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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Who Leads the Planet?

Tim Nixon

23 Apr 2018

Who are the people who provide vital services for leading our planet, either towards greater equilibrium and sustainability, or towards ecosystem collapse?  If you think of the planet as being run by a public-private sector partnership, then there are five key branches within our partnership which determine the outcome for the Earth.

First, in the trenches, we have the “Detection Team”.  The function of this hardworking but underpaid group is to determine status.  Are the pipes leaking?  Check.  Is the ocean rising?  Check.  Is the planet warming or cooling?  Warming, Check.  Are key species and ecosystems disappearing?  Mass extinction.  Check.   This is about science, and preserving scientific integrity and channels of authoritative communication to the rest of the organization.  Crucial for this unit to operate is that there is no interference from the rest of the organization on the facts reported, and that this team has the tools necessary to detect new trends in the first place.

Next we have the “Triage Team”.  We are now moving up the food chain into middle management, probably composed of many who have been promoted from the layer below.  This team is responsible for looking at the results from the Detection Team.  If they don’t hear about it from the Detection Team, the problem doesn’t exist.  The primary output from this team is a list of real problems that need to be addressed, in rough order of increasing or decreasing severity.  Also key for this team to function is that there is no interference from other non-science based parts of our organization, especially the C-suite, where many of these middle managers may aspire to one day climb.

Next we arrive at the C-Suite or “Solutions Team”.  Relying on input from below, this team determines who or what can solve for the problems already detected and prioritized, and then prescribes a remedy.  In theory, this team is guided by the scientific input from its organization, but also balances financial, moral and physical constraints.  Astoundingly, this team has the power to decide things like, “that species is worth saving” or “we can’t grow our economy and protect that ecosystem” or “that’s fake science, go back to the drawing board”.   And once decisions are made, whether they be new policy, investment, military action, regulation, deregulation, or or even social media campaigns to discredit or empower, the Action Team takes over.

The Action Team implements.  Need to empower a new clean-energy industry with subsidies to create jobs and reduce environmental risk?  Check.  Need to drain the marsh to make way for a new mega-mall?  Check.  Need to relocate an ethnic minority to access valuable natural resources?  Check.  This team pulls the levers of physical, financial and moral power as directed by the Solutions Team and informed by the Triage and Detection Teams.

So what are the checks and balances on this process?  Who intervenes when conclusions lack moral, scientific and financial rigor?

Look in the mirror.  Whether you are a scientist, a voter, a teacher, a regulator, a parent or an executive leader, this is your Earth Team.  There are helpful voices already there to be sure.  The United Nations, impact investors, heroic demonstrators, and visionary corporate and government leaders are all emerging.  We’ve seen important concrete examples of leadership which reduce the risk to our ozone layer or attempt to mitigate the slow-motion car-wreck which is climate change.  But in the end, it’s going to be you.  And as the planet strains under the yoke of short-termism, the Earth Team needs you today.

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