Schumpeter’s gale.


A victim of Schumpeter’s Gale…                                     …and the man himself

Named tropical storms have been with us for decades; Andrew, Katrina, Sandy and other names are today not familiar only to meteorologists; they’re part of the public vocabulary. Starting in 2011, The Weather Channel began naming winter storms, although this practice has so far proved more controversial.

Which brings us to Schumpeter’s gale, a decades-long-enduring, but ever-coming storm that ought to focus the minds of meteorologists – and, for that matter, Earth scientists, and indeed earth scientists and academics of every stripe.

Schumpeter’s gale is actually better known to economists than meteorologists, and even in the social sciences and public discourse is better known by its other, generic name: creative destruction. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia link, which gives the idea:

Creative destruction (German: schöpferische Zerstörung), sometimes known as Schumpeter’s gale, is a term in economics which has since the 1950s become most readily identified with the Austrian American economist Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of economic innovation and business cycle.

Creative destruction describes the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”

Economists would describe the collapse of former industrial giants such as Kodak and Xerox and the rise of Microsoft and Google, the outsourcing of call centers, cellphone manufacture, and many other jobs overseas, the rise of Fed Ex and other carriers to challenge the U.S. Postal Service, and much more as examples of creative destruction.

The concept originated in the work of Marxist economists, who considered such processes a necessary, and extremely negative, end result of capitalism. Here’s more from Wikipedia:

The German Marxist sociologist Werner Sombart has been credited with the first use of these terms in his work Krieg und Kapitalismus (“War and Capitalism”, 1913). In the earlier work of Marx, however, the idea of creative destruction or annihilation (German: Vernichtung) implies not only that capitalism destroys and reconfigures previous economic orders, but also that it must ceaselessly devalue existing wealth (whether through war, dereliction, or regular and periodic economic crises) in order to clear the ground for the creation of new wealth.

In Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942), Joseph Schumpeter developed the concept out of a careful reading of Marx’s thought (to which the whole of Part I of the book is devoted), arguing (in Part II) that the creative-destructive forces unleashed by capitalism would eventually lead to its demise as a system.

Today, mainstream economists tend to see this oppositely: as a necessary but positive aspect of innovation, and as a strong positive, not just for market economies, but for societies as a whole.

It’s tempting to see creative destruction as belonging to another realm. However, much as U.S. hurricanes wreak havoc on Caribbean nations prior to their arrival on U.S. shore, the track of creative destruction is headed for our science-based and academic community. Here are a few signs (you can easily come up with your list of better examples.

Crowdsourcing science. Historically, perhaps the cheapest way to accomplish science and invention is to offer prizes. In the 1950’s when I was growing up, my father, a research mathematician, used to hold up the example of the invention of the tin can. Napoleon, he said, needed a means of preserving food for his army. He offered a prize. The can was the result. Years earlier, the British government had offered a prize for a practical means to determine longitude; John Harrison’s chronometer ultimately claimed the award. Even then my father claimed that offering such prizes might be a much cheaper, faster way of accomplishing scientific research, and that scientists might once again struggle to support themselves, much as they had during the 1800’s.

Crowdsourcing science is now on offer in our field. Here’s an example, which we’ll introduce by telling a Joe Fletcher story (yesterday’s LOTRW post mentioned Joe in a different context) that gives you an insight into the man and his thought process. Joe was telling me in the 1980’s how he had launched the so-called international Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set (COADS) project, which offers gridded 10x10 marine data going back to 1800. The core task involved digitizing records from ship logs of the period. Joe first sought funds (the order of $500K) for doing this in-house in NOAA from the then-director of the NOAA Environmental Research Labs, George Ludwig. George refused, saying it was too expensive. “So”, Joe told me, “I realized that I needed to have this done somewhere in the world where scientific standards were high but labor costs were low.” He made a personal three-week trip to China, but relations between the United States and China were strained during those Cold War years. He then tried India, where he gained a welcome reception. He approached Robert White, the NOAA Administrator of NOAA at the time, for funds. Bob growled, according to Joe, that “there was nothing in it of advantage to India.” “So,” Joe said, “I went back to Boulder for a few weeks, then revisited Bob, showing him what was in it for the Indians.”

Today, Joe could have saved himself trouble and effort by going to Zooniverse. A major player in the crowdsourcing arena, Zooniverse acts as a needed middleman for such efforts. Click here and you’ll see opportunities to digitize ship data or analyze patterns in old hurricane storm imagery.

(Here’s a link to one of thousands of online posts on crowdsourcing science. Of special interest is Michael Nielsen’s TEDx lecture linked there, which gives a great success story, the Polymath Project, but discusses why crowdsourcing has been slow to take hold in science more broadly. )

Uber for experiments. This recent article in The Economist discusses innovative ways and means being explored to make major experimental facilities available for hire, much as Uber has provided a means for individuals needing a lift with nearby individual drivers willing to take them to their destination. Here’s an extended excerpt:

Most research equipment is under-used. Once it has been budgeted for, grant proposals written or fee schedules set to cover its purchase, kit costing millions of dollars can sit idle for most of the working day. This inefficiency troubled Elizabeth Iorns, a biologist from New Zealand. So she came up with the idea of a marketplace where laboratories could rent out their machines to conduct experiments for others.

Dr Iorns started Science Exchange in 2011 when working as an assistant professor at the University of Miami. She was backed by Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley firm that helps startups, and she now serves as the exchange’s chief executive.

Laboratories that carry out contract research have existed for a long time. But Science Exchange is exploring a new frontier, that of the shared economy, in which the best-known examples are Uber, an app-based ride-sharing and taxi service, and Airbnb, which helps people rent out rooms. The idea is that the marketmaker shaves away the awkward bits relating to contractual, ad hoc relationships, often between parties who do not know each other, to create something fungible or nearly so.

Dr Iorns is clear that certain laboratories are demonstrably better at some things than others. Her firm takes out contracts with some of the leading ones, including facilities at Johns Hopkins University, the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School. It then provides ratings, reviews and other feedback, coupled with vetting, so that users can choose laboratories that can provide what they require and then compare pricing.

