With crisis comes change. It’s not easy change, it’s painful, contentious and costly change. But crisis gets things done too. From the beginning of time we’ve depended on crisis – fight or flight! - to kick us into problem-solving overdrive.

Hurricane Sandy triggered awareness of climate change for the eastern seaboard and hastened efforts to build a seawall around New York, which will dramatically increase its resiliency.

The Brady Bill, which mandated federal background checks on firearms purchasers, was introduced after Reagan’s press secretary James Brady was shot (and almost killed) by John Hinkley Jr. in 1981 during an attempted presidential assassination.

The tragic (and still unsolved) murders of seven people who consumed Tylenol tainted with cyanide resulted in new laws making it a federal offense to tamper with consumer products. It also made for pesky – and dramatically safer – packaging of over-the-counter medicines.

The same is true for personal crisis - our diets change after a heart attack. Our driving gets safer after even witnessing an accident, not to mention being in one. Our instincts change once we have a baby who utterly depends on us for protection.

(Of course, with this solution mindset often comes new and unexpected challenges. The Brady Bill, for example, took 13 years to move through Congress and contained a provision that in 1998, five years after the law went into effect, the required 5-day waiting period was replaced by background checks. The number of tragedies resulting from these looser restrictions are too numerous to list.)

All of this is to say: thank you, Volkswagen. The brand of “Fahrvergnügen” has, in one fell swoop, ruined its reputation while simultaneously advancing the hybrid and electric car industries. The “leaders” who intentionally duped an industry and millions of loyal consumers probably increased the likelihood of a new group of governors for whom “climate change” is not just a punch line to their stump speech. This is the zenith of a long overdue tightening of corporate governance as it relates to carbon reduction.

Volkswagen has caused more damage than good, at least for today. But we’ve already started responding to this crisis, and, ultimately, as a result of this deception, we will have more stringent rules, more oversight, and a more educated population. That’s the other side of crisis, also known as change. 

Comment