SCOTUS on EPA; and Independence Day 2022

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…“ – the U.S. Declaration of Independence

On Thursday of last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency. The decision put limits on EPA’s regulatory authority to control carbon emissions, triggering a flurry of news reports and analysis. For the most part, media narratives described the decision as a setback for efforts to deal with climate change. Some quarters saw instead a welcome correction to federal over-reach into Americans’ lives and affairs. Generally speaking, the analysts either impugned the (majority) justices’ motives or lauded them for their courage and integrity as protectors of Americans’ rights. There was little in-between.

A few reflections:

The decision didn’t come as a surprise. Though draft texts were not leaked as in the case of Roe v. Wade, the expectation was that the ruling would go against EPA.

The intent behind the decision is open to interpretation (and may never be fully known). But it seems to be more far-reaching than simply declaring a winner and a loser.

Justices themselves were not of one accord. The vote was split 6-3. And at first glance, differences in individual views appeared to be vast. Consider these quotes (from the Washington Post):

Gorsuch: “When Congress seems slow to solve problems, it may be only natural that those in the Executive Branch might seek to take matters into their own hands. But the Constitution does not authorize agencies to use pen-and-phone regulations as substitutes for laws passed by the people’s representatives.”

Kagan (writing for herself and for Breyer and Sotomayor) “The Court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy…I cannot think of many things more frightening.”

But look a bit deeper. There’s actually agreement here. In this decision and parallel rulings with respect to CDC and OSHA, the justices seem to be saying that sweeping regulatory authority can’t be left to a small handful of unelected civil servants, whether in the courts or in the agencies. Instead, they’re asking that Congress step up to the role envisioned by the Declaration of Independence – specifically that members of Congress roll up their sleeves and actually come to grips with climate change, the pandemic, racism, abortion, the right to bear arms, and other thorny issues, in each instance seeking- and hammering out compromise that reflects the will and needs of the governed, and enacting responsive legislation. They’re reminding members of Congress that they were elected to work together to achieve desired societal ends (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness come to mind). They weren’t sent to Washington simply to fight each other and then look to the courts to declare winners and losers, as if politics were some kind of sports event and justices merely the referees.

This would seem to be a stretch for Congress, given the polarization and rancor characterizing recent sessions. For years, policy analysts have informed the rest of us that Congress’ job is less that of passing legislation, than that of ensuring that flawed legislation isn’t enacted. In recent years, however, that tendency has been carried to an extreme, culminating in what Francis Fukuyama has termed a vetocracy – a dysfunctional system of governance whereby no single entity can acquire enough power to make decisions and take effective charge.

No one is happy or complacent about this. That holds for incumbents in any branch of federal government – executive, legislative, judicial. It holds for both leaders and staff. It holds regardless of political persuasion. All participants are wearied, frustrated, fearful, angry. High-minded, intelligent, thoughtful, dedicated men and women populate, even dominate the chambers of the Supreme Court, the halls of Congress, the headquarters and field offices of the agencies. All want to do the right thing. The challenge lies in finding a structured, stable path to walk back the current animus and get to a more workable, sustainable place.

Progress starts with you and me. There is no roadmap. But one starting point is clear. Thanks to the generation that gave us the Declaration of Independence and all the generations in between, we live in a free democracy. We have the government we want, the government we asked for, the government we created through myriad action and (far too much inaction) over years of elections, through times of scarcity and plenty, across seasons of peace and war. The present situation, with all its problems and opportunities, is the present we created. We have the same power over the future. What happens next depends upon want we do, and what we ask of those we elect and install across government at federal and state levels. It depends upon whether we work to fix problems instead of fix blame, whether we choose to keep moving forward, meet present and new challenges head on versus waiting to receive or take any credit we might think we are due. If they are to do their jobs, the courts, the Congress, and the federal agencies need an engaged public that both provides support and calls for accountability.

(Closer to home? As we contemplate West Virginia vs. the Environmental Protection Agency, those of us in meteorology, or the broader geosciences, might reflect on our role in shaping the decision and in redefining its significance. Our research and services led first to scientific awareness of human impacts on climate and the climate change and global change underway. We have worked for years to expand that awareness from our small group of science- and service providers to the public at large, worldwide. We’re in part the reason the court case arose in the first place. But we’re also a major reason that it didn’t occur in a vacuum, but rather in the context of a world mobilizing to live more sustainably. Fact is, that mobilization and the attendant progress haven’t really been slowed so much as a single day by the ruling. Today, efforts to green the world, though nascent, are building a momentum of their own. At national and local levels. Across public and private spheres. And that larger world continues to look to us for new ideas on next steps. Accordingly, we do well not to obsess or complain overmuch about particulars of West Virginia vs. the Environmental Protection Agency.)

In closing, some words to live by (hint: they’re not new…)

In support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

We have nothing more to offer; nothing less is called for.

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The Times, They are A-Changin’.

This post is the last of three planned LOTRW posts examining Bob Dylan’s body of work and its implications for (and possible inspiration from?) meteorology. The first was built around Blowin’ in the Wind. The second, on It’s a Hard Rain aGonna’ Fall. Today’s focus is on The Times, They are a-Changing. Wikipedia tells us that Dylan likely composed this song in 1963, and quotes him to the effect that “This was definitely a song with a purpose… I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time.”

The same Wikipedia piece tells us that one critic, Michael Gray called it “the archetypal protest song.” Gray commented, “Dylan’s aim was to ride upon the unvoiced sentiment of a mass public—to give that inchoate sentiment an anthem and give its clamour an outlet. He succeeded, but the language of the song is nevertheless imprecisely and very generally directed.” Gray suggested that the song has been made obsolete by the very changes that it predicted and hence was politically out of date almost as soon as it was written.

