talk enough about this positive vision for the future of our children?
  • Does the public understand it and sympathize with it?
  • Which scientists are providing new solutions?
  • Which scientists are monitoring progress and communicate failure?
  • Who is driving the prioritization? Are we willing to prioritize or trying to do both a new and old live at once, while facing limited resources?
  • Which politicians and executives take responsibility in case of failure?
  • Are we making this plan a priority, a necessity, or is it mostly some nicety we aim at once every other request has been satisfied?

PS2: An interesting, albeit closed access article (Elsevier, who else…) on this: “Overcoming societal addictions: What can we learn from individual therapies?” Robert Costanza et al. 2016, ,

(© Gregor Hagedorn 2017, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image © Jan Dudík: Public Domain dedication, publ. 2017-11-15, updated 2018-03-05)

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