Remember the “Crying Indian” Anti-Litter Ads From the 70s? You’ll Cry More at Our Pollution Levels Today (Inc.)

Remember the Single-Tear Anti-Litter Ads From the 70s? You’ll Cry Too at Our Pollution Levels Today
The chart below puts Keep America Beautiful’s “Crying Indian” public service announcement in today’s deplorable context
A headline in The Guardian two days ago, “$180bn investment in plastic factories feeds global packaging binge” led me to some statistics about plastic production.

Plastic Production Then

The chart I saw, reproduced below, showed dramatic increase around 1970. Normally I wouldn’t think much of that date, but it reminded me of the so-called “crying Indian ads,”–the Keep America Beautiful public service announcements from my childhood.
I hadn’t thought of them in decades. From Wikipedia,

In 1971, a new campaign was launched on Earth Day with the theme, “People Start Pollution. People can stop it.” In what became known as the “Crying Indian ad”, the television ad … portrayed a Native American man devastated to see the destruction of the earth’s natural beauty caused by the thoughtless pollution and litter of a modern society.

Wikipedia showed this still:

Here is one version of the public service announcement. If you’re my age, it brings back memories.

Here is a second version:

I asked a millennial about them, figuring she wouldn’t know about a relic from over a generation before hers. On the contrary, she knew it and found it meaningful.
In the early 70s many Americans felt that the amount we polluted and paved over the land and water was tearful.
They acted on it. Our behavior today is the result of their actions.

Plastic Production Today

Their actions didn’t work. We pollute astronomically more today.
Here is a chart of global plastic production since 1950 (source), marking the Keep America Beautiful campaign:

An amount we considered it a crying shame barely registers on today’s scale.
Since 91% of plastic isn’t recycled, what we produce ends up in landfills, on the land, and in the water.
Whatever we, as a culture and species, think we’re doing to decrease waste and pollution, our actions are in a whole other world, moving in the opposite direction.

Personal Responsibility and Accountability Matter

Leadership, especially business leadership, seems critical to reversing our effects on the environment. It’s why I created the Leadership and the Environment podcast, which I hope you’ll visit and listen to, because in business we lead for

  • Measurable results
  • Behavioral change

Awareness is nice, but you can’t pay your rent with it. Nor does the environment care about it. Leadership and the Environment features leaders taking on personal challenges to live by their environmental values, then sharing their experiences, failures, and triumphs.
Reversing pollution means changing behavior. It means not being content with awareness or merely tugging on heartstrings without following up with action. Most guests on the podcast remark that acting on their values improved their lives. They wish they’d acted earlier. The fears that limited them disintegrated when they acted.
We Inc. writers and readers–a business community that cares about leadership enough to devote itself to it–are the most skilled in what will make a difference.
We have to hold ourselves accountable and take responsibility to act and lead others.
Can we reverse that plastic production while still developing as a society? I believe so.

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