Hmm. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. But the song’s message might not seem so dated to today’s ears. But you be the judge; here are the lyrics:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Those who study prophecy for a living make a couple of points that seem relevant here. First, they tell us that prophecy often is not so much some prediction of the future as a deeply perceptive analysis of the present. Second, they note that prophecies may share a similarity with wines – the good ones improve in taste and reputation with age, revealing themselves to be more broadly relevant and enduring with passage of time and the emergence of new issues, while the quality and standing of weaker prophecies continue to fade.

(All well and good, Bill, but I don’t see obvious reference to meteorology in the same way as you find it in the previous two numbers.)

Given my background, it’s most natural to read this through the relatively narrow lens of climate change. (And, no, I’m not attempting to draw any connections between the lyrics and, say, sea level rise. That looks like way too much of a stretch. It’s actually got a bit more to do with the call to writers and journalists to not be too quick to call winners and losers, to political leaders to engage, and to people of a certain generation not to dwell in the past – all of which would seem to apply to today’s climate debate.) In our world and in my lifetime attention to climate change has morphed. It began as quiet study and concern largely confined to scientists. It then grew into today’s rancorous, verging-on-violent uproar entraining populations and nations as a whole. Views of the issue have expanded commensurately. In the United States, the issue first enlarged to include climate impacts. Later (dating back to the 1980’s) scientists and the government began framing the challenge as more than mere climate change. Rather, they saw global change, including changes in the oceans, cryosphere, and biosphere. The U.S. Global Change Research Program was the result.  Meanwhile, the social scientists weighed in, most notably in a massive, multi-year, multi-authored study entitled Human Choice and Climate Change, published in the 1990’s and (excuse my continuing rant, dating back to 2012), receiving far less attention than should have been its due. They saw social change and technological advance as both major drivers and impacts.  

Enter the artist (Bob Dylan), who notes, in effect: It’s not just the climate that’s changing. It’s not just the physical and ecological Earth. It’s not just the monumental social change. It’s more than all these. The times themselves, they are changing.

Think of this as perhaps the third in a graduated succession of aphorisms:

1. History repeats itself. Or, similarly, Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it. The origins of this first quote are so ancient and widespread as to be lost in the mists of that very history. The latter quote is attributed to George Santayana. Often, for minor perturbations in a society – a routine election cycle, an economic boom, a seasonal flu outbreak, or a dry year out west, history and precedent can provide a guide as to what might come next. Of course, history doesn’t really repeat itself[1]. Which brings us to:

2. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. This quote is frequently attributed to Mark Twain (but with little basis, as it turns out). Captures the idea that in some instances, history’s lessons might not apply in detail to new circumstances, but nevertheless remain useful.

3. The times, they are a-changin’. However, every so often, challenges arise that differ radically from those of the past, or last occurred so distantly that the past circumstances bore little correspondence to the present conditions. In these instances, the past no longer provides a useful guide. Dylan saw the civil rights movement as of this nature. Michael Gray’s critical view that this problem had been ameliorated and Dylan’s protest outdated has proved too sanguine. That old enemy – racism – has never gone away. Today it combines with other inequities, climate change, pandemic, war and economic upheaval. This cocktail of woes has fomented worldwide discontent and unrest that tears at the social fabric – from global to neighborhood levels. Trust across our society is at a low ebb, just when it’s most needed. Everything is changing – all at once, and suddenly.

Where, Bill, is the good news in any or all of this?

In a word – awareness. The discontent, frustration, fear, anger is nearly universal. Hardly anyone is sleepwalking through present-day realities complacent about present circumstances or future prospects. On whatever continent, whether rich or poor , whether nominally powerful and influential or in a clearly humble position, eight billion people are dissatisfied, to say the least. People lack a sense of agency. Because it’s the times themselves that are changing, no single person or small group or government or industry can envision let alone accomplish the work to be done.

Passivity in the face of despair on this scale is unsustainable. It will necessarily give way to action. Countless individuals, institutions and nations will combine – are already combining – in myriad small, exploratory efforts to make things better. Many will fail and be abandoned. But others will achieve a degree of success, and with that success garner attention. The attention will trigger competition and imitation, and at increasing scale.

 All of us have read enough about the past to know this cycle. Some of us have lived long enough to experience the full cycle directly. Times of prosperity and well being never last, but neither do times of despair.

Expect improvement. And don’t be surprised to find that you aren’t just witnessing that positive change. You’re playing a role. These tough times too are a-changin’.

[1]Since science is focused on events and processes that are repeatable, history sometimes struggles to get outsiders consider it a social science, but this limit for both science and history is a subject for another day).

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A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall.

(Note to self: Always, always, ALWAYS begin any project, no matter how humble in concept, with a lit review. Opening today with an apology to Alan Robock, as well as a tip of the hat – more precisely, a recommendation that you read his wonderfully thoughtful (and many years prior!) work on Bob DylanRobock, Alan, 2005:  Tonight as I stand inside the rain:  Bob Dylan and weather imagery.  Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc., 86, 483-487. You’ll discover the Robock paper to be definitive [his signature trait], and you’ll also see how a scientist can write on subjects and in ways that are themselves truly poetic while remaining scholarly. As a bonus you’ll find a short companion piece by Guido Visconti.

Thanks, Alan!)

I’d planned to follow up yesterday’s LOTRW post by noting that if someone were to merit the label poet laureate with respect to any particular subject matter or themes, they should be able to point to a body of work and not a single piece. Alan Robock makes the case for Bob Dylan far more strongly than I could, listing a number of Dylan’s works that make vibrant use of weather imagery, and delving deeply into key lyrics of those works to support that view.

Alan was careful to mention that his list of weather references in Dylan’s work wasn’t exhaustive, or intended to be. Instead he ends up “discussing [his] two favorite weather songs and giving examples from others.” Interestingly, at least to me, the second song I’d picked to illustrate Dylan’s emphasis on weather metaphors and imagery was one that didn’t make the cut for Alan in 2005: A Hard Rain’s aGonna Fall. Here are the lyrics:

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well-hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Wikipedia provides some background to this 1962 work. The Wikipedia entry merits a thorough read; here are a few snippets:

A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” is a song written by Bob Dylan in the summer of 1962 and recorded later that year for his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963).

