This SOS Memo is focused on the kind of global leadership that will likely be necessary to shepherd humanity to a sustainable future -- an opportunity with an expiration date that may have already passed.
As such, we must quickly figure out a way to tackle this global project with even more commitment than the Allies possessed in World War II.
The remainder of this memo is divided into five parts: Background, Leadership, Bill Gates, Joe Biden and Nelson Mandela.
Part One -- Relevant Background. More and more "big picture" scientists are beginning to express grave concerns regarding our future as a species. But I have four reasons to be more optimistic than they are.
In our book, Outcry, Chapter Four features eleven "big picture" scientists -- and the majority of them have concluded that the long-term prognosis for Homo sapiens survival as a species is not good. Here's what I had to say about their conclusions in our book:
While they may be right, I choose to believe that they may be wrong -- based on four variables with which many of them may not be familiar.
If all of the variables listed below end up working in favor of our survival, then I believe that we still have a decent chance.
1. The Protein Myth. I suspect that the majority of the scientists in Chapter 4 have little appreciation for what a global shift to plant-based eating by all humans would do for the health of our biosphere -- not to mention our physical health as individuals. It seems that many of the scientists in this chapter still believe the protein myth about our ill-perceived "need" to consume animal-based foods in order to be healthy.
2. Systemic Change. Well-intentioned actions by individuals may help buy us some time -- but those independent, uncoordinated actions won't save us. We must have widespread systemic change to the harmful, wasteful and grossly unsustainable system in which we are living. This variable could be a game changer, particularly with the assistance of the next variable.
3. Artificial Intelligence. I am encouraged by the potential of well-leveraged AI to assist us in developing sustainability solutions that far exceed our imaginations in 2021. This could be another game-changer in the way we go about solving extremely complex problems quickly and efficiently.
4. Superior Leadership. I believe that this is the most powerful variable of all. As a former business executive, process-improvement consultant and founder of an executive search firm, I applaud the famed total-quality guru, Dr. W. Edward Deming's conclusions about the three keys to solving our most daunting problems. As he told my former colleague Bill Conway long ago: "We must have three things, Bill: #1 Leadership, #2 Leadership and #3 Leadership!"
I choose to believe that during the next few decades, we will somehow learn to grasp the power of these four variables -- a move that will enable us to transform our civilization to the extent necessary to live in harmony with nature.
For more details on my reasons for more optimism than the eleven scientists, check out this SOS Memo that I wrote in July of 2020: Four reasons for hope.
Part Two -- LEADERSHIP desperately needed. In order to fully leverage those first three variables in a coordinated effort by the majority of developed countries -- the single most important variable is exceptional leadership.
To be sure, the entire global change process could be initiated by one, well-respected, highly competent and trustworthy leader. In the highly contentious world of today, the need for exceptionally talented leadership has never been more crucially pivotal.
In order to explain the kind of rare leadership that I am imagining, I want to speak candidly about three leaders. They have all been ultra-successful in their careers and they all enjoy near 100% name recognition throughout the world.
Let me begin by stating that I have much respect and admiration for all three of these exceptionally-accomplished leaders:
- I begin with Bill Gates, who released his third book just last month, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. A terrific contributor to our civilization, he is without a doubt, one of the most knowledgeable, generous, influential and caring people who ever lived.
- President Joe Biden is listed next because he has just been thrust into one of the most impossible situations in the history of humanity -- and so far he has met, or exceeded, expectations.
- Nelson Mandela, who passed away in 2013, left a legacy that most world leaders would envy. During his life, he consistently demonstrated a rare brand of leadership that cannot be learned at the university.
As for guiding humanity to a sustainable future, we begin with a situational assessment regarding the physical health of our planet. The chart below illustrates the dismal, almost hopeless, state of biodiversity that exists on Earth today.
14 major environmental-change categories expressed as a percentage change relative to the baseline given in the text.
Red indicates the percentage of the category that is damaged, lost, or otherwise affected, whereas blue indicates the percentage that is intact, remaining, or otherwise unaffected. Superscript numbers indicate the following references:
It looks like we're in big trouble in well over half of the 14 indicators. The scientists make it very clear that the problems illustrated below are all connected to human activity. We are not excelling in any of these 14 bio-health indicators.
In just the last two hundred years, we humans have run rough-shod over almost every square inch of land, sea, rivers, forests and streams.
The point the authors make in their "ghastly future" scientific paper, and in videos related to the paper, is that our problems go far beyond climate change -- and it simply may be too late for us to take the necessary steps to save ourselves.
We humans have literally disrupted all aspects of the biosphere that gives us life and it's going to take a lot more than lowering CO2 emissions to successfully reverse the negative trends that have been driven by our selfish, reckless, wasteful and destructive way of living.
