3 Options When Your Ship Is Sinking

Picture this. 190 people are on a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean. The bilge pump is broken. The captain announces that they are in mortal danger so all passengers – businessmen, politicians, scientists, academics, and others – agree to pitch in and help to bail the ship. They take a poll of how much each person is able to do and are excited to find that they can collectively bail 100 gallons of water a minute. Unfortunately, the boat is taking on 200 gallons a minute, so the boat will sink unless they double their efforts. What should they do? You have three 3 options when your ship is sinking.

Option 1. Drown
This is not an appealing option. Even if they are not responsible for whatever created the hole in the ship in the first place, passengers drowning guilt-free is still a grim prospect.

Option 2: Promise to bail faster, but then break the promise … and drown
There are several reasons they might try to game the system. There might be no immediate repercussions for not following through on their pledges. Or they may think that they can bail faster but then discover that they can’t if they keep using old techniques. Or they may doubt the math behind the captain’s computer simulations and calculation of the rate at which the boat is sinking. Or they just lie to look good. The result? They all drown, including the simulation deniers. That’s not a good ending to this story, either.

Option 3: Use ingenuity to bail faster and plug the hole 
People are smart. The passengers realize that best efforts are not good enough. They have a MacGyver moment and innovate their way out of their plight. They discover ways to bail faster, to prevent the hole in the hull from getting larger, and to patch the gash permanently. The story ends happily.

The challenge was not that they did not know what had to be done or that they did not have the resources to do it. What had been missing was their collective sense of urgency and will to solve a very difficult situation. To paraphrase a Samuel Johnson quotation, “Nothing focuses the mind so wonderfully as the prospect of hanging in a fortnight.” It is amazing how creative and innovative people can be when the risk of impending failure is not acceptable.

It’s time that 190 nations focused their minds, chose Option 3, and fixed climate destabilization on our good ship Earth. Failure is not an option.



Backup slides on the climate destabilization crisis are in my Master Slide Set.

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