MOOC’s. More generally, the unsustainable rise in the cost of higher education is prompting exploration of alternatives, such as Massively Open Online Courses or MOOC’s. And when U.S. leaders start suggesting that the first two years of college should be free, as President Obama did the other night in his State of the Union address, you may be skeptical of the particulars and the political realities. But you can be equally sure that public pressures will force creative destruction of some kind.

Public-private partnerships in the provision of weather services. The weather community is currently in a great discussion of how weather information should be gathered and made available for both public and private benefit. Recent NAS/NRC reports – e.g., Fair Weather: Effective Partnership in Weather and Climate Services, and Weather Services to the Nation: Becoming Second to None – have articulated some of the issues and opportunities.

Schumpeter’s Gale is coming.

The Navier-Stokes equations are silent on this unfolding future. If you think the communication of weather impacts and risk could stand improvement, ask yourself how communication of Schumpeter’s gale and its implications for the environmental intelligence community (and our society as a whole) is going. And consider this: creative destruction here, as elsewhere, is inevitable and ongoing. It confers risks for those clinging to the past, but offers enormous benefits for those who embrace and even shape it.

So please, the N-S equations not withstanding, don’t you remain silent! Join in the discussions already underway on these matters, and where appropriate initiate side conversations of your own.

Remember… in today’s world, people aren’t satisfied with leaders who can ride out the storm. They expect their leaders to make the weather.

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Craig McLean selected as Assistant Administrator for NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.

“If you want to move a barge, and you kick it – you’ll just hurt your foot. But if you lean against it, pretty soon it has to move your way.” – Joseph O. Fletcher


Joe Fletcher, former NOAA OAR Assistant Administrator, would certainly have cheered yesterday’s appointment of Craig N. McLean as his latest successor in that important role. Joe was former Air Force. He flew B24’s[1] in World War II, landed on the North Pole by plane in the 1950’s and accomplished much more. He’d have approved of Craig’s nearly-25-years of duty in the NOAA Commissioned Officer’s Corps, the smallest of the Nation’s seven uniformed services. He’d have been interested in Craig’s founding of NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration, and impressed by his service across several NOAA Line Offices in different roles in succeeding years. He’d cheer Craig’s background in marine resource law and management.

Joe would have especially admired Craig’s leadership of OAR for more than one extended stint in an acting capacity. No stranger to such interim roles himself, Joe knew better than most that to hold such positions in an “acting” status was in many ways more difficult than being the permanent incumbent. Adding all this up, he’d have seen in Craig someone adept at “leaning against the barge” of a bureaucracy such as a federal agency or a major corporation and getting things done.

As NOAA Assistant Administrator for OAR, Craig McLean will bear responsibility for guiding innovation and integration across NOAA’s research enterprise. A key element will be his ability to work with his peers – the other NOAA AA’s and their respective service line components – and with NOAA Administrator Sullivan, Chief Scientist Rick Spinrad and others in the NOAA front office. One major dimension currently focusing the minds of this leadership: R2O – seeing that scientific advance is harnessed to benefit and serve society.

Congratulations both to Craig McLean and NOAA on this appointment – and continuing best wishes.


[1] The same stubborn, nearly uncontrollable bombers described by Laura Hillenbrand in her magnificent book Unbroken (about the life of World War II hero Louis Zamperini, and recently made into a movie by Angelina Jolie).

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Going home… again?

“Don’t you know you can’t go home again?” the author Ella Winter[1]

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus

Today I make passage through sloppy winter weather prevailing along on the Middle Atlantic Coast to visit my alma mater, Swarthmore College[2].  Extra credit if you can tell which of the photographs below is from my senior yearbook and which is more recent:hookethenandnowThere I’m scheduled to give an after-dinner talk to a small discussion group.  Here are the title and abstract:

How Meteorologists Will Help Save the Planet:

Seven billion of us struggle daily to relate to our Earth—as a resource, as a threat and as a victim. Meteorologists are trained and well equipped to cope with chaos, disasters, and extraordinary events, but they also can take a long-term view. Bill Hooke will discuss how weather forecasting can be used to find solutions for many of our pressing 21st century challenges.

Both bits are shortened versions of what were originally proposed, and represent, depending upon how charitably disposed you might be, compromises – or maybe even egregious misrepresentations – with respect to what I’ll actually say. Many readers will recognize these as truncated versions of the title of my recent book and of the thoughts therein – forced to fit within the length constraints imposed by the marketing blurb for this year’s series of such monthly discussions. To be fair to the program organizers, I was given final say on the wording, so responsibility for that rests with me.

Indeed, that is my lifelong problem — inadequate scholarship. Fifty-four years ago, in late September of 1960, I arrived on Swarthmore’s campus to begin my freshman year. Back then the student body numbered only some 900, compared with today’s figure of slightly over 1500 (at this rate of growth, we’ll be comparable in size to today’s Big Ten Universities in, say, 200-300 years). My high school at that time had a much larger student body. I’d been a nerdy figure in that high school. If a girl approached me in those days, I knew she had a math problem. And I’d always been cut from the sports teams. But in some special mix of youthful enthusiasm and delusion in transit I had wondered at times whether I would

(a)    be one of the smarter (and more social) students at Swarthmore,

(b)    be one of the better athletes,

(c)    achieve both distinctions.

What a dreamer! At the start of my first lunch during freshman orientation in the college dining hall, it was immediately apparent that the correct answer was:

(d)   none of the above.

That incoming freshman class numbered maybe 280. Some 179 of them had earned one or more varsity letters in high school; dozens of those students had lettered in multiple sports. Class intellectual and academic achievements were totally off the charts.  (For the next four years, no one from either gender would ask for my help with a math problem.) Moreover, judging from the dining hall chatter, it felt as if everyone else already knew each other. It was time for a new goal: mediocrity/survival.

That freshman orientation was a rude awakening.  But the academic regimen was even more daunting. Standards for what constituted logic, proof, evidence seemed impossibly high. And it wasn’t enough to achieve those standards in a single subject of study. This was, after all, a liberal arts college. We were supposed to master multiple disciplines, integrate, be generalists. I was forced to confront how poorly my high school had prepared me, and how lackadaisically I’d approached my education up to then. I’d been coasting. Even worse (how did I miss getting the word?), at the time the attrition rate at Swarthmore was 25-30%[3]. Spent my four years there scrambling to avoid that fate. But another statistic was in my favor. Half the men at Swarthmore participated in interscholastic athletics. Those odds allowed me to play a freshman season of JV baseball (first base) and a sophomore season of varsity and JV basketball (bench-sitter).

