Dawn in America

Got up early enough this morning (at that time those in the military refer to as “oh-dark hundred”) to collect a daily bit of meteorological data. Here to report:

The sun rose in the east.

Looks as if we’re headed for another one of those days where that sun ratchets up the global average temperature of Earth’s atmosphere by some 10-4 0C, in the process melting enough ice on net to raise sea-level a little less than a tenth of a millimeter, meanwhile reducing ocean acidity/pH by 10-5 units. (Almost as an afterthought, that sun is fueling tropical depression ETA ashore in central America.)

Same old, same old? Or a New Day in America?

Depends on where your focus lies. Fact is, we’re all in the business, each and every day, of capturing a bit of both spirits. It’s useful to maintain a steady sense of “where we are, and whither we are tending,”  to borrow Lincoln’s phrase, but it’s equally important to take advantage of special days and seasons in our lives to take stock, reaffirm commitment to our basic values, the people we love, and more.  

This truth holds for us as individuals, but equally so for institutions. Here at the American Meteorological Society, our members have a quadrennial ritual – producing a priorities statement: this year, Priorities for a New Decade: Weather, Water, and Climate A Policy Statement of the American Meteorological Society (adopted by the AMS Council on Council 28 September 2020). What other NGO’s sometimes refer to as a transition document, and timed to coincide with the election cycle, it lays out a set of goals for our professional and scientific community. But these goals have a special wrinkle. They can’t be achieved unless they’re goals shared by the American people and the government at the people’s service. This is an appeal to a new administration coming in, or version 2.0 of the present one – an appeal for partnership to what we believe should be common aspirations for both scientists and the larger public, for both Democrats and Republicans, young and old, of every background and persuasion.

A quick look at the bottom line (the link provides more detail):

To ensure economic and societal well-being over the next decade (this particular quadrennial happens at a decade’s start), AMS recommends that the nation:

• develop the next generation of WWC experts

• invest in research critical to innovation and advanced services

• invest in observations and computing infrastructure

• create services that harness scientific advances for societal benefit

• prepare informed WWC information users

• build strong partnerships throughout the WWC enterprise

• implement effective leadership and management

Looking at these, some readers might see a fistful of generic nouns and adjectives, a number of bullets that might look vaguely similar to what they remember from four years ago, and jump a “same old, same old” conclusion. But with just a little further thought, it’s easy to see that while each could have been worded similarly in 2016, each means something different in 2020.

An example from the political world so much on our mind these days illustrates this. For years, perhaps decades, “climate change” has been considered a third rail of American politics. Politicians of both stripes avoided the subject. But this year, one of the candidates could make less-than-the-most-artful comments about a particular aspect of the national and global climate-change conversation – namely fracking—and incur little political damage. It appears that country and the world see the handwriting on the wall and have moved on.

A second example: innovation; investments in workforce development; harnessing scientific advancement for societal benefit resonate quite differently in the 2020’s, with economic competition with other nations (particularly but not only China) and concerns about the pandemic’s impact on US K-12 and higher education focusing minds.

Readers might try going through the entire list with new eyes – with a 2020 vision as it were.

This season of America’s political life is a good time for each of us to consider the bulleted goals of the priorities statement, reflect on where we best fit in, assess where we can contribute, and contemplate what help we will need from others if we’re to accomplish what’s necessary. As we reflect on that last point, we might do well to consider those “others” not as strangers, or “them,” but rather as valued, respected partners that we’re inclined to trust (yes, trust), that we’d like to get to know better, listen to more seriously, collaborate with through thick and thin. That goes especially, regardless of where we stand politically, for the other half of the country who clearly saw things differently than we did.

It’s the same-old, same-old, and at the same time a New Day in America.

Whatever we call it, let’s seize it: carpe diem.

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