The Laziness Epidemic

Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.

May 14, 2021


  Along with COVID-19, there seems to be an epidemic of laziness, leading to enormous harm to the planet.


  In spite of numerous warnings about air pollution and global warming, the streets are still full of motor vehicles. Someone should interview these drivers, ask them why they are driving, and teach them how to accomplish their goals without driving. For example, Google Maps is an application that will show you how to get to your destination by walking, bicycling, public transit, or, if necessary, driving. Part of the problem is defective thinking. Many people think that driving gets them where they want to go faster. But time spent holding a steering wheel is mostly wasted time, whereas time spent bicycling keeps you physically fit, and time spent using public transit can be used to read, relax, socialize, or even play with your cell phone. So the trip actually takes zero (wasted) time! I always carry a book with me, so I don’t care if I have to wait for a bus or the dentist.


  I often see people carrying bicycles on the top or back of their car. Don’t they know that bicycles are for riding?


  Mountain biking is another mystery. Mountain bikers claim to be interested in nature, and claim to be able to see more of it than a hiker. But the human brain can only pay attention to one thing at a time, and as any bicyclist knows, on an irregular path like a hiking trail, you have to give 100% of your attention to the trail in front of your front tire, or you will crash! So they get to pass by more of nature, but aren’t able to experience much of it. It’s similar to the so-called “scenic highway”: how much of the terrain do you actually experience, while whizzing by in a car? Do this experiment: stop the car, get out, and hike away from the road. Now do you experience what the area is really like? And what if you camped there overnight, listening to the sounds of nature?


  I’ve been doing habitat restoration (removing invasive non-native plants) in local parks. I have to climb up a steep hill to get to the work site. In the morning, I notice that I can just tell my legs what to do, and they have to obey. They have no choice. But toward the end of the day, when I feel exhausted, they exercise their “veto” power, and say “Okay, Mike, enough’s enough; it’s time to go home”. If I work near a trail, I get many “Thank you”s for my work from people who understand what I’m doing. But when I say “Would you like to help?” they almost always say “No, thanks”. I understand somewhat. People who are in school are too busy. People who are working are too busy. And people who are retired are too tired! But who is going to take care of our scanty remaining wildlife habitat? I think that all K-12 and college students should be required to do some of this very educational and necessary work.


  Laziness isn’t just physical. The body tells us when we get physically tired, but what about mental exertion? Can the brain get mentally exhausted? How can we tell? I’m not aware of any obvious sign of mental exhaustion, though there must be a limit. Researchers say that a large proportion of us never read another book after we graduate: Whenever I get on a bus or train, I see almost everyone staring at their cell phone. Since I always carry a book, sometimes for fun I show it to someone and say “See this? These are called ‘books’. This is what people used to read in the Old Days”. Then they sometimes say, “Oh, yes, I have a book in here”. But they aren’t reading it.


  Land managers are very frustrating. The parks that they manage are mostly natural. That is called “wildlife habitat”. And their primary mission is to preserve that land as functional habitat. But do they learn their job by studying conservation biology? It certainly doesn’t appear that they do! And their biologists seem to be more concerned with politics (e.g. recreation and fire prevention) than conservation. My local park clear-cut native plants, with the excuse that “they will grow back”. Yes, but will the animals patiently wait for that to happen?


  The latest trend seems to be non-response. I email people, such as land managers or politicians (or leave telephone messages) and get no response. Is anybody home? Are they too embarrassed to admit what they don’t know or aren’t doing?


  I was living in the Synanon community in 1974 when it was decided that everyone would be required to do “aerobics”, as defined by Air Force doctor Kenneth Cooper. We started by running in place for 20 minutes, three times per week. When that was found to be too risky, we switched to step-ups, using something like a stair step. After many years, many people had added additional exercise, such as running or swimming, so it was decided that people could use whatever exercise they preferred, provided that it raised their heart rate a certain amount. I would swim a half mile in the summer, and hike in the winter. Although Synanon no longer exists, the exercise proved so beneficial that I have continued it to this day. I feel that I owe my good health to Synanon and regular aerobic exercise. To save time, I bring along a book and read while I hike.


  Lately I have been trying to figure out how to keep my house cool in the summer. It’s easy to heat, but difficult to cool, especially when I don’t want to use energy, such as in air conditioning. I painted my house white, put white shingles on the roof, and put several layers of fiberglass insulation in the attic. But it still wasn’t enough during the hottest days of the summer. However, when I looked for a book or expert to tell me the various options and the value of each, I found nothing! Isn’t it obvious that passive cooling will become necessary as we heat up the Earth???


  Is the harm that we are doing to the planet all due to laziness? I think that a good case could be made that it is.