Collaborative Leadership Blog

This is Just a Dress Rehearsal for What is Next

We are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change, the last with the chance to do something about it…we only have one planet…there is no Plan B. —President Barack Obama, August 3, 2015–

We are living in extraordinary times that require extraordinary collaboration and global leadership to address the most serious existential threat ever to face the peoples of Earth in the last 800,000 years. I am not talking about Covid-19. Covid is merely a dress rehearsal for the real mass extinction event at some point in the next 80-100 years if we don’t reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere and keep the planet below 1.5o Celsius above pre-industrial levels. We are already at 1.2o. Think Australia, 2019, where out of control fires took human life, threatened cities, ravaged the bush, and killed over a million animals. Australia is presently at 3.5o C.

The scientific data leave no doubt that if collective actions are not taken now, life, as we know it will evaporate in the heat of a warming planet. As CO2 emissions continue to increase, the oceans warm, glaciers melt, and plant, animal, and sea creatures go extinct, the human consequences will be beyond calculation. The greatest impact will be felt by those already poor, hungry, and suffering drought or floods, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere. The United Nations has given world leaders and citizens until 2030 to achieve net zero carbon emissions or face these consequences.

It is up to the leaders of the world, especially in governments and business, civil society to transform our economic, social, and political systems so that greed, corruption, national self- interest, and political short sightedness are no longer the drivers of the future. To date, even with the formidable efforts of the United Nations, these leaders have failed us. At the glacial

rate at which they are moving, mostly backwards, it is now crystal clear that there is not yet the will to take the actions required to save the planet and the peoples who live here. Leaders are failing the dress rehearsal.

In Zulu culture, the word Ubuntu means “I am because we are.” I am connected to each and every human being on this planet. I am responsible to them and for them. I am responsible for what happens next. We need Ubuntu leaders. There is still hope, but only if we harness the power of collaborative leadership to engage the collective will of all peoples. Like Covid-19, climate change knows now boundaries, does not care if you’re rich or poor, Republican or Democrat. All of us will suffer, as will our children and grandchildren. I hope we can all take the climate change curtain call with uplifted hands, victorious. The urgency is to act now!


Dr. Edward Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business and Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University; ICF certified executive coach, Lifetime Top 15 Trust Thought Leader, author of the forthcoming book: Leadership’s 4th Evolution: Collaboration for the 21st Century, September, 2020