Two milestones over the intervening decades of recovery? One was running across the Darwin quote you’ll find on the home page of LOTRW. The other was a seminar I sat in on while working as a NOAA scientist in Boulder. The speaker on that particular occasion was an eminent dynamicist, today a member of the National Academy of Sciences. In the course of a brilliant presentation, he paused for a moment. “I’m not going to justify this next step,” he said, “but I will tell you what I did.[4]” In each of these instances, I found a special grace. Not every statement, oral or written, had to be justified by the fullest scientific rigor. If something less, it had only to be fully and publicly disclosed for what it was. That grace has allowed me over the past two years to write a book of chock-full of such conjecture.

Now to see if this time around, that Swarthmore culture will prove equally or more accommodating!

[1] in a conversation with another author, Thomas Wolfe, in the process inspiring the title of his posthumously published book, You Can’t Go Home Again.

[2] graduated with an S.B. in Physics (Honors) in 1964.

[3] Today it’s maybe only half that.

[4] Both are described in more detail in the very first LOTRW post, dating back to August 3, 2010.

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Pushing the boundaries.

“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.” – Albert Einstein

This past Thursday, January 15, Will Steffen of the Australian National University and seventeen co-authors generated a bit of media stir with the electronic publication of their paper in the journal Science: Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planet. Their paper merits a fuller read, but access to it is somewhat restricted. Suffice it to say for present purposes that the paper builds on a framework put forward in 2009 by a group led by Steffen and Johan Rockstrom from the Stockholm Resilience Center. While you can find a fuller summary of the framework in Wikipedia, an excerpt of that latter article gives the basics:

The framework of “planetary boundaries” is designed to define a “safe operating space for humanity” for the international community, including governments at all levels, international organizations, civil society, the scientific community and the private sector, as a precondition for sustainable development. This framework is based on scientific research that indicates that since the Industrial Revolution, human actions have gradually become the main driver of global environmental change. The scientists assert that once human activity has passed certain thresholds or tipping points, defined as “planetary boundaries”, there is a risk of “irreversible and abrupt environmental change”. The scientists identified nine Earth system processes which have boundaries that, to the extent that they are not crossed, mark the safe zone for the planet. However, because of human activities some of these dangerous boundaries have already been crossed, while others are in imminent danger of being crossed…

The proposed framework of planetary boundaries lays the groundwork for shifting approach to governance and management, away from the essentially sectoral analyses of limits to growth aimed at minimizing negative externalities, toward the estimation of the safe space for human development. Planetary boundaries define, as it were, the boundaries of the “planetary playing field” for humanity if major human-induced environmental change on a global scale is to be avoided…

…Transgressing one or more planetary boundaries may be highly damaging or even catastrophic, due to the risk of crossing thresholds that trigger non-linear, abrupt environmental change within continental- to planetary-scale systems. The 2009 study identified nine planetary boundaries and, drawing on current scientific understanding, the researchers proposed quantifications for seven of them. These seven are climate change (CO2 concentration in the atmosphere < 350 ppm and/or a maximum change of +1 W/m2 in radiative forcing); ocean acidification (mean surface seawater saturation state with respect to aragonite ≥ 80% of pre-industrial levels); stratospheric ozone (less than 5% reduction in total atmospheric O3 from a pre-industrial level of 290 Dobson Units); biogeochemical nitrogen (N) cycle (limit industrial and agricultural fixation of N2 to 35 Tg N/yr) and phosphorus (P) cycle (annual P inflow to oceans not to exceed 10 times the natural background weathering of P); global freshwater use (< 4000 km3/yr of consumptive use of runoff resources); land system change (< 15% of the ice-free land surface under cropland); and the rate at which biological diversity is lost (annual rate of < 10 extinctions per million species). The two additional planetary boundaries for which the group had not yet been able to determine a boundary level are chemical pollution and atmospheric aerosol loading.

The figure below is one of numerous depictions of the nine boundaries; tables and text in the Wikipedia link provide additional detail. One especially important and welcome feature is the emphasis on the zone of uncertainty characterizing the boundaries, and the careful nature of discussion of this uncertainty and its implications. The Wikipedia article also provides a portal to some of the debate that the original 2009 work inspired. In keeping with the spirit of Darwin’s quote on the home page of this blog, that debate may perhaps be the nine boundaries’ most useful contribution.


The current article updates the status of the nine boundaries. The authors find that four of the safe boundaries have been exceeded (the 2009 work listed only three): the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere;  biogeochemical cycles (in particular, the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous into the ocean); biosphere integrity (the extinction rate); and land-system change (deforestation). The authors also further develop the basic planetary boundary framework, introducing a two-tier approach to accommodate heterogeneity at regional levels; update the quantification of most of the planetary boundaries; argue that two of the boundaries – climate-change and biosphere integrity – are “core,” and more.

Reading this newest update to the nine-boundaries discussion prompts two thoughts. First, the entire paper speaks of trends but stops short of estimating a time frame during which each of the safe boundaries might be exceeded (unless it has been exceeded already). That’s undoubtedly wise in many respects. However, our community is in the business of forecasts, and we’ve learned that making forecasts has a marvelous ability to focus minds, foster accountability, make evaluation more pointed, and thus accelerate the advance of knowledge and understanding. By analogy, consider how hurricane forecasts of landfall (both location and time) drive societal response. Much of this is clearly going on across the IPCC realm, but we’re only scratching the surface; we could perhaps use such a “stretch” goal[1]. Surely it would help to have an idea, however rudimentary, of “how much time we have,” and how we might buy ourselves more such time.

Second, nine boundaries for the globe as a whole, with infrequent updates, even by a large group such as the eighteen authors of this paper, or the hundreds or thousands of contributors to the IPCC reports, leaves most of the world’s seven billion people as uninvolved spectators. When we see excellent reports such as this one, the rest of us might do well contemplate the personal boundaries that limit our own behavior or accomplishments or contributions to global problems such as this one… and explore how we might expand or push those boundaries back a bit.

