Ed Lorenz chats up three caterpillars.

(Exercising a smidgen of creative license) In 1961, Ed Lorenz went for a brief walk on the MIT campus while waiting for the computer to run a recalculation. He happened to spot three caterpillars making their way across the quad. He stooped over for a closer look, wondering where they were headed, curious about what such small, insignificant creatures might be thinking. Suddenly:

“Hey, Big Guy, who ya staring at?”

Whoa! Straight out of Horton Hears a Who! Could it be my imagination, or is one of the caterpillars looking up at me? Now they all are!

Lorenz took a chance. “Hi, little fellas. What’s happening?”

Again, the inner voice. “Well, we’re not exactly sure. You’ve heard of The Big Reset?”

Lorenz. “The Big Reset? What’s that?”

Caterpillar 1. “All caterpillars talk about it. A lot are atheistic – they just scoff/don’t believe. But there’s the word afoot that all we caterpillars, whatever our journey, are headed for a period of time of inactivity and reformation… and after that, we’re reborn! Life becomes something more than moseying through vegetation and munching on the leaves – The Big Reset. After that, we’re something different.”

Lorenz. “Different? How so?”

Caterpillar 1. “”Opinions vary. Most caterpillars figure after that we’re incrementally bigger and better – but I have a larger vision. After The Big Reset, I won’t just be ten percent bigger and slightly more mobile – I’ll be twice as big – and truly zip around, blaze a bigger trail through the brush.”

Lorenz. “What about your buddies?”

Caterpillar 1. “Tsk! They’ve got some crazy ideas. I’ll let ’em speak for themselves.”

Caterpillar 2 (snapping out of a reverie). “Yeah, The Big Reset? I’m going to use the occasion to reinvent myself. I won’t wind up like my timid buddy here, just being more of the same. I’m gettin’ out of this grass. I’ll be able to fly! I’m going to fly hundreds of miles! I’m gonna to see the world!”

Lorenz (turning to the last of the trio) “and how about you?”

Caterpillar 3 (turning toward Caterpillar 2). “Like him. I’ll be able to fly. But for me, it won’t stop there. I’m gonna  make a difference, have an actual impact! I’ll flap my wings one way, and set in motion a tornado or a hurricane someplace far away – a place I’ve never even been! And I’ll flap my wings another time and in another way, and cut off a hurricane that might have developed in my absence. I’m not just gonna see the world. I’m gonna change the world! People will know I was here – that my life mattered.”

Lorenz. “I was tracking with your friends, but wow! I did not see that coming. A whole new perspective, definitely food for thought. Great talking to you guys, but I have to get back to the lab, see how that recalculation turned out.”

He rises to leave; if you’ve read this far, you probably know the rest of the story, but ICYMI, you can learn what happened next here.

Why this vignette in LOTRW?

Well, it happens that the American Meteorological Society is experiencing its own version of The Big Reset; collectively thinking through the history of its first 100 years and looking toward the future. Early in 2019, as part of this process, the AMS developed/refreshed its Strategic Goals. These made minimal splash at the time. However, all of us should give them a bit more study  – whether we are AMS members, or members of the larger Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise, or members of the larger global society.

Each of us has looked at these goals, or will look at and interpret them, through a different individual lens. Some may look and see only incremental change (and react differently, ranging from disappointment [wish they’d been more electrifying] or take false comfort [whew! Had feared they’d be disruptive/lie outside my comfort zone]. Others may see something more transformative. And hopefully, there’ll be a large group that see them calling us to existential future impact – pivotal to the 21st-century aspirations of eight billion people for ample food, energy, and water resources; resilience to hazards, and protection of vital ecosystem services.

My plan is to use future posts to unpack the individual AMS Strategic Goals from these three distinct perspectives. But don’t wait for me, or leave it to my limited, individual perception. Start (or continue) to sharpen your own thinking along these lines now. Chat with your friends. Don’t just prepare to be part of a world that’s substantially different. Position yourself to make an impact, to shape those differences.  

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