Join the Winners

Winners know that sustainability is growing: a massive, sweeping transition involving $$ trillions in global investment. Let’s join in. Everyone can win on this.

When you live with a winner — an athlete, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, a successful entrepreneur or investor — you become accustomed to their scary habits. They’re always in training, never lazy. Above all, winners have an appetite for data points. To a winner, the world is made up of an infinite number of dimensions, prices, calories, rates, velocities, and so on. Champions are obsessed by these variables. They are fascinated by metrics and results most relevant to their own performance. Always alert to them; Instinctively relying on facts, not on wishful thinking. Always watching for smart opportunities and easy ways to score.

Winners are rare by definition, of course. They are the innovators, the trend-setters, the game-changers. Winners are ahead of the crowd. For them, mere signals add up to a coherent, compelling direction — a clear way to go. Winners see openings before the rest of us do.

Photo: Simon Bruty, Sports Illustrated. SI cover shoot outtake with Rio 2016 Olympics champs Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, and Simone Biles.

A new book by two Oxford professors, recommended by Thomas Friedman, offers a startling comparison of Renaissance people to us, and charts the common denominators among the winners in both eras.

“The stakes could not be higher. We each have the perilous fortune to have been born into a historic moment — a decisive moment — when events and choices in our own lifetime will dictate the circumstances of many, many lifetimes to come. Yes, it is the conceit of each generation to think so, but this time it’s true.” (Age of Discovery)

What defines this moment for us, in 2016?

“We are the first generations of the urban epoch. Carbon pollution has pushed atmospheric greenhouse gases today to concentrations not seen since Neolithic days; 14 of the 15 hottest years have happened in the 21stcentury. For the first time ever, the number of poor people in the world has plummeted… and the overall population has swelled.” (ditto)

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which is responsible for temperature assessments, reveals that July was the hottest month ever recorded. NOAA concurs. It’s a new data point, with multiple repercussions. Example: increased demand for air conditioning hits international commodities markets. “The region where natural-gas stocks fell most has felt like an oven for the past month… and the use of air conditioning is poised to increase dramatically over the next several decades,” Financial Times reports.

What does summer look like 40 years from now, for our grandchildren and their families? Or at the beginning of the next century? You really don’t want to know. But if you do, consult the projections by the World Climate Research Programme.

“Statistics, like all these breaking records, tell us that real change is already happening, and ultimately, it poses serious risks to us and our descendants,” says Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT. “I wonder how many more records we have to break before we all realize how important it is to act.”

Why aren’t we all, every one of us, hair-on-fire alarmed and demanding sweeping public action on this? You tell me. Maybe people don’t want to be depressed. Maybe they’re too busy to get involved, or too stressed out by various other more immediate problems.

But winners don’t dwell on losers. They are allergic to complacency. Winners are already all over this: convinced, involved, transitioning. Finding solutions and making sure they happen.

The winners are making their moves: investing in clean energy, revising business models, disrupting conventional utilities, planning on emissions goals, recalibrating climate-related risk analyses, seizing market incentives for renewable energy, training themselves for new jobs, and admiring wind turbines ready on the horizon­.

And so the record-breaking summer of 2016 steams, burns, scorches, floods, and buzzes into fall.

In Boston, where I live, a team of university Ph.Ds has produced a report, Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Projections, which is already galvanizing the city’s resiliency planning and action. Areas of our region are in severe drought, with serious repercussions for farmers and, increasingly, for everyone else. In Concord, Massachusetts, a leafy town that is famous for literary residents, and colonial architecture — and not for violent wind events — a rare night-time tornado raced through a half-mile of property on Monday, the 100-mph winds snapping stately old trees. Was the tornado caused by global warming? Did the drought situation have something to do with it? It’s complicated, experts will tell you, but the short answer is Yes. Extremely high winds are a common exacerbation of the weather due to climate change. And, while these winds were strong enough to cause significant damage on their own, a National Weather Service official said, the state’s prolonged drought likely contributed to the damage. “What made it harder this time is that the ground was so dry. Usually if the ground is moist, it helps hold the trees in.”

It’s all connected.

We are more than a collection of buildings, expressways, and tankers. We are human beings who have arrived at a decisive moment. Collectively, we are on the brink of determining our fate, as best we can — for ourselves, for our communities, and for those who cannot do much to help. The decisions we make now will affect the generations to come. So we must behave like winners and seize on solutions: short-term and long-term; local and global. All of it.

At the end of the day, no amount of blaming or stalling will solve this. We are responsible. We have cooked up this amazing, fascinating hot mess, and it’s up to us to heave ourselves out of it.

Regardless of political persuasion or cultural preference, it just makes sense to get on board for this inevitable positive change. Let’s not waste any more time dithering. The winners are already out in front, forming powerful alliances, announcing multi-billion dollar breakthrough energy projects, and disrupting useless conventions such as demanding long-term finance perspectives instead of the usual quarterly-earnings grabs. Follow them, vote for them, support their initiatives, spread the news about them, become part of their efforts.

The winners know that sustainability is growing, from a small band of activists to a massive, sweeping transition that’s already involving trillions in global investment. Let’s join in. We can all be winners on this.

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Originally published at on August 26, 2016.