The oath.

“I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”            – 5 U.S.C. §3331

Every federal worker takes this solemn oath before entering the civil service. Members of Congress make the same vow. As for the federal work itself, the Constitution has this to say: It is “to establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.”

An oath is a big deal. It’s a solemn appeal to a deity, or to some revered person or thing, as witness to one’s determination to speak the truth or keep a promise or vow[1]. Oaths often link religion, morality, and political organization.

According to Lycurgus of Athens(d. 324 BCE), “It is the oath which holds democracy together.”

As the Nation slogs through week 5 of this federal shutdown – equal parts (1) wholly unnecessary, willfully-imposed hardship/dysfunction and (2) nationwide civics lesson, there is cause to reflect on this core oath, and the high calling that is civil service. To do so is to discover major reasons to be encouraged.

Civil servants take their oath seriously. Nationwide, the reports keep coming in, and they all speak to federal workers reporting for duty, meeting their responsibilities, remaining steadfastly and honorably determined, though unpaid. Men and women of the Coast Guard carrying out search-and-rescue, drug interdiction, providing national security across the full extent of our shores. TSA employees maintaining safe air travel. FBI agents continuing to risk their lives, working overtime to break up illegal drug supply chains, hunt down sex traffickers, root out gang activity. IRS employees helping Americans access their urgently needed tax refunds. Park Service employees keeping  America’s best idea accessible to the public. State Department overseas employees recalled to deal with urgent needs abroad. National Weather Service employees taking observations, running model forecasts, issuing watches and warnings, maintaining public safety in the face of severe winter weather. Across every agency, entry-level staff and top-management together cobbling temporary fixes to maintain vital government functions at as high a level as possible and for as long as possible.

Hundreds of thousands of men and women working without pay. Similar numbers furloughed, essentially chained to their (cell) phones awaiting individual and group-wide calls to return to work as the inevitable problems arise. But all maintaining unity, cooperating to the extent that top-down prohibitions allow, proceeding quietly, in extraordinarily good order.

All displaying patience and resolve, and even valor, as they “establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.”

300 million Americans have rallied behind the workers. This is the second piece of good news. Government workers are threaded the through the fabric of society, from big cities down into the smallest of communities. Friends and neighbors have shown their appreciation for the work federal employees do. They’ve registered the unfairness of federal families’ predicament. They’ve opened their hearts and pocketbooks.  They’ve set up food banks. Restaurant owners have provided free meals and other services. Lenders have extended credit and taken steps as best they can to see federal workers and contractors through the crisis. The informal social contract connecting government workers, contractors, and the uniformed services with the larger society, if anything, is strengthening.

The media have provided thorough coverage. Third, print, cable, and internet news services are doing their job as the fourth estate. They have reported and documented the continuity of government operations. Through interviews and investigative reporting they have covered the pain and hardship unnecessarily imposed on federal workers, federal contractors, and their families. Unpaid civil servants taking on additional part time jobs. Scrounging for food and health care for themselves and their kids. Coping with financial stress and family anxiety.

And as the days of the shutdown have turned to weeks, journalists have been reporting on the tears and fissures developing here and there in vital federal services. The pileup of waste and the ecological damage in the national parks. The struggle of FBI agents to pay their informants, causing them to loosen their grip on needed surveillance. Across the system, from TSA to the IRS, federal workers are increasingly forced to choose: between their federal oaths on the one hand, and equally solemn marriage vows and other promises to their life partners, children, and elderly dependents.

Such coverage will surely increase policymakers’ motivation to reach accord.

That said, a major, stultifying concern arches over these few patches of cheer: specifically, the standoff in Washington, and the causes behind it. Accusations and counter accusations fill the air, but the news media suggest there is a signal in the midst of this noise. The President believes he can turn the opposition party into as much of a doormat as his own, and that he’s in a position to insist on it. The opposition party believes if they cave on the government shutdown, that they’ll be boxed in on every major issue to follow over the next two years.

As a result, the forecast is for the pain to continue. Fortunately:

  1. The limits of predictability for this particular forecast are more like hours or a day or so versus weeks. The shutdown could end, relatively suddenly, at any time.
  2. The 300+ million Americans, and the subset of government workers and contractors – whether furloughed or working without pay – are standing together. And made of stern stuff.