[1][1]. Elsewhere in this LOTRW blog, and in the book by the same name, the suggestion is made we should follow the example set by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, with its doomsday clock.

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Four metrics: four conversations.


Four conversations – and their juxtaposition –merit our reflection on this three-day weekend. Interestingly, each swirls around an indicator.

The first is the Dow. The Dow and other stock-market indices hit new highs toward the end of 2014, but the past two weeks have seen gut-wrenching volatility for those invested (both dollar-wise and emotionally) in financial markets. Day-to-day swings of a percent or more since the first of the year have spawned a nervous buzz: Where are the markets headed? What are the root causes for the volatility? Global oil prices? Threats to the Euro? Instability in the Crimea and the Middle East? Southeast Asia? Were last year’s advances based on fundamentals? Or merely signs of a bubble? Should I buy? Sell?

The second is “Earth’s warmest-year-on-record.” In the last day or so, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released figures for 2014 suggesting that the year was the hottest in 135 years of record-keeping, and that December 2014 was the hottest December on record. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration reached similar conclusions. Needless to say, the press releases have prompted a lot of comment. Chances are good you’ll find versions of it from whatever news source you favor. One interesting read: the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang collected responses to the news from individual, well-known climate scientists; you can find CWG’s summary here.

Financial indicators and the calculations of global temperatures have been with us a while. Over time, each has nourished a cottage-industry of analysis and interpretation. Not surprisingly, in each case the news of recent days has functioned essentially as a Rorschach test. Few minds have been changed. The respective discussions show similarities; the dialog surrounding Dow-hits-new-high, or subsequent selloffs sounds much like the debate on Earth’s warmest year of record and the so-called “pause” teased out of different segments of the record in recent years.

All this is probably a good thing. It’s not much different from any-other high consequence discussion – that surrounding a hurricane making landfall, for example. Each departure of track or timing of landfall or estimated storm surge from that previously expected generates thought, reexamination of responses either planned or already underway. That constant surveillance and reinterpretation is the key to successful living on the real world.

Which brings me to the last two indicator-based conversations. The first appeared on the front page of this morning’s print edition of the Washington Post: Most public school students now living in poverty, by Lindsey Layton. The article merits reading in its entirety, but here are some (extended) excerpts:

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.

The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.

“We’ve all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it’s here sooner rather than later,” said Michael A. Rebell of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University, noting that the poverty rate has been increasing even as the economy has improved. “A lot of people at the top are doing much better, but the people at the bottom are not doing better at all. Those are the people who have the most children and send their children to public school.”

The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools, a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.

It also means that education policy, funding decisions and classroom instruction must adapt to the needy children who arrive at school each day…

…Schools, already under intense pressure to deliver better test results and meet more rigorous standards, face the doubly difficult task of trying to raise the achievement of poor children so that they approach the same level as their more affluent peers.

“This is a watershed moment when you look at that map,” said Kent McGuire, president of the Southern Education Foundation, the nation’s oldest education philanthropy, referring to a large swath of the country filled with high-poverty schools.

“The fact is, we’ve had growing inequality in the country for many years,” he said. “It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s steadily been happening. Government used to be a source of leadership and innovation around issues of economic prosperity and upward mobility. Now we’re a country disinclined to invest in our young people…”

The report comes as Congress begins debate about rewriting the country’s main federal education law, first passed as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and designed to help states educate poor children. The most recent version of the law, known as No Child Left Behind, has emphasized accountability and outcomes, measuring whether schools met benchmarks and sanctioning them when they fell short.

That federal focus on results, as opposed to need, is wrong­headed, Rebell said.

“We have to think about how to give these kids a meaningful education,” he said. “We have to give them quality teachers, small class sizes, up-to-date equipment. But in addition, if we’re serious, we have to do things that overcome the damages of poverty. We have to meet their health needs, their mental health needs, after-school programs, summer programs, parent engagement, early-childhood services. These are the so-called wraparound services. Some people think of them as add-ons. They’re not. They’re imperative.”

This brings us to the fourth conversation. This one isn’t so longstanding. It took place around the kitchen table at a friend’s house only yesterday. I was sitting in as a spectator to a meeting of our church’s mission committee with a missionary who was paying the U.S. a brief visit. The seven of us were sharing a simple meal. He reported on his work with Water for Life (WFL[1]) and Youth with a Mission (YWAM) in Africa. For a number of years he’s been working with in-country men and women in Rwanda to build clean-water access, primarily by capturing roof-water runoff from schools and hospitals and collecting it in cisterns. More recently his work has been expanding across Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, and other portions of Africa.

At one point he brought up the subject of indicators. Can’t offer a precise quote, but here’s an (inadequate) paraphrase: “You know, when we went to Rwanda [a few years ago now], we had in mind making clean water available to 100,000 people. I think we achieved that goal. If you count only the school students and the medical patients we might be a bit under. But if you include school and the hospital staffs, and the use by the larger surrounding communities, we’re probably way over. I can’t help thinking though, that the real benefit is not in that number, but the intangibles. For example, school enrollment where’ve instituted water capture is way up. Those kids who had been spending two hours a day finding water safe to drink for their families are now spending that time in class. Their entire lives are changing; they’re finally getting the education they’ll need for later in life.[2]

Two notes in closing. First, it’s hard to escape the thought that if we make education for our young people a priority here in the United States and abroad, we will see favorable consequences for both global financial markets and global temperatures over the longer haul. By contrast, if we ignore the challenge of educating our kids, the long-term outlook for both the world’s finances and the planet’s habitability will sour. Second, the Dow and the Earth’s temperatures have the look and feel of challenges that require action from small groups of leaders, either of the financial world or those directly responsible for the world’s energy infrastructure. The majority of the world’s seven billion people are being carried along for the ride. Their fates are intertwined with macro-economic success or failure and with the use of fossil fuels, but there’s little they can do day-to-day to change matters. By contrast, public education and the contributions and threats to that arising from conditions of affluence or poverty are matters that can be addressed by the population more broadly. There all of us can take matters into our own hands, can make a difference working collaboratively and locally.


