The Source headline reads “Interior Confronts Climate Change in Territories.” There is a lot to chew on in that headline and the accompanying article. [See related link below.]The first bite would be about the Interior Department, the Virgin Islands effective landlord, and, therefore, the entity that should have a great stake in its future.
Like many people, I don’t know a great deal about the Interior Department or its inner workings, but I do know that it sits at the center of some of our most contentious environmental issues. And, like many people, I have a deeply suspicious attitude toward the department, in large part because of its relationships with some of our most rapacious industries, like coal mining. Not exactly the Ministry of Evil, but not the Good Intentions Paving Company or “faithful steward” either. I’ve been in West Virginia.
So what does this new position for climate change mean for the Virgin Islands? Is it a case of, “I’m from the government. We’re here to help you,” or will there be real meat on the bone (or the vegan equivalent of it)? Will the Congress, now under reactionary control, fund something to address a problem that some key members say does not exist?
The Executive Order creating the position cleverly (and usefully) skirts these political issues, especially since there is little that the territories, despite their vulnerability, can do to prevent the worst impacts. But this is also where it gets very sticky for the Virgin Islands.
The Executive Order focuses on two words: “resilience” and “preparedness.”
It goes on to define these terms in clear, operational language. This is where the sticky part comes in. The list of preparedness actions includes “plan, organize, equip, train, and exercise to build, apply and respond to….” There are several ways to look at this list. The most obvious is as the framework for action planning to prepare the territory for a range of eventualities that it cannot prevent.
But there is another, less hopeful, and, in some ways, more alarming way to think about the list. And that is as a bill of particulars of the territory’s deficiencies in addressing almost any significant problem that it faces. Plan, organize, equip, train, etc. are the very things that the Virgin Islands does the worst. These are all activities that are related to that critical function, execution, the ability and discipline of getting things done.
If there is a critical message in the Interior Department’s action, it is not that it is paying attention to climate change in the territories, although that is a good and important thing. It is that the future is on the way, probably sooner than later, and the territory needs to fundamentally change its mental model for thinking about the problems it faces. It needs to be able to convert “resilience” and “preparedness” into reality. It needs to execute.
There is a useful equation for understanding the importance of execution. It is partly based on a business book titled Execution, but it has application in all settings. The equation is that success = effective execution and effective execution = a clear and solid strategy + the right people in the right jobs + basic systems and processes that work + a culture of performance and accountability + implementation tools and supports.
For many organizations, using the equation as a self-assessment checklist is a painful experience. It is also a necessary one. The future is coming.