Strategic Urgency


Bill McKibben

Recently, one of my heroes, Bill McKibben (a lover of wisdom, one of the most effective and committed climate change activists, and founder of 350.0rg) pointed out that when it comes to addressing climate change it is like we are in the last half of the fourth quarter of an American football game, and we are down by the two or three touchdowns. He said that we are at a point in the game when we can no longer afford to rely on solid ground gains through the line. What is needed, McKibben rightly claims, is for us to make some surprising passes, or it will soon be “game over” in relation to doing anything to mitigate the most extreme consequences of climate change. McKibben’s football analogy is a clear way of highlighting the great urgency of now when it comes to the needed action to reduce dramatically the emission of greenhouse gases.

Taking this analogy further, not only do we need some surprising passes to win in this most important challenge of our time, we need the passes to be the best possibly thrown passes we can throw. The passing routes need to be run to precision, and the plays that are called must be the most effective and strategic plays that we can possibly call. Our team must work together as well as ever to make the great climate responsibility comeback that is needed. We cannot simply throw the ball up for grabs. That may be needed in the last seconds in the game (hopefully we are not there yet – sadly we may be). Unfortunately, long passes to the end zone with seconds left are rarely effective.

We need a sense of urgency combined with strategy to complete the surprising passes we need – Strategic Urgency. We also need all of the players to give their all to their particular roles and positions in the game. We are not all quarterbacks, receivers, or coaches; but we all have extremely important roles to play. It is time (past time) to be all in! We may not be able to make the systemic changes needed to address climate change (the situation is both dire and extremely complex, with powerful forces attempting to make our passes incomplete), but we certainly will not prevail if we do not give it our all. In the end, if we can come together to complete the passes needed, all persons and all life will be the winners – even the opposing team.

As with all analogies, this one has its limitation. Football is primarily a sport for men, and the work of addressing climate change is clearly the work of all persons. Also, football is one of the most violent games of our time. The work of addressing climate change should be non-violent, creative, and appeal to the best, most loving, and most just aspects of our humanity. We should not lose our humanity in the effort to save humanity and all life. That being said, we do need to be all in, and we do need an intense sense of strategic urgency.

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