How do Leaders address the Earth on fire?
Which should we cover first, the good news or the bad news?
The good news: the future is bright. The bad news: the present is not. Between human and civil rights issues, recovering from a pandemic, and a deteriorating planet, the clock looks like it is running out on us. Whether we recognize it or not, humans are at a critical point in their existence: adaptation or extinction.
With the polar ice caps melting, plastic filling our rising sea waters, level five hurricanes flooding our coastal cities (1), armies of violent tornadoes (2), and tsunamis crushing coastlines on a more regular basis (3), the natural world around us is in constant chaos. Global weirding continues to stress the world with extreme weather conditions, causing forest fires, droughts, heat spells (global warming), cold spells (global cooling), and pushing many species toward mass extinction.(4) We have seen a two-thirds decline in biodiversity in less than half a century due to environmental destruction.
This has contributed to the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as Ebola and Covid-19.(5) Environmental destruction is exacerbated by the exponentially expanding population, as humans are moving into more congested urban spaces, yet at the same time now inhabit over three-fourths of the available land on Earth. Deserts are growing while farmland and forest are shrink- ing as our landscape continues to change from the environmental stress. Unsustainable farming practices are creating massive soil erosion and potentially the complete loss of usable soil in less than 60 years.(6) We’ve entered the Anthropocene, a new geologic time period, because of how drastically humans have altered our atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, bio-spheric and other Earth systems.(7) Is extinction evident?
The world is also in a state of political unrest. Confidence in our political leaders is at an all-time low. Truth has become optional. The United States Capitol was taken over by insurgents for the first time since 1814.(8) Politics has been polarized by social media and news feeds anchor people into opposing opinions, fur- ther dividing society. Special interest groups influence both polit- ical parties and wreak havoc on democracy. Our interconnected networks have allowed hackers to expose the world’s most secure information. The world is filled with wicked problems. Wicked problems are social or cultural problems that on the face appear nearly impossible to solve because, among other things, the overwhelming number of opinions or systems that are interwoven within them.(9)
The nuclear arms race is ongoing, as new powers like North Korea and Iran threaten the global power structure. The fight to end racial injustice and combat police brutality has gripped the United States and the world at large. Millennials have experienced two black swan economic crises as they come into the workforce, creating huge unemployment and underemployment for youth globally. We’re in a defining moment of human existence, and we are as ill-prepared for it as we were for the economically devastating coronavirus pandemic. To some this will sound alarmist, but to others exponential theory will be a way to better explain the need for systemic change.
The universe is demanding and forcing change. However, humans are creatures resistant to change that anchor into bad routines and habits. For example, our body communicates to us, but we ignore it. When we eat the wrong things, our body tell us by giving us heartburn, gaining weight, and other skin and organ ailments. This is our body demanding dietary change. Medical Doctors can diagnose these ailments, but if the patient does not change their habits, cancer, heart attacks, and other more serious illnesses await. The world is crying out for change in much of the same way. However, things have gotten so dire we must ask ourselves, does the world have heartburn or are we having a heart attack?
Consider the people we know that struggle with abusive relationships, addiction, or criminal activity. As an outsider we can see the obvious need to change, but often those suffering are blinded by the norm of their habits or the group they identify and belong to. It’s obvious when we criticize others behavior, yet we are not always so clear recognizing our own contribution to a system that is not working for all of us. Breaking this cycle, becoming more self-aware, and stepping outside of our comfort zones will be critical to dismantle the many systemic bad habits we fight. Nothing in the exponential theory happens inside our comfort zone and the universe continues to show the sickness. The good thing is, we have the cure, we just need to apply it.
With digitization — the process of using bits and bytes, or computers to replace the world around us — humans have unlocked exponential growth and our ability to create massive change. Technology is not the answer to all our problems, yet it provides a way to accelerate the response to every problem.
Exponential growth is the hockey stick growth that every com- pany dreams about. Exponential is a rate of change that starts slow, but then skyrockets to infinity and beyond. Change used to be the only constant, but now even change itself is accelerating. Through thinking big, digitization, and accelerating change, the exponential theory proves that no problem will be too big to be solved — be it the climate, racial divides, social/political imbalances, economic crises, or access to healthcare — although they currently appear to be impossible or unfixable. As science teaches us, nothing is per- manent, we are accelerating towards potential solutions to nearly every plaguing problem on this planet. The world is in a constant flux of change.
Leaders need to focus on their people, the planet, and purpose over profit. This is a call for conscious capitalism. Capitalism should not be in question, though exponential theory will articulate the need for it to be more conscious. There is no time but the present to employ exponential theory to create the needed change to survive and hopefully thrive with a new more compassionate and creative leader that leans into the current challenges.
- National Centers for Environmental Information, “Link Between Earth’s Heat and Hurricane’s Strength Grows,” (May 19, 2020) https:// www.ncei.noaa.gov/news/link-between-heat-and-hurricanes
2. Insurance Information Institute, “Facts + Statistics: Tornadoes and Thunderstorms,” (2021) https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statis- tics-tornadoes-and-thunderstorms
3. International Tsunami Information Center “Frequently Asked Questions,” (2021) http://itic.ioc-unesco.org/index.php?option=com_con- tent&view=article&id=1133&Itemid=2155
4. Thomas Friedman, “Global Weirding is here,” New York Times (February 17, 2010) https://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/17/opinion/ 17friedman.html
5. World Health Organization, “Zoonoses: Emerging Zoonoses,” (2021) https://www.who.int/zoonoses/emerging_zoonoses/en/
6. “The Need to Grow” directed by Rosario Dawson (2018) Film. https://grow.foodrevolution.org
7. P.J. Crutzen “Geology of mankind” Nature Vol 415, p. 23–23 (2002) https://www.nature.com/articles/415023a
8. Achenbach, Joel, “British Forces Burned the US Capitol in 1814,” The Washington Post (January 6, 2021) https://www.washingtonpost.com/ history/2021/01/06/british-burned-capitol-1814/
9. Jon Kolker, “Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving.” (Austin Center for Design, 2012)