The song is… communicating suffering, pollution, and warfare. Dylan has said that all of the lyrics were taken from the initial lines of songs that “he thought he would never have time to write”… Dylan attributed his inspiration to the feeling he got when reading microfiche newspapers in the New York Public Library: “After a while you become aware of nothing but a culture of feeling, of black days, of schism, evil for evil, the common destiny of the human being getting thrown off course. It’s all one long funeral song.”

Dylan originally wrote “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” in the form of a poem…[ultimately building it into]… a complex and powerful song built upon the question-and-answer refrain pattern of the traditional British ballad “Lord Randall“, published by Francis Child.

…While some have suggested that the refrain of the song refers to nuclear fallout, Dylan disputed that this was a specific reference. In a radio interview with Studs Terkel in 1963, Dylan said:

No, it’s not atomic rain, it’s just a hard rain. It isn’t the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that’s just gotta happen … In the last verse, when I say, “the pellets of poison are flooding the waters,” that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers.

In closing, if you have the time, you might try repeating yesterday’s exercise with this song. Read the lyrics through a few times. Meditate on their multiple meanings. Ask yourself: What seems dated? [I’m guessing very little.] What seems timeless? Why? Consider the lyrics’ message to you. Then listen to the words as set to the music…

Now you’re ready to provide impact-based decision support to the tumultuous world of 2022 in which we’re imbedded – a world of suffering, pollution, and war – a world seeking and hungering to find elements of hope, and encouragement, and opportunity in your message.

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The answer, my friend, is Blowin’ in the wind.

Weather forecasting is inherently difficult; in the past, meteorologists used to be chastised (often gleefully so), when their forecasts went awry,[1] for their failure to “look out the window.”

Back in the day, the critics referred to the literal window’s literal view – which might reveal blowing snow, or wind or hail, or their opposite, a bright sunny sky – in contradiction to the forecast du jour. But today, meteorologists are expected to know what’s happening outside a metaphorical window. They asked not just to predict the atmosphere’s physical state, but its impact on society – on the evening commute, on the safety of flood-prone areas, on the integrity of built structures, on an agricultural crop, and more.

To provide their impact-based decision support in light of these broader, yet place-based needs – to make so-called actionable forecasts – meteorologists have discovered the need for additional input, this time not from physical scientists and technologists, but from social sciences. In particular, the current preoccupation extends beyond more detailed observations and enhanced numerical modeling to the science of (mass) risk communication.

So far, so good. But these days, there’s an extra level/degree of difficulty. To look out that virtual window is to see “stormy weather” – a world in tumult, a world in a season of challenge, dysfunction and conflict. Challenge? Endemic poverty and social injustice. Raging pandemics. Climate change. Dysfunction? Polarized governments, not just in the United States, but across the world. Governments that have forgotten or choose to ignore their legitimacy and purpose, as captured by the Declaration of Independence: to secure (unalienable) rights…instituted and deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Conflict? Mass shootings. Terrorism. Racism. War. Weather and climate forecasts are daily consulted for their possible bearing on any or all of conduct and outcomes of this social storm as well as for their more quotidian, “fair weather” purpose.

These challenges span the whole of human aspiration and the world’s agenda. What’s more, they share a common feature; they are wicked problems. That is, they offer little in the way of real solutions. Instead, they demand continuing coping strategies from a variety of sources. All, to one degree or another, are shaped by influenced by our generous, dangerous, fragile planet. We will never see the back of these issues. This combines to frustrate meteorologists, who know their services are of greatest value when providing incremental advice to, tweaking the actions of, otherwise equitable, functional societies. Equity and justice and the stability they can bring are nowhere to be found.

A society verging on chaos and riven by perceived and real injustice requires of meteorologists a deeper level of risk comm, one that touches on core values at individual and societal levels. To be salient and effective in meeting the needs of such a world requires help from the humanities and even the spiritual disciplines.

Where to look for such insights? Well, poetry is one field that comes to mind. Fact is, many nations, states, and other entities have established the institution of the poet laureate – a poet retained by the state to commemorate special occasions (or issues or circumstances their society faces, as seen through the lens of the artist).

Today’s meteorological community has no such formally-acknowledged position, but should it establish one, perhaps it would help to have a few criteria in mind when selecting an incumbent. For example, we might prefer a poet who used meteorological metaphor. To use the vernacular of the oenologist, that would the poetry’s“terroir.” All else being equal, we might favor a poet and poetry that had “notes of prediction“ – and it would be best if those predictions verified, held true, for substantial periods of time (just as wine of a good vintage improves with age). Finally, the poetry – just like the meteorological forecasts – needs to be useful, appealing to diverse audiences.

Speaking of notes, perhaps poetry set to music would be best. After all, if the poetry is to be relevant and real to today’s daunting times, it will necessarily hold both lament and warning. In the same breath, however, it can’t just foster despair; it should also embolden and encourage. Music has this magic.

Some may feel that these multiple requirements have left us with a null set. But here’s an existence theorem – a name demonstrating that the set contains at least one member:

Bob Dylan.

As proof of a sort, consider this song, whose origins go back to the spring and summer of 1962: Blowin’ in the wind.

In the title and throughout the text, brimming with weather metaphor. Offering both lament and warning. In many ways, as fresh on its 60th anniversay as it was at its genesis. And continuing to invite, even demand, wide, diverse interpretation. Whatever your background or personal preferences, you’ll find a resonant thought or two in the lyrics:

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Yes, and how many years must a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
And how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
And how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’til he knows
That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

As an exercise, if your schedule today permits, you might try reading through these verses a time or two. Then access the song either here or through your favorite app, and give it a listen. Or two or three. In background? Better than nothing. But for the fuller experience, perhaps pause what you’re doing. Take time to savor Mr. Dylan offers here. Listen, along with him, to the blowing wind. Ponder its answer.

