“I’ve Never Seen This Before!”

Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA
Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA

The woman was clearly in shock. Her home was destroyed by wildfire, and she and her family barely made it out to safety. “I’ve never seen this in the 25 years we’ve been here,” she told the journalist.

A colleague who lives in the Northeast posted a video of his one-hundred-foot driveway underwater, proud that he could at least get out with his SUV. “We’ve been here 35 years, and this has never happened,” he told his community of friends.

Here in Pittsburgh, my friend shared that the smoke from the Canadian wildfires created such a haze that it recalled life when steel mills were raging. “It’s been at least 50 years since I’ve seen the sky so smokey.”

I don’t know if we’ve reached a global climate tipping point. When we moved to Texas in 1980, we spent our first summer surviving sixty-nine days of temps over one hundred degrees, the second-longest streak in Texas history behind 2011 when there were seventy-three days. This year, there have only been seven days over one hundred degrees.

We tend to catastrophize our worst fears regardless of history, but there does seem to be a recurring theme heard around the world this year regarding the climate, and it doesn’t sound good.

Something I call the Resilience Advantage Curve (see below) shows that we can call on a higher gear to persist through adversity successfully, which I call grit. There does reach a certain point, however, where exhaustion takes over, and we succumb to the reality that we cannot remedy a situation. This applies to all kinds of systems.

Personal, organizational, or environmental systems have their limits. We all experienced the impact of the pandemic, and its repercussions continue to this day with hybrid WFH, kids behind in school, and questions about the legitimacy of scientific findings.

It is essential to respect that limits do exist. We don’t always recognize they are happening when we are in the middle of them. It is usually in retrospect when we see how challenges play out.  

Our ability to recover from difficulties is a remarkable quality. I remember that the global air quality improved quickly during the pandemic when few of us were driving. We’re adjusting to working from home, and while the data on work productivity is being questioned, there is no doubt that we are feeling healthier.

Resilience remains a powerful element of our being, and while I haven’t seen anything like this in the past fifty years, I’m hopeful we will find a way to a healthier world.

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