The Urgent Need for a Collaborator-in-Chief

Eric LowittIn his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama beat the climate change drums. Despite his passion and eloquence, his words will not catalyze meaningful actions. Here’s why and a three-step plan to move forward.

Our deficit is massive. Our public budgets continue to get cut. Our fellow citizens expect instant gratification. Climate change relies on longer-term investments in needed infrastructure upgrades and innovation efforts.

Politicians keen on keeping their jobs prioritize actions that pay off in the short-term: politically and financially. Few PACs and Super-PACS have the financial clout to give politicians the needed cover to invest in long-term initiatives. the vast majority of politicians choose not to envision a political return from climate change investment.

Climate change is viewed in the wrong light by most. Too many of us hear ‘climate change’ and see a floating polar bear. Too few of us see that taking action to address climate change will yield inclusive economic development. This is a massive roadblock to progress.

The final challenge to accelerating climate change action is the lack of a specific and provocative call to action. It is not sufficient to pay lip service to ‘energy’ and to ‘infrastructure’. It is sheer folly to expect broad action when we haven’t been given the street address of our ideal destination.

Time for the intellectual debate is over. Climate change is real. The twelve hottest years on record have occurred within the last 15 years. Our planet is rebelling; witness Nemo, Sandy, historic drought and wildfires. We need to act. We need to adapt. Now.

Here is a three-step plan to move forward:

1.      Operate by coalition

Let’s understand that in the pursuit of sustainability, there is no room for heroes. If you are looking out only for yourself, you are not thinking about your fellow man. The President must nurture lasting bipartisanship within the Congress. One clear step: show the GOP that climate change initiatives are in their best interest. Demonstrate, every chance you get, that climate change action is the sure economic bet.

Prove that you have faith and trust in the free market. Be humble and ask for the free market’s help and be prepared to let others to lead. Collaborations that consist of entities from the private, local public, and civil sectors are already strengthening our water, food, energy, and materials recycling systems. Many within the private sector know what needs to be done. They stand ready to act. They want a collaborator-in-chief, not solely a commander-in-chief.

2.      Vision that inspires us to dream

Let’s set real goals, with real teeth, and put real budget behind them. This is how the most successful corporations maintain their success. They’re unambivalent about what needs to be done and they dedicate the budget to make it happen.

President Obama started by quoting President Kennedy. I wish he had taken another page from the Kennedy playbook and committed the country to a grand vision – our generation’s equivalent of the Man on the Moon vision. “We will lower carbon emissions by XY percent by the end of decade by doing this, this, and this.

We need to recast climate change as the foundation of our country’s future economic development. Climate change is not about altruism; it’s not about feeling better about ourselves. Let’s find ways to translate climate change so that all can relate to it. Then we can get a broader slice of our country to support the vision.

3.      See climate change, think system change

There is one more benefit that will come from a sweeping Kennedy-esque vision. The President needs to address climate change in a way that reflects a country aspiring to remain the world’s ‘greatest nation’ means we need to redesign the system that is causing climate change and avoid the temptation of taking only piecemeal actions. The health of our water, energy, food, and materials recycling systems both affect and are affected by climate change. To address one, we must address all.

Here’s the reason for optimism: every sector, private, public, and civil, is affected by the reliability and resiliency of each of these systems. Therefore to solve climate change we need to involve everyone, we need to welcome all hands on deck, and we need to become a nation with an unwavering commitment to cross-sector collaboration.

Enough with the pageantry. Enough with the poetic words. Enough with the sound bites.

If you believe, as President Kennedy did, that we are not rivals but partners, action must be our policy. Urgency must be our pace. Our divided house – politically, socially, and economically – must be put back together. Mr. President, this is your moment to set your legacy. Generations will reflect on your actions, not merely your eloquence. Will you fill the leadership void and act as Collaborator-In-Chief?
Eric Lowitt is the author of “The Future of Value” and “The Collaboration Economy”.  He can be reached via his website at