See if it doesn’t help you put your present task, whatever you’re about, in perspective. See if it doesn’t make you a bit more strategic (and therefore more effective) in your efforts to make the world a bit safer in the face of weather hazards and a bit more adept at seizing weather’s benefits. Maybe, just maybe, this exercise may even make you a bit more hopeful throughout the rest of the day. (For extra credit, identify and put forth your own candidate for meteorology’s poet laureate, along with a sample of their oeuvre.)


[1]a much rarer circumstance these days than when I entered the field more than half a century ago

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Science Convergence in an Inclusive and Diverse World

The previous LOTRW post noted a new, and welcome, Sigma Xi initiative. From the Sigma Xi website:

The Scientific Research Honor Society announces plans to hold the first International Forum on Research Excellence (IFoRE) November 3–6, 2022. The four-day conference will welcome scientists, engineers, students, artists, and supporters of science worldwide to participate in discussions and demonstrations of excellence in the research enterprise. Attendees will be invited to present, connect, and collaborate on diverse ideas through symposia, panels, workshops, and networking sessions. The hybrid event will be held in-person in Alexandria, Virginia, as well as online.

The theme for IFoRE ’22 is “Science Convergence in an Inclusive and Diverse World.”
[Emphasis added.] Attendees will take part in a variety of multi-track sessions that explore the strength of scientific research when diverse minds converge as well as ideas that conquer the challenges of increasing equity and inclusion in the research community.

Science convergence (alternatively convergence research) is certainly a popular notion these days. The National Science Foundation has been one of the leaders in this charge. They provide this description: Convergence research is a means of solving vexing research problems, in particular, complex problems focusing on societal needs. It entails integrating knowledge, methods, and expertise from different disciplines and forming novel frameworks to catalyze scientific discovery and innovation.

Similarly, the current world attention to diversity and inclusion is also badly-needed and long overdue – and not just in the research community.

All this prompts a few initial thoughts:

On convergence. To draw from my own background, most geoscientists and Earth scientists are keenly aware that their work has always been multidisciplinary. To paraphrase the country singer Barbara Mandrell (with apologies): “geosciences were convergent when convergence wasn’t cool.” Taking meteorology as an example: the question what makes weather? has long been wedded to the forecast problem what will the weather do next? Improving the answer to both has required drawing from a mishmash of disciplines – mathematics, physics, chemistry, even a bit of biology (as for example, in examining the role of plant transpiration in moisture supply to the atmosphere over land surfaces). And all that is before we come to the questions of what makes the weather matter? and how might we better capture its opportunities and protect ourselves from its threats? These bring in the social sciences and more. The progress of meteorology has been tied less to the notion of convergence as an ideal than it has to the quick-and-dirty application of whatever scientific disciplines have been found to be useful or needed. These have all been incorporated into meteorology well before the idea of convergence became a thing. (Parenthetically, meteorologists have given priority to the problem to be solved at some expense of their reputation and standing among the pantheon of science disciplines. Good for meteorologists.)

That means that meteorology and other geosciences (and other fields, such as medicine or social science) might be viewed as more akin to engineering than to science. That’s reflected in the reality that meteorologists, hydrologists, et al., are more fully populated in the National Academy of Engineering than in the National Academy of Sciences. Convergence is a means to an end as well as an end in itself, as implied by the NSF text above. A challenge for Sigma Xi is to address and balance both.

On inclusion and diversity. Like convergence itself, these ideals are both a means to an end and a desirable end in themselves. The hopes and aspirations of eight billion people can be realized only to the extent that all share equitably in (1) opportunity to contribute to the progress of science and innovation, and (2) access to, and benefit from the results of that progress. Sigma Xi is right to give this emphasis.

As a step in this direction, what is Sigma Xi planning, or how might it plan to engage other scientific and professional societies in its initial and multi-year IFoRE efforts? And are those other societies (thinking personally of the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union that have played so great a role in my own career as examples) taking corresponding steps to contribute? (Addressing my own community here) If not, we should be. Being intentional and strategic about such engagement now could greatly enrich and accelerate IFoRE impact.

On bench-level scientists as participants versus spectators. A reexamination of what makes research “excellent” in light of urgent societal needs as well as the progress of disciplines per se is certainly called for. Periodically hearing from a handful of high-profile speakers at annual conferences – giving their reflections a wider platform – will ennoble us all. But social scientists (and our parents) remind us we learn best by doing. That suggests explicit attention to a second question that could be raised in every science sphere, at multiple levels (individual, institutional, programmatic; local as well as national and global): how can this particular bit of science in this discipline or area of application or local place be made “more excellent?”

Such incremental improvement at the margins is the quotidian stuff of journal peer review, of exchange at professional meetings, of laboratory program reviews – an already (if imperfectly) diverse and inclusive set of activities across the sciences. These have as their aim more-excellent science and they are well underway. They have their established traditions shaped by trial-and-error experience. It’s part of the basic hygiene of science.

That said, it could all stand some improvement. Attention to ways and means to enhance these processes should accompany focus on the bigger picture. And it’s a path to fostering the desired diversity and inclusion, especially the inclusion of early-career scientists.

At such local levels, seeking to make science “more excellent” at the margins, and doing what scientists do best – experimenting, accompanied by early detection of success and failure, and sharing of those findings in both Sigma Xi and other science and professional societies? That would surely make for a better world – at the rapid pace matching the urgent needs emerging across today’s world. That, and nothing less, is what’s at stake with IFoRE.

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Sigma Xi looks to refine and update concepts of science excellence. Bravo!

Alvin Weinberg 1915-2008

The new initiative comes at the right time – and from a welcome direction.