[1] my apologies, couldn’t find a better website for this

[2] from the rest of our conversation, I’d estimate that YWAM and WFL are accomplishing this for a one or a few dollars-a-person-served installation costs.

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Fulfilling the Vision of Weather, Water, and Climate Information for Every Need, Time, and Place

A tall order? That’s AMS President Bill Gail’s theme for the 95th AMS Annual Meeting getting underway here in Phoenix, Arizona. Here is an (extended) excerpt:

“People, businesses, and government agencies depend increasingly on weather, water, and climate information matched to their specific needs, delivered when and where it is most useful to them. Businesses already receive just-in-time weather information to make truck routes more efficient and wind turbines more productive. Consumers optimize their daily routines around rain or severe weather. Such information increasingly factors into broad issues such as healthcare, as collaboration teams are discovering new ways to apply weather and climate information to advance preparedness. We are converging on a day when such information is embedded – often implicitly – within nearly every decision or action people take. New requirements and innovative use cases emerge almost daily. Yet the revolution in how weather, water, and climate information gets used is just beginning. It will make our lives safer, more productive, and more enjoyable – and produce billions of dollars of enhanced economic growth through reduced losses and improved economic productivity.

To enable this user revolution, the information we provide will be by necessity of higher quality, more customized to individual needs, and finely-tuned for each time and place of interest. Advances in observational systems, computational modeling, dissemination tools, and basic science can help make this possible. So can a growing cohesiveness of our multi-faceted community. Many challenging problems – in both research and applications – remain to be solved if we are to succeed. Further improvement to the collaboration and data sharing among our public, private, and academic/research sectors (and the disciplines within them) will also be required.

The challenge for our community is this: collaborate and innovate to develop – and ultimately deliver – actionable, user-specific weather, water, and climate information across spatial and temporal scales in support of our nation’s safety, health, and prosperity.”[1]

Today’s sessions open with the 15th Presidential Forum:

“Twenty five years hence, meteorology will be much different and expand far beyond the traditional weather forecast. Personal sensors will monitor weather nearly everywhere. Advanced computing will allow us to forecast at perhaps minute scales and kilometer resolutions, customized for each particular user. Post-mobile devices will enable instantaneous use of the information – even in remote areas of today’s developing nations. Transportation will be safer, businesses will operate more efficiently, events will automatically schedule around anticipated weather, and much more. Operational weather forecasts will be interlaced with new environmental elements that impact economic, health, energy, and security decisions. Many aspects of our daily lives will change forever. Climate change’s possibilities add a critical dimension to community resiliency. Should global weather patterns be altered, forecasting could become more challenging than today. The recent release of the fifth IPCC synthesis report has brought focus to this particular issue. Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Administrator, will lead the session with a keynote on her vision for the meteorology enterprise in the year 2040. Following her keynote, the panelists – representing different demographics and perspectives – will then provide their vision, accompanied by a moderated discussion among the panelists.”

Kimberley Klockow of NOAA will moderate the panel. Other panelists include, in addition to Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA: Bernadette Woods Placky, Climate Central; Mac Devine, IBM Cloud Services Division; and Curtis L. Walker, University of Nebraska.

If you’re here in Phoenix, get yourself going promptly and be part of the discussion in person. Not able to attend? There should be an on-line version available down the road.

But don’t settle for just being in the room. Formulating such views of the future isn’t intended to be a spectator sport. Each of us should actively participate. Take some time during this meeting and in the weeks ahead to formulate your own view, identify your piece of the action, and then dedicate yourself to fulfilling that vision over the next decade or so. After all it’s early January, a time for such resolutions.

And while you’re at it, ask yourself: What larger societal trends could foster or threaten such a vision of Weather, Water, and Climate Information for Every Need, Time, and Place?

Here are a few thoughts to set you thinking: This vision assumes that America (and the world) continues to develop a culture of innovation. That means more than just passive acceptance of the idea. It means vigorous, purposeful, sustained strategic investment in innovation across a broad spectrum of the world’s agenda. (Stop right there: all adjectives of the previous sentence matter; take a moment to reflect on each.) And this is not just about money. It means that innovation can’t become a political football. It can’t be relegated to an agenda for only one party or one half of the American people. And finally, it must be backed by a publication education system up to the task. This starts with STEM education but doesn’t stop there. The need is for an educational system that contributes to a public actively and thoughtfully engaged in a strong representative/participatory democracy.

Worth working toward.


[1] The remainder of the theme material focuses on execution and implementation.

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“I Am”… thoughts at the transition from 2014-2015.

The ninth of Bill Gail’s ten questions in his new book is this: do we live in a special time?

He was asking of course, whether we are at a pivotal point in world history. It is tempting to see and write about history and events in such terms. One famous book along those lines is The Hinge of Fate, published in 1950 by Winston Churchill – volume 4 in his prodigious six-volume treatise The Second World War (now there was a memoir!). In volume 4, Churchill recounted events from January 1942-June 1943, a period he saw as registering a significant change in Allied fortunes. Prior to 1942, the Allies were reeling; after mid-1943, their victory was inevitable.

In a parallel way, most of us recognize several such hinge-points in our personal histories: a choice of career; commitment to a life partner; the birth of a child; a fork in the road at work; deciding where to live, an illness or setback, and so on. And the annual change of year such as today’s offers additional opportunities to take stock and reflect.

Fact is, our lives are really a continuous sequence of such hinge-points, whether we recognize them as such or not. We call this seamless succession the present, separating the past from the future.

How we view these three periods – past, present, and future – as we live out our years plays a big role in shaping our life story. It’s easy to regret the past and fear the future, but if we allow these negative memories and concerns to rule our present, it’s difficult to lay hold of what peace of mind life has to offer, and form a foundation from which we can find satisfaction and meaning in our work and circumstances.


