Do Better Better #16: The Hard Work Starts Yesterday

Quinn Emmett
February 24, 2021
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The Texas energy grid failed not just because it wasn’t built for a freak winter storm, but because it is emblematic of the way our lizard brains conduct business:

We have, in every election, in every state, with every opportunity, declined to do the hard work of preparing our infrastructure of the past for a more volatile present.

Our continued failure to properly and honestly price in externalities -- from a personal level to a federal level -- is just another way of declining to do the hard work.

This is the part where I’m tempted to write that Americans remain steadfast in the belief that defense wins championships, but the better sports metaphor is that our requirement for instant gratification means we’re more than happy to trade away the farm for the shot at a single championship, blissfully ignoring back-loaded contracts for the chance to celebrate under the lights right now.

Where do you see this happening in your life? In your business? In your industry? In your town?

Where do you keep paying clean up costs, instead of doubling down on prevention?

America sends people to the emergency room instead of emphasizing wellness and providing ongoing health care.

We pay for wildfire cleanups, mopping up what’s left of towns and lives instead of reducing our greatest sources of emissions and tending to our forests.

We build sea walls instead of building trust.

We train hyper-specialized surgeons instead of training data sets that are equitable and just.

We struggle to stand up vaccine distribution centers in lieu of building out the practical, predictive infectious disease modeling the 21st century is perfectly capable of providing.

We scramble to build new net-zero business models that garner investor praise, but that rely on protecting forests that are already protected, and technology that -- while alluring, and potentially game-changing -- is unproven, and maybe unattainable.

All so we don’t have to confront the hard work: reducing our impact wherever we can, whenever we can, as soon as we can.

On the other hand, understandably scarred by decades of pennies on the dollar for necessary conservation work, we finally see a (potentially enormous) opening, and shun investments in new technologies that could -- and may need to -- complement those same traditional, proven efforts.

Both things can be true: we have to throw everything at Drawdown-approved methods for reducing emissions, but we also know full well that (any) new technology cannot be proven or scaled without focused investment and support (ask anybody who built and hosted their own servers before AWS).

Solar power was once a pipe dream. But in just a decade, massively increased production and distribution, partnered with limited subsidies, has made solar power, in many places, the cheapest form of power we’ve ever seen, and frequently available at costs 50 to 100 years ahead of the most informed estimates. 50 to 100 years!

That’s what early investment does. That’s what iterative work does. And it requires taking the long view.

To Do Better Better means doing the measurably right thing, right now, for you personally, for your people, for all people.

But it also means spending the time and money to build resiliency for a future you cannot predict.

It means building an equitable defense that endures, building routines that evaluate what you're exposed to.

But it also means going on offense.

If you or your company can't see growth opportunities in the coming transformation -- and not merely in the creation of new things, but in the necessary replacement of harmful old things with cleaner, more just alternatives -- then you're not looking hard enough.

It shouldn’t require the loss of a half-million lives to a novel virus, or just as many to public health failures, or the loss of the effectiveness of everyday strep throat antibiotics to their own overuse, or a portfolio to an archaic power sector, or towns to sea level rise to spur us into action, but here we are.

Good news! It’s not that difficult to get started.

Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto revolutionized hospital operating theaters, asking just a minute of a team’s time.

You think COVID sucked? Simply refusing to prescribe antibiotics for diagnoses that don’t explicitly require them could be one small step towards a giant leap for holding off future pandemics born from antimicrobial resistance.

We -- you and me, people who give a shit -- can build a pipeline for new, well-paid public health workers that’s self-reinforcing and adaptable, just like you can take five minutes to both setup monthly donations to Conservation International, and to sign your company up for Stripe Climate, a ridiculously easy baby step towards scaling those unscalable new carbon removal technologies.

We can build a new, equitable and transparent aggregated data infrastructure that is constructed with both privacy and wellness as pillars, just as you can make sure the suppliers you choose to work with are as committed to transparently reducing their footprint as you are.

We can partner expanded Medicaid and Medicare programs with frontline, redlined communities, to make sure that equitable care is table stakes, just as you can build new partnerships with other local businesses to host batteries, EV chargers, and to rely on distributed solar.

We can work to legalize psychedelics that could help stave off a monumental mental health care crisis, just as you can subsidize and make time for mental health wellness for yourself, your family, and your employees.

We can take the advice of pragmatic experts who’ve been meticulously preparing for a decade to electrify our transmission lines, utilities, buildings, and cars, just as you can run for your local school board, to ensure that our public schools can nourish a more inclusive next generation of experts for our next set of problems and opportunities.

We can do the hard work, right now in this moment, for this moment, for past transgressions, and for the future.

We can Do Better Better.

Are you ready to get started?

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