But few today may know or remember that half a century ago, Alvin Weinberg, then a Sigma Xi member, offered a personal perspective on the subject. Even today, his essay provides a useful starting point for further thought. Digging deeper…

The new Sigma Xi Initiative.

On March 7 of this year, Jamie Vernon, Executive Director and CEO of Sigma Xi, posted this on his Keyed In Blog:

Sigma Xi, the honor society for scientists and engineers, recognizes research excellence in all scientific disciplines and sectors of the research enterprise. The Society relies on its members worldwide to determine the qualifications for membership based on an individual’s scientific contributions. Generations of scientists and engineers have crossed this threshold of excellence to become members. However, the definition of scientific excellence has evolved in recent years. To bridge the divide between the scientific community and the expectations and needs of broader society, metrics associated with inclusivity, accessibility, and usability of science have emerged as critical factors in determining the value of scientific research. Later this year, researchers worldwide will have an opportunity to weigh in on these discussions at the inaugural International Forum on Research Excellence, powered by Sigma Xi.

Jamie Vernon’s fuller post contains links to additional material and is worth a thoughtful read in its entirety. The inaugural Sigma Xi forum is scheduled for November 3-6, with the in-person portion taking place here in the DC area. The high concentration of scientist-policy leaders here bodes well for such a launch. What’s more, Sigma Xi, by virtue of its mission, membership, and history, has much at stake, and much to bring to the table. And through its commitment to continuing the Forum Series at varying locations, Sigma Xi is positioning itself to play a uniquely valuable role going forward.  

Readers may be forgiven if they feel overwhelmed by the existing and rapidly growing literature on the topic. Such is the nature of the Information Age. That said, here’s yet another candidate for your attention.

Alvin Weinberg’s personal perspective.

Beginning on a personal note: over fifty years ago, I opened up my November-December issue of Sigma Xi’s journal, The American Scientist, to find an article by Alvin Weinberg entitled The Axiology of Science. A nuclear physicist, a leader of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory both during and after the Manhattan Project, a member of the President’s Science Advisory Commission under Eisenhower and Kennedy, and a DoE executive in several capacities in later years, Weinberg had an extraordinary career as a scientist and as a scientist administrator, at the highest levels of government and at a critical juncture in science and science policy in this country.

The JSTOR format in the link doesn’t lend itself to ready copying and pasting even small blocks of material, but to give you the flavor, here’s some (apologies, actually a bit of a laundry list) of what you’ll find there.

  • A definition of the axiology of science (including ethics and aesthetics, a theory of value)
  • A list of those who should care: practicing scientists, science administrators
  • Why axiology matters: for resource-allocation, setting academic curricula, etc.
  • A special problem of comparisons of value/merit across scientific fields
  • A catalog of implicit axiological attitudes toward science: pure is better than applied, general is better than particular, search is better than codification, paradigm-breaking is better than spectroscopy. (Weinberg doesn’t simply enumerate these, as I’ve done here; he dives into each in a bit of detail. And he doesn’t accept them uncritically, but identifies shortcomings)
  • Criteria for scientific choice: ripeness for exploitation, calibre of the practitioners (Weinberg sees these as distinct from those in the earlier category, relating more to resource-allocation aspect of decisions)
  • Fifty years ago, Weinberg was already arguing that the big picture assessments can’t be left to scientists alone, but must include the larger society. Accordingly, he identified three external-to-science criteria for making such decisions: technological merit, that is, the degree to which science advanced the possibilities of needed technologies; social merit, the degree to which science would meet a societal goal; and scientific merit, which he framed as the degree to which science “contributes to and illuminates neighboring fields.”
  • A wrap-up, including raising and discussion of several questions that Weinberg acknowledged were easier to pose than resolve
  • A plea for philosophers to weigh in.

To repeat, what’s provided here is to point you to Weinberg’s unfiltered, and complete thoughts. If you’re not already familiar with this piece, and if you care about the value, and values of science, you might want to read it. Maybe even reread it.

Several times.

Please do so. You’ll be struck by the crisp clarity of his writing. Savor his thought process. Admire his prescience – the extent to which the piece feels as on-point today as it did fifty years ago. But go further; note what seems dated (for example, lack of explicit attention to the inclusivity and accessibility of science). Visualize directions and opportunities for improvement. Going forward, commit to tracking the progress Sigma Xi will make. Or better yet, participate.

Shortly after I read (and reread) this paper in the early 1970’s, my government lab asked me to move from my bench-scientist post into a management role. My post-Weinberg brain helped me see that offer as an opportunity, instead of a mere distraction. Changed my life.

Sigma Xi’s new initiative promises to accomplish something similar in the minds of many early-career scientists and at that same time expand public engagement on the issues.

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The Supreme Court ponders EPA’s carbon dioxide authority.

Amid the current uproar over the U.S. Supreme Court’s leaked Roe v. Wade scratchwork, it might be easy to lose sight of another ruling expected at the end of the Court’s 2021-2022 session – this on EPA’s authority to regulate CO2 emissions. The case, entitled simply West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, in fact pits attorneys-general from eighteen states and representatives from some major coal producers against the U.S. government and a similar array of backers – including several of the largest electric utilities, nearly 200 members of Congress, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and others.

Go back to Monday, February 28th of this year. That day the plaintiffs made oral arguments that the 1970 Clean Air Act only allows the E.P.A. to regulate individual power plants, not the entire power sector.

The Times coverage from February highlighted two aspects of the case.


At issue is a federal regulation that broadly governs emissions from power plants. But in a curious twist, the regulation actually never took effect and does not currently exist.

The legal wrangling began in 2015 when President Barack Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, his chief strategy to fight climate change. Citing its authority under the Clean Air Act, the Obama administration planned to require each state to lower carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector — primarily by replacing coal-fired power plants with wind, solar and other clean sources. Electricity generation is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, behind transportation.

