It could be a foot, a meter, a zhang, or a rod or pole or perch. Or a pound, a gram, or a talent. A dollar, a dinar, or a cowrie shell. Units change across eras and cultures, but we have measured ourselves and our world — length, weight, time, or value — much the same way for thousands of years.

Yet, in this new Age of Climate Change, these measurements can no longer wholly describe our world or drive our decisions. We emerge from COVID-19 into a world on fire. Climate change and its symptoms mock yesterday’s “100-year” and “500-year” projections. We are passing a climate tipping-point, according to a very recent McKinsey study. The new Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change report leaves no room for equivocation. Limiting ourselves to these legacy measurements is not enough to survive and thrive; the old equation of human life won’t solve for today’s challenges. “Someday” is now.

This is not the first time that new realities have rendered our old equations inadequate. Think about the abstract concept of money emerging as a measure and store of value in ancient Mesopotamia. Or the Industrial Revolution, which took time itself from generalized perception to granular, omnipresent reality for rich and poor alike. In each case, a brand-new dimension — an additional variable — was inserted into our human equation. With that new variable, we experience a change to both the equation — our individual and collective realities — and the equation’s outputs as expressed in our actions and inactions.

Fast forward to 2021. Prevention’s moment has long passed; mitigation and adaptation remain feasible, albeit profoundly difficult. At the same time, hope: cities, states, companies, institutions, and other entities around the world are setting ambitious climate-related goals, focused on limiting or even eliminating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Therefore, 250 years after the Industrial Revolution, we must again change the human equation. Our personal, business, and policy decisions must solve not just for dollars and cents but for the new and urgent variable of GHG impact as well. What gets measured gets managed, as Peter Drucker said, although “manage” is far too tame a verb for what our world requires. For example, in the corporate arena, venerable metrics like earnings per share can find equal billing — and pricing power — with impact per share; EPS, meet IPS. But we each have a crucial role: from the CEO to the consumer, from the policymaker to the average citizen, and on the finite stage of Planet Earth. More than ever before, each of us is a global citizen now.

At this point, good intentions find the horns of a measurement dilemma. Most climate action relies on tools, like energy efficiency or renewable energy production, as a proxy for goals, like GHG reduction. We estimate the GHG impact with broad assumptions about the net avoided emissions and then extrapolate by volume. We are fairly sure that the actual net climate impact is favorable. Fairly sure is cold (or rather, dangerously warm) comfort relative to an existential threat.

Thus, to be effective, the GHG variable itself must be defined, measured, and standardized for meaningful mitigation and adaptation to be achieved. This sounds prosaic (“climate accounting” does not make most hearts race) but at present most climate impact measurement is woefully inconsistent and imprecise, making it ultimately painfully unaccountable and unactionable. For example, is transportation actually getting cleaner? Measure it directly on the freeways, not indirectly by counting and averaging vehicles. “Estimate, assume, and extrapolate” must give way to granular measurement of actual conditions.

Technology is essential to success. Cheap and unobtrusive distributed sensors can gather the data for wireless delivery to analysis via artificial intelligence in real-time. That’s a real, actionable input into the new human equation. Extra costs? Perhaps, but extra (and essential) benefits as well.

But universal and auditable definitions and standards are the very foundation of a credible climate variable in the new human equation and thus actionable solutions. For example, the climate accounting standards under development by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (in the U.S.) and the International Accounting Standards Board should help investors better solve the new human equation. Every other stakeholder — from policymakers, regulators, and advocates to producers and consumers — needs the same reliable tools.

That’s Wall Street, but Main Street is also transforming. Consumers are demanding action and accountability, not just press releases. Employees (and potential employees) too. More and more, these same considerations are informing decisions in the boardroom and in the grocery aisle. Unverifiable assertions are not going to cut it: I predict that hell will have no fury like a consumer whose climate trust is betrayed.

Mother Nature has put humanity on notice. And no matter how you measure it, our world — and our human equation — has changed. It’s high time to solve it, with the climate variable front and center.

Lincoln Bleveans has been an executive in the global energy industry for over 25 years, focused on electric power and sustainability, from start-ups and emerging technologies to independent power project (IPP) development to utilities and 24/7 operations. He is an internationally recognized thought-leader on energy and sustainability. He currently serves as the Executive Director of Sustainability & Energy Management at Stanford University, leading mission-critical operations and world-leading innovation in sustainability, electricity, thermal energy, building energy management, water, and waste. He is also active as a mentor, advisor, and board member for technology start-ups, infrastructure projects, and non-profits.