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Quick fixes seldom deliver - especially when it comes to the environment

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The art of the Slow Fix

by Carl Honoré

Carl Honoré worries that our addiction to superficial, short-term quick fixes is backfiring and presents ideas from his new book on tackling this.........

Reaching for the nearest just-add-water solution is taking a heavy toll

The other day a woman walked into a doctor’s surgery and issued a demand that summed up why the world is in such a mess:

“Look, I know I have a million things wrong with me, but I really don’t want a lecture,” she announced. “I just want a pill that will make it all go away.” 

The doctor, an old friend of mine, waited for the woman to laugh at her own joke. But she didn’t. Because it wasn’t a joke.

Of course, her craving for a quick fix is nothing new. Two thousand years ago, Plutarch denounced the army of quacks peddling miracle cures to the citizens of Ancient Rome. 

Today, however, the quick fix has become the default setting in every walk of life. Whenever a problem crops up in business, politics or society, in the environment, in our health or relationships, we reach for the nearest just-add-water solution. And it’s taking a heavy toll.

Why? Because quick fixes seldom deliver on their seductive promise of maximum return for minimum effort. When it comes to the really hard problems in the world – combatting poverty, tackling disease, turning around a failing company – there are no shortcuts or instant remedies. 

This is especially true when dealing with Mother Nature. Everywhere you look, quick fixes are failing to solve environmental problems - and often just making things worse.

One example: To clean up the oil spill caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, BP pumped more than seven million litres of a dispersant called Corexit into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Such chemicals help make the oil less visible and prevent it reaching the shore. 

A win-win fix, right? Wrong. Recent studies show that combining oil and Corexit yields a mixture that is up to 52 times more toxic than oil by itself. Which is seriously bad news for the marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.

The good news is there is an alternative to our culture of the quick fix. It’s called, not surprisingly, the Slow Fix.

You may have heard of the Slow Movement, which challenges the canard that faster is always better. You don’t have to ditch your career, toss the iPhone or join a commune to take part. Living “Slow” just means doing everything at the right speed — quickly, slowly or at whatever pace delivers the best results. 

When it comes to solving problems, a speedy solution can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered. There are times when you have to channel MacGyver, reach for the duct tape and cobble together whatever fix works right now. The Heimlich manoeuvre saves many lives.

But for more complex problems, the best remedy is always a Slow Fix. That means taking the time to: admit and learn from mistakes; work out the root causes of the problem; sweat the small stuff; think long-term and join the dots to build holistic solutions; seek ideas from everywhere; work with others and share the credit; build up expertise while remaining skeptical of experts; think alone and together; tap emotions; enlist an inspiring leader; consult and even recruit those closest to the problem; turn the search for a fix into a game; have fun, follow hunches, adapt, use trial and error, and embrace uncertainty.

This Slow Fix toolbox can be used to tackle any problem afflicting the environment. Just imagine if BP had sweated the small stuff by testing Corexit more thoroughly for side effects.

Yet forging smarter solutions for the environment will never be enough on its own. Each win for Mother Nature must be anchored in a deeper, seismic shift that puts nurturing the planet’s ecology at the core of everything we do. Imagine a world where there is no need to take the risks that BP took hunting for oil deep in the Gulf of Mexico. 

In other words, we need a revolution in the way we live, work, travel, consume – and think. Making that happen will be the biggest Slow Fix of all.

It will not be easy to achieve. In these times of economic hardship, many people are more worried about paying their bills than nurturing the environment. But there are reasons to be hopeful. A new generation is coming of age that sees the world through an environmental lens.

Companies and governments are under increasing pressure from the public to think and act green. Last November, for the first time ever, China made “ecological progress” a pillar of its national development plan.

Putting the environment at the top of the agenda must go hand in hand with beating our addiction to the quick fix. In every walk of life, the time has come to resist the siren call of half-baked solutions and short-term palliatives, of band-aid cures and pills that “make it all go away,” in order to start fixing things properly. 

The time has come to learn the art of the Slow Fix.

Carl Honoré is a Canadian journalist who wrote the internationally best-selling book In Praise of Slow: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed about the Slow Movement. 

His most recent book, The Slow Fix,  can be purchased here

Follow him @carlhonore

*Image courtesy of



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