It has always been thus. Here’s an example:

4300 years ago, give-or-take, a Hebrew shepherd, isolated in the Midian desert, was regretting his past and fearing his future[1]. At 80 years of age, he’d had a lot of past to regret. Raised in the house of Pharaoh, he’d been frustrated by what he’d seen of the oppression of his Hebrew people by their Egyptian hosts. Once in a fit of anger he’d taken it upon himself to mete out rough justice to an Egyptian beating a fellow Hebrew. He’d killed the man, and had then been forced to flee for his life. He’d spent most of his adulthood in exile. And at the moment we find our shepherd, he’s having a terrifying conversation with God, who’d called to him from a burning bush. This God was sending him back to Egypt… and not just to live in the shadows. Instead, God was telling him to be bold, and visible, and to finish the job he’d wanted to do as a young man – end the oppression of his people and lead them out of Egypt. But the years of isolation and coming to terms with his earlier failings had changed Moses. They’d made him tentative, hesitant, doubtful.

He tried to talk God out of the idea, at one point even asking God His name. The answer surprised him. “My name,” God said, “is I am.[2]

As the remainder of his life unfolds, Moses is able to look back on this episode through life’s rearview mirror and recognize his conversation with God for the significant hinge-point it was. What he’d been unable to accomplish in the full vigor of his headstrong youth, he was able to achieve even as a washed-up old man – in God’s strength. The reality was that his best stretch lay ahead. Instead of having just a short time left on this earth, he had forty years to live and lead. At the end of his life and in history since, he’s been known and revered as the lawgiver, and as a man who stood up to God to plead his case – and won[3]! Talk about a comeback.


Meteorologists, climatologists, oceanographers, emergency managers, social scientists, and other readers of this blog might be identifying with Moses and his regrets and doubts at this turning point in the calendar year. In addition to our personal past shortcomings and problematic individual futures, there are our corporate, community concerns. When we look to the past, we see that more than a century of effort has not attained anything like sustainable development, hazard-resilient communities, and pristine environment. Just as Moses’ earlier, youthful efforts to rouse his people had fallen on deaf ears, so it seems that few people heed our findings and warnings, on any threat. Our observations and science tell us that ahead the challenges that have thus far defeated us will be growing ever more severe.

As Earth scientists, social scientists, and practitioners of every stripe head to Phoenix for the AMS Annual Meeting, we might therefore do well to recall the words of the late Helen Mallicoat, a poet from nearby – Wickenberg, Arizona:

i amAnd then, with these words in mind, let’s live our lives the way we approach our profession. We don’t try to predict twenty years of weather at one stroke, and then collapse in frustration at our failure.

Instead, every day, we observe, predict, evaluate, improve, repeat.

We ought to be better than anyone else at doing life this same, ultimately productive way.

Happy New Year!


[1] Exodus3-4 tells the story.

[2] Frequently given to us today as YHWH, or Yahweh; theologians have puzzled over and written about this name ever since.

[3] That account is recorded in Exodus 32.

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Two books worth reading.

Regrettably, you usually see the word “reading” tied to the word “remedial” in these LOTRW posts. All too often I find myself belatedly giving attention to books I wish I’d come across years earlier, when they were first published. Could have saved myself time, been more productive and insightful in my work, and more.

You may share this problem. The reality we face has two causes. First, seven billion people are writing a lot of books while our backs are turned. We can’t keep up. And second, today most of us are doing our reading in short bursts, doing Google searches for quanta of information we need as a just-in-time next step for some task at hand. (Indeed, a case could be made that the future belongs to those who best master this new 21st-century skill.) This approach to knowledge work and problem solving means that when we’re reading something voluminous we find it hard to concentrate; we keep wondering about the opportunity cost associated with spending a large block of time on a single person’s perspective. Chances are good that there’s another book out there that might be a better use of our time – more germane to our work, perhaps, or slightly more insightful or well-researched or deep. Thought processes like this might lead to a sort of AADD. We don’t have a congenital attention-deficit disorder so much as we have acquired attention deficit disorder. As a result we don’t read books beginning-to-end so much any more.

So it’s a pleasure to suggest you buck this trend, and to commend to your reading two books that weren’t written years ago; instead, they’re actually current:


1. Roger Pielke, Jr.’s The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change, just published by The Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes in November of 2014. This small (114-page) volume is wholly compatible with today’s brief attention span; it can easily be read in a single sitting, though it merits fuller, more thoughtful reflection. Mr. Pielke crisply reviews Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conclusions on the links between natural extremes, disasters, and climate change. He compares those conclusions and the assertions of others with the findings of his own research, accomplished in collaboration with a number of distinguished colleagues over past decades[1]. He is careful to acknowledge that climate change almost certainly is impacting human experience with disasters and will do so more strongly in the future. However, he argues persuasively (as he’s done in the peer-reviewed literature) that the strongest signal in the disaster-loss trends over the past century or so arises from the population growth and increased value of property and business activity worldwide over that same period. Losses are rising largely because more people and activity are in harm’s way – in hazardous coastal areas, riverine floodplains, seismically-active regions, and the like. The book reflects the author’s signature traits: reliance on comprehensively reviewed material such as the IPCC products to provide a solid context; extensive referencing of the peer-reviewed literature, and meticulous attention to the definition of terms (in this case: extreme events, climate change, risk, etc.). Happily, the book also bears Mr. Pielke’s stamp in another respect. It contains a number of his personal anecdotes and vignettes from recent years. Institutions, groups, and individuals worldwide seek his perspective and his active participation in variety of public and debates and collaborations, so he can draw from many examples, featuring more than a little controversy. Their inclusion gives the narrative a breezy, inside-baseball feel. The book closes with a brief discussion of the bearing of all this on climate policy and vice versa, and reemphasizes some of the key points from one of his earlier works, from 2010: The Climate Fix. However, given the book’s compelling conclusion that trends to date in disaster losses are the result of population growth and economic exposure, it would have been interesting to hear more of Mr. Pielke’s thoughts on policies that might target that challenge. Perhaps he was remaining true to the spirit of yet another of his books, 2007’s The Honest Broker.

AMS Book Cover-Final

2. William B. Gail’s Climate Conundrums: What the Climate Debate Reveals About Us, just published by The American Meteorological Society, in November, 2014. At 235 pages, this refreshing book will require more of your time, but is well worth the read. Mr. Gail centers his book on ten related questions, grouped into three categories:

Part I. Humans and Nature.

Are humans distinct from nature?

Can we make nature better?

