Protecting the Environment by Breaking Bad Habits

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We human beings are creatures of habit. We get so used to doing things a certain way that it becomes nearly impossible to force ourselves to change our ways. For example, a lot of us know we are wasting a ton of money by continuing to buy single-use alkaline batteries. Yet we keep buying them.

There are other habits far more consequential than the batteries we buy. But if protecting the environment is something that we are serious about, looking at how we can change our bad habits seems like a no-brainer. A lot of what we do to harm the environment is habitual. We do it because we have always done things that way. Yet if we can change our habits, we can make a real difference.

Habits Become Ingrained

Numerous scientific studies over the years have sought to explain how behaviors become habits. According to at least one MIT researcher, behaviors become ingrained habits because they help the brain work more efficiently. Our brains look for the easiest and most efficient ways to do things. Habits do not require thought. Thus, they allow increased brain efficiency.

Another study out of Duke University looked at how habits are formed in laboratory mice. To make a long story short, they actually observed physical changes in brain pathways as lab mice developed habitual behaviors. That’s remarkable.

The idea that our brains change in response to habitual behavior explains why habits are so hard to break. Preventing the brain from thinking in a way that it has been self-programmed to think requires a lot of work. And according to that MIT research, the brain would rather be more efficient and work less. It is a lot harder to break habits than to form them. That much we know.

Habits That Don’t Make Sense

Getting back to the topic of protecting the environment, a lot of the habitual things we do to harm it do not even make sense. The alkaline battery discussion is a perfect example. It makes no sense to keep using alkaline batteries even if you take the environmental protection issue out of the equation. For instance, just consider the cost.

Pale Blue Earth is a Utah company that specializes in USB rechargeable batteries built on lithium-ion technology. They say one of their batteries can be charged a thousand times or more. A single-use alkaline battery cannot be recharged safely. You throw it away at full discharge.

At the register, lithium-ion batteries can cost four times as much as alkaline disposables. You only need to recharge a lithium-ion battery four times to break even. The remaining 996 charges are essentially free. You might pay four times as much at the register, but lithium-ion batteries save a tremendous amount of money beginning with the fifth charge. You spend a lot less in the long run.

The Money-Saving Habit

The thing about single-use alkaline batteries is that they play into the money-saving habit we are all prone to. Most of us habitually do things intended to reduce the amount of money we spend. We see dollar signs at the cash register and react accordingly. So of course, cheaper alkaline batteries trigger that cost-saving habit. How do we change that habit? By changing the way that we think.

Thinking long-term makes it clear that alkaline batteries actually cost more. It is that sort of thinking we need to adopt in order to protect the environment. We need to think long term rather than short. We need to think about the environmental savings years from now as opposed to what we spend on protection efforts today.

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