But the Clean Power Plan was never implemented. After a barrage of lawsuits from Republican states and the coal industry, the Supreme Court put the program on hold. Once President Donald J. Trump took office, he instituted a new plan that was effectively the same as no regulation. But on the last full day of Mr. Trump’s presidency, a federal appeals court found that the Trump administration had “misconceived the law” and vacated the Trump plan. That cleared the way for the Biden administration to issue its own regulation, which it has yet to do.

It is highly unusual for the Supreme Court to take up a case that revolves around a hypothetical future regulation, legal experts said.

“Trying to figure out the contours of E.P.A.’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases when there’s no regulation being defended is just kind of a weird thing for the court to consider,” said Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University. “I was surprised when they took the case.”

Second, the ramifications of the case may extend well beyond the purview of the EPA and environmental issues per se. The Times coverage notes:

Conservatives have long argued that the executive branch routinely oversteps the authority granted by the Constitution in regulating all kinds of economic activity.

“This is really about a fundamental question of who decides the major issues of the day,” said Patrick Morrisey, the attorney general of West Virginia, speaking at an event in Washington earlier this month, ahead of his appearance before the Supreme Court on Monday. “Should it be unelected bureaucrats, or should it be the people’s representatives in Congress? That’s what this case is all about. It’s very straightforward.”…

…Legal experts on both sides said that they see it as the first of many cases that address the growing authority of federal agencies at a time when a gridlocked Congress has failed to pass new laws on issues ranging from climate change to immigration to gun control.

“Congress gets the fancy pins and nice offices because they’re supposed to legislate, but they don’t do it,” said Mr. Adler, the professor at Case Western Reserve University. “There has been a long trend of the executive branch trying to fill the gap left by Congress’s failure to act and each administration gets more aggressive on this than the previous one. And there’s this larger question of whether the courts should be OK with that.”

Presumably, despite the current distractions and upheaval, the Court remains hard at work on the internal deliberations that will lead to its ruling in West Virginia.

As the Times coverage emphasizes, it is understandably a bit unnerving to contemplate leaving decisions on such consequential, complex, value-laden issues as climate change in the hands of a relative few, no-matter how high minded, or carefully selected to be representative of the broader society. And these days our polarized society extends distrust to the institution of the Supreme Court itself. This morning’s Washington Post reports that environmental lawyers are apprehensive. They note that the Court’s apparent dismissive attitude towards precedent and conservatives’ general sense that government agencies tend to overreach together bode poorly for the climate change outcome. They sense that the Court may have short-term, opportunistic interest in using its current favorable makeup to make big changes now that will override any concerns that the Court will appear politicized. Environmental lawyers even express the fear that Massachusetts v. EPA, the 2007 case that established the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, might itself ultimately be overturned.

Sobering indeed. But perhaps readers caught Mr. Adler’s use of the word “courts” (plural). The April 23rd print edition of The Economist ran an article entitled Habeas Carbon that examined the increasingly important role of courts (domestic-US and worldwide), greatly accelerated by the Paris agreement of 2015. The article points out that the trend is likely to be sustained, for three reasons: numerous national commitments to the Paris agreement provide more targets for litigation; that early litigation has been successful; and increasing numbers of lawyers and activists, fed up with the slow pace of governmental response and street-level activism, are entering the legal fray. It’s encouraging to know that the climate change challenge is prompting multiple, diverse legal experiments, of every flavor. Early detection of success and failure in these experiments can accelerate the identification, refinement, and scale-up of effective legal- and policy-based approaches to the climate change question.

Further, these legal efforts are complemented by trends in another realm. Another article in that same print issue of The Economist points to a rise in activist-stockholder tweaking of corporate governance, at all levels, global, and small. For various reasons, corporate activism is growing more effective than it has been in the past. In response, corporate proxy battles are multiplying and at the same time increasingly focusing on “corporate purpose,” with environmental issues high on the agenda. Turns out as well, that for purely-business- as well as nobler reasons, private enterprise would like legal and policy clarity on environmental policies broadly. Within limits, corporations are more interested in long-term stability and clear-headed recognition of the need to decarbonize than they are about the policy particulars. That’s one reason many corporations are siding with the U.S. government in the West Virginia case.

The emergent properties of these trends are hard to discern, hard to control, and include negative as well as positive possible outcomes. But they also hold potential for rapid improvement. The world’s populations – all of us – are getting a great civics lesson. We’re debating issues that matter. Far better than obliviousness and ignorance. Far more reason for hope than despair, or even vexation.


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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission weighs in on climate change.

For decades, Federal agencies – NOAA/DoC, DoE, DoI, EPA, NASA, NSF, and USDA among them – have been tasked with funding and conducting climate change research as well as developing associated technologies. The accumulated environmental intelligence has been used to guide US domestic policy formulation as well as US participation in the international IPCC process. Corporations, notably but by no means exclusively those in the energy sector, have been tracking (and in some cases contributing to) the scientific developments throughout the period, using the information to assess their climate-sensitive market positions and futures and adjust their strategic decisions and actions accordingly. In the process, businesses have varied in their enthusiasm for sharing such information with their stakeholders and their diligence in doing so.  

Transparency may not be simply left to corporate preference much longer. In 2022, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is set to join the club of federal-agency actors. Its intent? To increase broadly the climate-risk information available to investors, and to level the playing field. In a statement dated March 21, SEC Chair Gary Gensler opened this way:

Today, the Commission is considering a proposal to mandate climate-risk disclosures by public companies. I am pleased to support today’s proposal because, if adopted, it would provide investors with consistent, comparable, and decision-useful information for making their investment decisions and would provide consistent and clear reporting obligations for issuers. 

Over the generations, the SEC has stepped in when there’s significant need for the disclosure of information relevant to investors’ decisions. Our core bargain from the 1930s is that investors get to decide which risks to take, as long as public companies provide full and fair disclosure and are truthful in those disclosures. That principle applies equally to our environmental-related disclosures, which date back to the 1970s.

