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(originally published by Booz & Company)


A Return, Not to Normal, but to Reality

We need a big problem to solve right now. Climate change is like the next war — in fact, it could have all the economic impact of a war without being a war. It’s obvious what to do, the requirements are clear, and it couldn’t be more important. Let’s do it.

I miss Winston Churchill. I wish we had a Roosevelt. I would love it if Obama would stand up and make the kind of case those leaders might have made: “I’m very sorry, I’m going to hurt your feelings now. I’ve recognized the importance of this problem, and I’ve talked to [U.S. Energy Secretary] Steven Chu. As of today, we are not going to build another coal-fired plant ever again. All plans are on ice. Forget it. Moreover, for every existing coal plant, we’re going to put in either a natural gas or a nuclear plant. That’s a five-year program. In 2015, we’re turning off all the coal plants in America. Period.”

That would buy us 20 years of time in which to curb emissions more thoroughly. He might go on to say something like this: “Between now and 2030, we’re going to test all the other technologies: algae, solar, wind, whatever. Everybody gets a shot, and we’ll let the market figure it out. But we will invest and have tax policies that encourage this stuff to happen. At the end of that 20 years, we’re going to turn the switch again, and probably no more nukes. And guess what, by the way, Yucca Mountain is open for business [storing nuclear waste], and if the people of Nevada don’t like that, we’re going to send the troops down there and open it forcefully because this isn’t an opt-out kind of situation. That’s the plan. And we’re not voting on it.”

That’s the kind of leadership we need right now in many countries. I think people would love it.

S+B: Your primary audience has been technologists. What do you say to them about doing well while doing good in this environment?
The generation that’s coming up right now is so cool. I recently heard David Gergen from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government say, “The only way we can go wrong is to discourage these kids. They are set to go. They’re smart. They’re motivated. They understand the problems. They are engaged.”

I think that’s true. I believe the baby-boom generation has done a medium-to-poor job of recognizing the problems and dealing with them. But this generation is set. I’m totally encouraged about the idea of, “Here’s the baton, sorry about the mess, please do better,” and I think they will.

Author Profile:

  • Art Kleiner is the editor-in-chief of strategy+business and the author of The Age of Heretics (2nd ed., Jossey-Bass, 2008).
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