Throughout the day, including a session at the end, the talk at the AMS Washington Forum kept returning to community concerns ranging from the continuity of funding for Earth observations, science, and services, and the resulting risk of disruption of that critical infrastructure… to the challenges identified by the NRC report Weather Services for the Nation: Becoming Second to None, and more. Enthusiasm for new approaches including a notional National Commission (whether Congressionally mandated or independent) was matched by caution. Comments covered a wide spectrum but two were repeated, with variations: If we don’t set our priorities others will set them for us…and… we need a cohesive narrative.
A personal reflection (reinforced by other hallway conversation): The first comment, in yesterday’s context, carried something of the idea that funding cuts for Earth observations, science, and services are inevitable, and we’ve got to take the initiative in deciding where those cuts should come. But the fact is, any effort to put such handcuffs on ourselves will prove divisive. It will pit agency against agency, company against company, university against university…and each of the three sectors against one another. It will compromise our current hard-won sense of community established over the past decade in response to the earlier Fair Weather NRC report.
We might resign ourselves to making the best of it if such cuts were inevitable. But they’re not. They’ll only be imposed if we fail to act. The reality is quite different. In fact, it’s one and the same with the cohesive narrative:
The defining 21st-century challenge, not just for the United States, but for seven billion people worldwide, is meeting needs for energy, food, and water while at the same time protecting ecosystem services and building resilience to natural hazards. Our community holds keys to doing the job. The world is not seeking to constrain our work; they’re hoping we have the wit and the verve to expand it. They’re holding their collective breath, eager to see us rise to the occasion. That world is indeed funding-constrained; after the financial shocks of 2008, troubles with the Euro, and more, it is limited in what it can afford. But as a matter of global security… a matter beyond price… it is ready to support us in every way it can… to give us whatever we need… provided we show that we know what we’re doing, and that we’re being nimble and purposeful and high-minded about it. Policy officials and the general public alike want us to leave our comfort zone of the past few decades… our limited view of what we offer and what we need in turn… and walk boldly into center stage of the brave new world. They’re counting on us to articulate a vision and to provide a roadmap showing how we can get there.
It’s not my personal style, but our community could use a little more swagger.