In a word, for us to have a chance to survive indefinitely, we're going to have to make some very big changes in the way we are living in the developed world. And for that, it's going to take truly exceptional LEADERSHIP!
The remainder of this SOS Memo is devoted to the three well-known leaders mentioned earlier. The question is this: Will a highly respected leader, or group of leaders emerge -- and will they provide the guidance that will enable us get back to living in harmony with nature?
We face a gargantuan task, to be sure, considering the grim reality of the above chart with the fourteen categories of environmental decline. Now, let's talk about LEADERSHIP, beginning with the world-renown founder of Microsoft and the world's most-prominent philanthropist.
Part Three -- Bill Gates. I have not read any of his three books, but I have been following his work and watching his videos for many years. Without a doubt, he and the Gates Foundation have done many wonderful things for humanity throughout the world -- but I have seen no evidence of "big picture" thinking that offers me any hope that his work might actually lead to a sustainable future for all of us.
Stated a different way, I admire Mr. Gates enormously for many reasons -- but I now realize that he is simply not a "big picture" kind of guy when it comes to the sustainability of humanity.
He appears to be spending much of his time "in the weeds" with so many issues -- that he simply doesn't have the bandwidth or the time remaining to truly ponder the "big picture" problems, along with the all-important "big picture" solutions.
Although they run the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- the largest private foundation in the world and holding assets worth almost US$47 billion -- they still share the housework with their two daughters and son, Jennifer, Phoebe and Rory.
Washing the dishes together almost every night is a Gates tradition. Melinda came up with this idea to emphasise that this "unpaid" chore should not fall on women more than men. She believes that dishwashing makes their relationship as a couple and as a family stronger.
So what do people think about Bill's new book shown here? While the book has an overall rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars, it is the one-star ratings that reveal where the book comes up short on "big picture" practicality.
Here is one of those ratings. As of 3-21-21, over seven hundred people had found this one-star comment by a reader helpful:
Bill Gates is obviously a bright person, he built Microsoft and was a great innovator. But this book is disappointing. Gates has clearly not studied climate science, he just assumes the IPCC reports and models are correct. Then he accepts their health and economic projections, built with climate model output. He does no due diligence. If he ran his business like this, he would not have succeeded.
So after blindly accepting the consensus position on climate science, he then proceeds to tell us what we must do to combat his hypothesized scourge of climate change. Later he implores the governments of the world to unite in forcing us to do what he wants.
In my opinion, this is a very shallow look at a complex topic. It is more of a propaganda pamphlet than a serious book. Bill Gates should do his homework for his next book. Not recommended.
It is a disappointment...to report that this book turns out to be a little underwhelming. Gates - who must have easy access to the greatest experts the world can provide - is surprisingly behind the curve on the geeky parts, and he's worse at interpreting the deeper and more critical aspects of the global warming dilemma.
One more thing about Mr. Gates. It is common knowledge that he is a big supporter of the new analogue meat products -- apparently due to the heavy environmental toll that is inflicted by the huge global industry that makes vast quantities of animal-based foods for human consumption.
But he seems to be unaware of the fact that those science project plant foods are not the kind of whole, plant-based foods that promote health and reverse chronic disease in humans.
As for the impact on the environment and climate change, it seems almost self-evident that the consumption of whole, plant-based foods (that require practically zero processing) would be far more environmentally-friendly than the myriad of energy-sapping, complex processes involved with the production, packaging, storage and distribution of meat analogues.
Let's get real and face the facts. We're not just trying to help people eat a little better. For God's sake, we are trying to prevent Homo sapiens from going extinct.
And there's no guarantee that it is even possible. Certainly, a casual stance on one of the major drivers of climate change and poor human health is a bridge too far.
To be sure, we must have fully-committed leadership who embrace the science, walk the walk, and then develop "big picture" lifestyle plans for humans that will give us the best possible chance of survival as a species.
Meanwhile, let's check out the next leader.
Part Four -- President Joe Biden. As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, this man has inherited one of the greatest challenges in the history of humankind.
And, I believe that he has measured up to, or exceeded, expectations. The latest attaboy
came from Frank Bruni in the New York Times in his 3-19-21 opinion column.
The Biden presidency will be transformational to the extent that it's unlike any presidency that anyone would have predicted for Biden. It'll be transformational to the degree that he approaches it in an un-Biden-like fashion - with his head down, his comments proscribed and his focus precise.
That's how he beat a crowded and talented field of contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, a steady-does-it, more-tortoise-than-hare victory made possible by a caliber of patience and kind of calm that had never been his trademarks.