Today, investors representing literally tens of trillions of dollars support climate-related disclosures because they recognize that climate risks can pose significant financial risks to companies, and investors need reliable information about climate risks to make informed investment decisions. For example, investors with $130 trillion in assets under management have requested that companies disclose their climate risks.[1] Further, the 4,000-plus signatories to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment—a group with a core goal of helping investors protect their portfolios from climate-related risks—manage more than $120 trillion as of July 2021.[2]

There’s more to this statement (which merits a thorough end-to-end read), and there’s a growing body of analysis on its significance, as corporations read the tea leaves. The fate of this SEC initiative is uncertain. Not all SEC commissioners are supportive or feel it necessary. And in the wider world, opinions also vary. For example, the Financial Times generally favors the idea, while the Wall Street Journal is skeptical.

Until now, investors have faced a frayed, thin patchwork quilt of information on which to base this aspect of their portfolio risk management. But the SEC has concluded that the climate-change stakes have been rising, and are now so high and so widespread across all economic sectors, that regulation is needed to protect the integrity of financial markets. They’ve concluded that in this area, as in so many others, openness is required to level the playing field for investors.   

All this has implications for the so-called Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise, defined by the National Weather Service as follows: The Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise, also known as the Weather Enterprise for short, is comprised of three main sectors that contribute to the science and application of weather and weather forecasting — academia, government, and America’s Weather and Climate Industry. Many firms will choose to develop their climate-risk business analyses in-house. But others will outsource the work to consulting firms. In either event, demand for professionals with the needed geosciences-business-financial expertise to carry out the required analyses will only grow.

Historical precedent from a half-century ago suggests how events might play out. The 1969  National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) required a so-called environmental impact statement (EIS) accompany institutional or individual actions “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment”. An EIS describes environmental effects of a proposed action (whether negative or positive). Usually an EIS will also supply one or more alternatives to the proposed action. That Act and the 1970 establishment of EPA and NOAA by President Nixon transformed the private-sector weather and climate industry. Prior to that time, consulting meteorologists worked primarily as individuals or in small groups. But corporate need for help in the preparation of EISs led to the establishment and growth of large firms[1]. Private sector meteorology continues to grow until this day. It’s not hard to imagine that the greater complexity of assessing climate change risk to businesses and the higher dollar stakes would trigger a new growth spurt.

This poses opportunity and threat for current members of the Weather Enterprise. Companies will have to bulk up and restructure if they are to capture the new business. New startups can be expected to nimbly move in. At the other end of the spectrum, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others could decide the business opportunities have finally reached scale sufficient to be of interest. University departments will prosper to the extent they can educate and prepare early-career professionals for the new job opportunities. In many cases this will require that students master multiple disciplines and trans-disciplinary work, the harnessing of data analytics and artificial intelligence, and more. Information providers will be attempting closer, more sustained collaboration with information users. Domestic-business focus will give way to international reach. Professional societies will have to retool to keep pace with evolving member needs.

Whether or not this particular SEC initiative reaches fruition, the handwriting is on the wall. The stakes are existential. For all parties, under all scenarios, it’s time to think through the implications and act.

[1]Notably including Environmental Research&Technology, Inc., founded by James R. Mahoney in 1969. That firm was disestablished in the 1980’s but in its heyday employed some 700 workers.

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The U.S. Senate introduces a TORNADO Bill

[A tip of the hat to Taylor Cox, a meteorologist at KOCO in Oklahoma City, for bringing this legislation to my attention a few days ago. You can find her post here.] Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced the Tornado Observation Research Notification and Deployment to Operations (TORNADO)[1] Act, “To improve the forecasting and understanding of tornadoes and other hazardous weather, and for other purposes.” Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), John Thune (R-SD), and Joni Ernst (R-IA) joined in.

An accompanying press release from the offices of Senators Grassley and Ernst added this: The TORNADO Act would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to update its methods for communicating alerts to residents in the surrounding areas… [The Act] seeks to simplify, update, and improve forecasting technology and infrastructure. The legislation would also require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to review technical infrastructure problems that have delayed life-saving alerts…

…After a tornado outbreak took seven lives earlier this month, the National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed technical issues caused some delay in disseminating tornado warnings – including a maximum delay of seven minutes for a tornado warning issued for the storm near Winterset, Iowa. NWS has confirmed at least13 tornadoes touched down as this severe weather system swept across Iowa.

Senator Grassley was quoted as saying “When it comes to keeping Iowans safe from severe weather and tornadoes, every second counts. Our bill will ensure NOAA is taking necessary steps to streamline life-saving alert systems and keeping their communication equipment up-to-date. One life lost is one too many, and I continue praying for those who lost loved ones in the recent tornado outbreak in Iowa. We must act to minimize these tragedies moving forward.” Senator Ernst was quoted in a similar vein.

You can find the full text of the proposed bill here. Several features are striking.

The bill purports to stem from a problem, but in actuality focuses on an opportunity. As is often the case, those introducing the bill cite government performance failures (per press releases) that need fixing, but the bill’s substance is oriented more toward positive measures.

Specifically, the bill highlights communication and social science. For example, early in the text, Section 3 (b) (3) states: [A new or repurposed NOAA hazards communication] Office shall improve the form, content, and methods of hazardous weather and water event communications to more clearly inform action and increase the likelihood that the public takes such action to prevent the loss of life or property. These aspirations are consistent with recent NASEM calls (here, e.g.) for more community-wide (federal-agency, private-sector) attention to relevant social science.

The bill calls for the same balance when it comes to research and development. The framers want to see as much or more attention to improving risk communication as to improving the capabilities and use of technologies to monitor severe weather itself. That is testimony to the remarkable progress of the last decade or so in detection and short-range prediction of tornadoes but also an acknowledgment that that has not been matched by improved public safety.