Is nature sustainable?

Part II. Humans and society

Should society’s future matter to us?

Will civilization advance indefinitely?

Can we engineer everything?

Is knowledge always beneficial?

Could science and religion reconcile?

Part III. Humans and destiny

Do we live in a special time?

What will become of us?

He’s careful at the outset and throughout his book to warn that these questions don’t have “answers” in the literal sense; instead, they’re more of a Rohrschach test (as the book’s subtitle suggests). He’s not summarizing research in the mode of Mr. Pielke, but instead writing essays, in the tradition of, say, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Every reader of Mr. Gail’s essays will find much to like, but also one or more particular inferences that the reader feels could stand improvement (and of course, this’ll vary for each of us). In that sense, Mr. Gail’s done an admirable job of fulfilling the role described by Charles Darwin in the quote on LOTRW’s home page: “False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for everyone takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness.[2] Mr. Gail has done us all a service by taking the bold step of providing preliminary answers to some big questions. He invites us to reflect and add to the conversation on each. Regardless of our role in life, we would probably all do well to take a breather from our Google searches and piecemeal work to consider these larger issues… or frame alternative questions. Much more such conversation wouldn’t just provide insight into our worldwide future; they would brighten it.

The invitation? Lay hold of these books, start reading, and offer feedback. If you’re going to the upcoming 2015 AMS Annual Meeting in Phoenix, an added opportunity: Mr. Gail’s book will be for sale at the AMS Resources Center, and he will be signing autographed copies off and on. Consult your program… or hope to get lucky and catch him in the hallway.

Not planning to buy the books? The one excuse the authors might accept: that you’re too busy writing your own, better material.


[1]In fact, the IPCC inferences are drawn in part from the work of Pielke et al. over the period, so these two bodies of work are not independent.

[2]Charles Darwin The Origins of Man, Chapter 6


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Innovation in space technology and its applications: stepping up the pace.

As hinted in an earlier LOTRW post, NASA’s Applied Sciences Program (ASP) and the 2007 NRC Report Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond (the Decadal Survey) have accomplished a beneficial synergism. The existence and work of the ASP contributed to the Survey’s title and helped NRC minds focus on applications during the preparation of the initial report and the mid-term assessment[1] that followed several years later. The Survey in turn gave the efforts of the ASP a much needed visibility and boost.

That synergy and its continuing promise for realizing societal benefit from NASA’s science and technology are certain to play a role in the upcoming, follow-on Decadal Survey, which will look out another ten years into the future and beyond. Any statement of task for this new Survey will no doubt embody the intent of the earlier version, which generally read as follows:

“The study will generate consensus recommendations from the Earth and environmental science and applications [emphasis added, here and below] community regarding science priorities, opportunities afforded by new measurement types and new vantage points, and a systems approach to space-based and ancillary observations that encompasses the research programs of NASA and the related operational programs of NOAA.

During this study, the committee will conduct the following tasks.

1. Review the status of the field to assess recent progress in resolving major scientific questions outlined in relevant prior NRC, NASA, and other relevant studies and in realizing desired predictive and applications capabilities via space-based Earth observations.

2. Develop a consensus of the top-level scientific questions that should provide the focus for Earth and environmental observations in the period 2005-2015.

3. Take into account the principal federal- and state-level users of these observations and identify opportunities and challenges to the exploitation of the data generated by Earth observations from space.

4. Recommend a prioritized list of measurements, and identify potential new space-based capabilities and supporting activities within NASA [Earth Science Enterprise] and NOAA [National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service] to support national needs for research and monitoring of the dynamic Earth system during the decade 2005-2015. In addition to elucidating the fundamental physical processes that underlie the interconnected issues of climate and global change, these needs include: weather forecasting, seasonal climate prediction, aviation safety, natural resources management, agricultural assessment, homeland security, and infrastructure planning.

5. Identify important directions that should influence planning for the decade beyond 2015. For example, the committee will consider what ground-based and in-situ capabilities are anticipated over the next 10-20 years and how future space-based observing systems might leverage these capabilities. The committee will also give particular attention to strategies for NOAA to evolve current capabilities while meeting operational needs to collect, archive, and disseminate high quality data products related to weather, atmosphere, oceans, land, and the near-space environment. The committee will address critical technology development requirements and opportunities; needs and opportunities for establishing and capitalizing on partnerships between NASA and NOAA and other public and private entities; and the human resource aspects of the field involving education, career opportunities, and public outreach. A minor but important part of the study will be the review of complementary initiatives of other nations in order to identify potential cooperative programs.”

Calling for the advance of both Earth science and its application is salutary, but it might also be viewed as to some extent business-as usual. The United States and other countries routinely advance space technologies and Earth system science each and every day. Nations are also harnessing that knowledge and those technological capabilities along the way.

Instead, increasing the rate of such progress ought to challenge and intrigue us more[2]. What limits that rate? Is it really only brute level of effort? Or mere luck? Or by being more disciplined in our approach to both science and applications, could we more rapidly increase our store of knowledge and the speed with which we translate any new understanding to greater public health and safety, more productive agriculture and use of water resources and energy, and a more robust environment? Surely the need for such applications is growing in scale and urgency. Just as surely, the speed and effectiveness of technology transfer should matter.

Perhaps it’s time for a more aspirational and deliberate goal, something to be more carefully articulated, but along the lines of “accelerating the advance of science and technology, and accelerating their application for societal benefit.” At the end of each decade, advancing science and the application of science ought to be more effective than it had been at the outset – not necessarily cheaper in absolute terms, but perhaps less expensive relative to the return on investment, and quicker and surer to reach useful application.

The earlier LOTRW post gave an illustration from genomic mapping. Reductions in the cost and time required have opened up whole new areas of application[3]. Here’s another example, from my own work experience, dating back to my Boulder days in the 1970’s and 1980’s. At that time, the National Weather Service was embarking on a major Modernization and Restructuring. Some of this involved development and employment of so-called next-generation weather radars, and a renovated network of surface weather instruments. But some of the needed pieces were entirely new. One key element was the development of a workstation for weather forecasters, one that would integrate all the information coming into the forecast office from disparate sources: the satellite and radar data streams, the model outputs, etc., and at the same time allow the forecasters to generate text that would rapidly provide warnings and forecast products to the public, emergency managers, police and fire stations, hospital and school officials, and others. University of Wisconsin researchers had already developed such a workstation, called McIDAS, for use by scientists, but its tailored recalculation of forecasting products with each new request was slow and cumbersome.

