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How to save the earth

Inspired solutions for some of the world’s most intractable problems.

R. Sridharan | Print Edition: May 4, 2008

Common Wealth
Jeffrey Sachs
Allen Lane
Pp: 386
Price: Rs 695

In the end of poverty, earth’s friend Jeffrey Sachs laid out an ambitious plan to pull the world’s poorest billion out into relative affluence. Two years on, Sachs is back (in book stores) with an even more ambitious blueprint to solve some of the biggest problems the world is set to face this century. Problems such as climate change, ballooning population, dwindling energy resources, and, of course, economic disparities.

As Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute and Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia University, puts it, these are challenges that ultimately affect everyone on the planet and, therefore, must be met with a common response.

The first step in doing so, Sachs argues, is to recognise that no one country, no matter how technologically advanced or prosperous, can solve these problems. Rather, it will take all countries and all the global institutions to address them. “In the twenty-first century, our global society will flourish or perish according to our ability to find common ground across the world on a set of shared objectives and on the practical means to achieve them,” he writes. It was by realising that all their citizens shared a common fate that some of the more successful countries managed to create a more equitable society within their national boundaries, “now the recognition that we share responsibilities and fates across the social divide will need to be extended internationally so that the world as a whole take care to ensure sustainable development in all regions of the world,” he says.

Utopian as the idea sounds, it’s the need of the hour. Take climate change, for example. Carbon emission, which is the root cause of global warming, needs to be reduced across the world. The challenge: the sources of carbon emission are multiple, and not every country produces equal amounts of carbon dioxide. Talking of deforestation and how combating it could help put more oxygen back into the environment, Sachs cites farming in the Amazon, where forests are cleared for the purpose but abandoned in a short while because the soil isn’t rich enough to sustain farming. “With modest economic incentives, it is possible to overcome the weak economic incentives that now lead to deforestation,” he says.

Sachs offers similar practical solutions to several other problems that are not financially prohibitive, especially when shared among nations. However, as he writes, “the challenge lies not so much in the heroic efforts needed to avert catastrophe, but in the current difficulty of getting the world to agree on even modest efforts.” The time to act is now. Mankind just can’t afford to dither on saving the planet it inhabits.

The first 90 days
Michael D. Watkins
Harvard Business School Press
Pp: 254
Price: Rs 695

You’ve got a new project, perhaps a new role, or even a new job, and you can’t wait to throw yourself into it. Stop. Before you do that, consider what your new assignment entails, not just the competitive environment you are walking into, but also the organisational terrain. How you cope in the first three months, Michael Watkins says, determines whether you succeed or fail in your new assignment. It is possible that there are exceptions to Watkins’ ‘rule’, but quickly getting the handle on a key assignment has never been more important— now in India too. There are lots of young managers who are getting bumped up into crucial positions, where they must cope with not just everyday business challenges, but also that of managing people up and down the hierarchy.

Watkins’ 90 Days is a handy field guide to what one should get right in the early days of a new leadership position. Step One, Watkins, a professor at IMD, says is to “promote yourself”; that is, mentally letting go of the past and donning a new mindset to deal with the future. “All too often, promising managers get promoted but fail to promote themselves by undertaking the necessary change in perspective,” he says. If you have a promotion coming later this month, buy yourself a copy of 90 Days.

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