The bill stresses development and use of social-data infrastructure. The Senators state: The Under Secretary [of Commerce] shall establish, maintain, and improve a central repository system for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for social, behavioral, risk, and economic data related to the communication of hazardous weather and water events.

This represents a big step forward. Infrastructure for storing, accessing, and working with quality-controlled geophysical data on the atmosphere, oceans, and solid earth has existed for decades and is continually upgraded and advanced. To make progress toward meeting public-safety and economic goals requires no less for social sciences. Traditionally, however, social data collection and archival has been intermittent, fragmented, incomplete – catch-as-catch can. This provision would correct that and establish a foundation more for rapid progress in risk communication and public benefit.

The bill emphasizes pilot programs… explicitly calling out HBCU’s for special attention. The bill calls for establishment of a pilot program to ensure that basic research is carried through to application and actual improvements in service. Interestingly, the bill specifically indicates that a grants program should target HBCU’s. It makes other references throughout to the importance of equitable societal access to benefits from improved service. These features are certainly most welcome (but one might wonder if other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI’s) shouldn’t be given similar explicit emphasis).

The bill shares DNA with the 2017 Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act . At several points the bill makes references to this so-called Weather Bill, offers specific amendments, etc. But the proposed TORNADO Act’s entire tenor, with its “fix-NOAA” message, requirements for additional NOAA reporting, and detailed prescriptive language on topics such as warn-on-forecast, a tornado rating system, post-storm surveys and assessments, and a VORTEX-USA program of research, are all evocative of the Weather Bill (as noted here and here).

These connections to the Weather Bill suggest that the TORNADO Act just might enjoy a better-than-average chance of Congressional passage. With that in mind, it’s worth thinking about

What’s missing. Here there remains at least one big challenge. The TORNADO Act and the Weather Bill both broadly include public, private, and academic sectors, and speak to an inclusive outreach to society as a whole, but remain narrowly focused on weather service provision.  To achieve benefit, however, depends equally on societal uptake of the weather information on offer. Most days, in most places, weather is a fairly benign backdrop to human affairs, which have been tuned to climatology. And most individuals and institutions are fully maxed-out responding to daily needs of work and family (and related crises there). Community resilience to dangerous weather requires a population able and willing, and equipped, to drop other preoccupations in order to respond to life- and property threats. This is much more than simply noting a warning.

Resilience favors a public paying attention to weather. It requires individual and institutional ability to assess and manage weather threats, options for action, and access to those options, and more. This high-stakes complexity can’t be managed on the fly only once an event is in progress. Communities must be prepared and equipped for months and years beforehand. Current NWS Weather-Ready Nation efforts provide communities with some of what’s needed. But WRN will be of most help to communities where K-12 education is strong and has included years of emphasis on the geosciences generally and weather, water, and climate in particular.

The United States occupies some of the most dangerous real estate on Earth. We have our share of earthquakes and volcanism, but we are uniquely challenged by dangerous weather. We face as many hurricanes as the tropical world, and as many destructive winter storms as the high-latitude world. Cycles of flood and drought control our thousands of watersheds. And we have a virtual monopoly on the world’s dangerous tornadoes. We underinvest in K-12 public education on these matters and their consequences.

[1] The title is a bit forced/contorted, but achieved a desired acronym.

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Confronting Climate Gridlock: How Diplomacy, Technology, and Policy Can Unlock a Clean Energy Future.

Who wouldn’t want to learn more? Daniel Cohan has provided an excellent opportunity to do just that, in his new book by this title. The hardcover version won’t be released until March 29, but the Kindle version is available now.

For those interested and involved in any aspect of building a clean energy future, Confronting Climate Gridlock provides both a useful starting point and a comprehensive overview. Anyone who picks it up will find a clear exposition of the clean energy challenge – its nature, its origins, why it matters (and matters existentially), and why nations, governments, corporations, and individuals worldwide find their individual and concerted efforts to cope gridlocked. But the author is no mere doomsayer. Instead he argues, in compelling fashion, that the necessary “unlocking” requires simultaneous attention and progress with respect to three interwoven endeavors: diplomacy (international actions by states), technology, and policy (in-country actions by states and the private sector). Several chapters provide extensive introductions to each of these topics in turn. While stressing their interconnected nature and the need to address all three dimensions of the problem simultaneously, the author avoids getting enmeshed in complexity and keeps the reader focused on manageable specifics.

Several features of Confronting Climate Gridlock are noteworthy: (1) the author’s masterful job of balancing his treatment of diplomacy, technology, and policy – three relatively disparate topics, each demanding in its own right; (2) a thorough summary description of each (readers will be hard put to identify any options or approaches that have been left ignored); and (3) and the book’s utility as a portal – providing extensive links to a vast amount of material available to help the reader follow up on any aspect that they might consider of special interest.    

The book will make a great textbook – unsurprising, given that Daniel Cohan is an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University. But it will also be a useful desk reference for engineers in the field, as well as for diplomats and policy wonks. Speaking of simplification, one suggestion he introduces early on, and repeats throughout: the gridlock that matters most is here in the United States. If we can make progress here, the rest of the world will follow.

A closing note: I first met Dan in 2003, when he was a Harvard-educated mathematics BA, finishing up his Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science at Georgia Tech. He participated in that year’s AMS Summer Policy Colloquium, joining a group that included Paul Pisano, from the Federal Highway Administration; Pam Emch, from Northrop-Grumman; Julie Pullen, then working for the Navy, and now at Jupiter Intel; Jason Samenow, then of EPA, who founded the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, Aimee Devaris, then of NWS, and now USGS Regional Director for Alaska, and others too numerous to list by name here. If you’re an early-career scientist or engineer who wants to master the use of diplomatic, policy, and technology tools to make a better world, if you want to network and collaborate with like-minded peers, not just for ten days but for a lifetime, you might consider participating in the 2022 Colloquium.

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