NOAA/OAR researchers, under the leadership of Don Beran, set to creating a so-called Advanced Weather Information Processing System, or AWIPS. They concluded early on that the chances of hitting on an optimal workstation configuration from a priori reasoning were infinitesimal. Dave Small, the lead engineer, suggested that instead they create an Exploratory Development Facility, or EDF, that could rapidly be reconfigured in response to user feedback – a kind of breadboard on steroids. This was an early example of rapid prototyping or rapid application development, terms which have only entered the jargon since. The program was running at $4M/year, and it took two years to develop the first prototype workstation: cost $8M. But the next version of the workstation took six months, and subsequent workstations took less time and effort still.

A story from the period: About the same time the Navy-NOAA Joint Ice Center was also seeking a new workstation that could integrate polar satellite images and other observations as well as forecast models to provide civilian and military maritime operations in the Arctic nowcasts and outlooks for the Arctic icepack thickness and extent. The NOAA-Boulder AWIPS group volunteered its services, but even after deliberation, the JIC leadership had pretty much settled instead on letting a contract to JPL for several million dollars to accomplish this work. On their way to visit JPL, they paid a courtesy call to AWIPS. Darien Davis, then a junior member of our group, but destined for greater things, gave them a briefing. She showed them a mockup of a workstation pretty much able to do everything they needed and put it through its paces. I was in the room. The Navy officer’s jaw was working hard throughout the demonstration. Finally he asked, “How long did it take you to do this?” Darien gave him her signature smile. “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way,” she said, “but we were involved in some other projects, and so it took us about two weeks.” (As in, a couple of junior people; total marginal cost, maybe $5-10K)[4].

The point is this. The work of NASA’s ASP and similar groups within NASA and collaborations with other agencies and institutions is laying the groundwork needed to greatly improve flexible and facile user access to the new data sets and integrate these with other observations and models. United States federal agencies and their private-sector partners are on the threshold of major breakthroughs reducing the time and cost to user-application of new Earth science. We should hope that the new Decadal Surveys pay attention not only to the basic instrument suites and data sets but also to this application piece – not just as an add-on, but as an integrated part of the whole.


[1]Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Midterm Assessment of NASA’s Implementation of the Decadal Survey (2012)

[2] These ideas so much my own as those of others. One voice has been especially resonant – that of William Gail, who has been active in the decadal surveys and other NASA advisory roles, as well as President of the American Meteorological Society this past year.

[3]As covered in the past few days by CBS and others, DNA testing is now so inexpensive it can be used in practice to identify dog owners who are failing to clean up after their pets.

[4]Undeterred, our visitors thanked us politely, continued on to California, and carried out their original procurement plan.

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Do you hear what I hear?

Said the night wind to the little lamb,

“Do you see what I see?

Way up in the sky, little lamb,

Do you see what I see?

A star, a star, dancing in the night

With a tail as big as a kite,

With a tail as big as a kite.”


Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,

“Do you hear what I hear?

Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,

Do you hear what I hear?

A song, a song high above the trees

With a voice as big as the sea,

With a voice as big as the sea.”


Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,

“Do you know what I know?

In your palace walls, mighty king,

Do you know what I know?

A Child, a Child shivers in the cold–

Let us bring him silver and gold,

Let us bring him silver and gold.”


Said the king to the people everywhere,

“Listen to what I say!

Pray for peace, people, everywhere,

Listen to what I say!

The Child, the Child sleeping in the night

He will bring us goodness and light,

He will bring us goodness and light– Noel Regney[1]


A few evenings ago I was at a Christmas party… a truly pleasant and memorable one… warm and gracious hosts, dozens of conversations with fascinating and good people, mostly strangers. In the course of the evening, one of the guests asked me what I thought about climate change. I shared a few thoughts. In response, he said he was a skeptic. He then offered a rationale. Part of his reasoning caught me by surprise. It was so different and unexpected that in the days since I wonder if I heard him correctly. What I (thought I) heard went something like this: “If scientists truly thought things were as bad as they claim, they would be acting differently – less like business as usual.”


Taken at face value, this raises questions on so many levels. In retrospect, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to ask: Do you think scientists should be taking to the streets? (Some have done that.) Do you think they should be hacking the e-mails of their critics in the debate? (Some have done that.) What about the opposite view – that scientists are overreacting? That they’re too shrill? Have we reached such a state in our polarized, cynical society that the dialog we hear on climate feels no different from “talking about the weather?” You’d probably have asked my companion even better, more insightful questions of your own.

Coming during the holiday season, this conversation drives home a point we all know. As human beings, we have little difficulty discussing life’s daily concerns and events. We can agree on whether it’s raining or the sun is shining. We can ask each other “where’s the nearest bus stop” or “who won last night’s game” or “what’s for supper” and process the answers with ease. But we struggle when it comes to the momentous:

Is climate change real? If so, was/is it caused by human beings, or some external agency? And what should we do about it?

Did Jesus really exist at all? Was he man, born of the world or is he God, entered into the world? And what should we do about it?

The two sets of questions might have more similarities than differences. Neither should be ignored. As the song asks, when we hear the message of climate change – or the message of Christmas – what do we hear?

Something to think about today. Or maybe even tomorrow… or over a succession of tomorrows[2].


[1] This beautiful Christmas song, with lyrics by Noel Regney and music by his wife Gloria Shayne Baker, was composed in 1962 at the height of, and partly in response to, the Cuban missile crisis. You can find fuller background here. Of course you want to give it a listen! You’ll find dozens of different performances, ranging from the 1963 Bing Crosby classic that helped make it famous to today’s popular Carrie Underwood rendition here.

[2] One difference? The length of time we’ve been processing the two questions. We’ve been trying to wrap our minds around Jesus Christ for two thousand years. Climate change has been on our minds only for a few decades, maybe a century. Will this new idea demonstrate the same staying power?

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