_______________________________

A closing vignette. Some 241 years ago, a colonial army general was wintering over in Valley Forge after a season of military conflict studded with defeats and setbacks. Over 1000 of his 10,000 soldiers died that winter. But as those men suffered, they knew that he was spending every waking hour seeking their food, clothing, and shelter – and back pay.

A few years later, he would be the first president to take this (shorter) oath of office: “I, <name>, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Today he’s revered, not just because he was president, or even the first president, but because he upheld this oath.

He put the interests of the country before his own, and he saw to it that his people were cared for. Every day he spoke the truth and stood by it. In so doing, he created the metric by which each president since has been judged. We’ll celebrate his birthday in less than four weeks. We can only hope the shutdown will have been ended well before then.

_______________________________


[1] Its close relative, an affirmation, is used by those who acknowledge no higher authority to solemnize a statement or promise, lift it out of the ordinary.

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Martin Luther King Day 2019

As human beings, to varying degrees, we share a common impairment: we constantly struggle to hold a thought. That attention deficit disorder is hardwired in our DNA; it confers a certain survival value to all creatures living on a constantly-changing real world.

Each year’s annual rhythm of holidays and other special occasions both recognizes this and provides opportunities to cope. Once a year, New Year’s Day helps us remember that each day is a new beginning, with fresh potential. Once a year Thanksgiving reminds us that we daily have many reasons to be grateful, instead of feeling anxious or needy. Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day give us opportunity to focus on the continuing debt we owe others for their service and sacrifice to the country. Christmas and Easter, and other days like them, keep us in touch with abiding inner notions of the power of love and forgiveness in our lives and remind us they are not fragile constructs of our own making but robust realities that stem from a Higher Power.

Martin Luther King Day is no different. It focuses on a single man, in the same way that Presidents Day honors George Washington (and Abraham Lincoln). But really it encourages reflection on the larger set of ideas he stood for and articulated: equality, justice, inclusion are the necessary starting point, the foundation, for confronting the problems we face

It’s not the other way around. To first attempt to end poverty and unemployment, provide health care and education, maintain peace domestically and internationally, protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the ecosystems we depend on? And only then turn to the “luxury” of addressing fairness, freedom, enfranchisement, and goodwill? 

Won’t. Work.   

By contrast, the promise is, if we relax  (it takes effort to sustain prejudice and hate, to exclude others, to repress those unlike us), we’re likely to discover that jobs, good schooling, and public health; an end to terrorism and war; a verdant planet that can sustain us – all that we desire – will come along as collateral benefits. If we seek first to serve, rather than benefit, we’ll discover we’ve really “put ourselves first,” “made ourselves great again,” in the process.

All this is preamble to Martin Luther King Day’s twofold invitation:

First, reflect on some bits or pieces of this. Here are two suggestions:

Read the text of Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech in its entirety and/or watch the video.

Or 

Pick one or two of the fifty Martin Luther King quotes  you can find in this Independent piece as a starting point for contemplation. A sample:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”

“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

Unsatisfied with these starting points? Check the link for another 44 possibilities. Dr. King offered us a rich menu. (You can also find a collection of reflections on Dr. King in these LOTRW postsover the years.)

Second/lastly, you and I might translate our reflections into acts of service. The origins of the holiday, established in 1983 and first observed in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan unsurprisingly have a complicated story. But in 1994 President Bill Clinton added to it, signing into law the King Holiday and Service Act, inviting us to make the holiday a national day of citizen action volunteer service.

Reflection? Action? Together, they can make for a great day.

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Political leaders, “the vision thing,” the federal shutdown, and the national interest.

A photo of a young George H.W. Bush, center, during his naval service in World War II, with Joe Reichert, left, and Leo Nadeau. (National Archives)

“Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” – Robert Kennedy

Presidents and other leaders are often encouraged to “be visionary.” George Herbert Walker Bush found this demand to be intimidating

As president, Mr. Bush worked long hours and had a penchant for detail. Fred Malek, his campaign manager in 1992, described him as “a guy who wanted to do everything well.” But in stark contrast to his predecessor, Mr. Bush failed to articulate an overarching view of the principles by which he governed.

“The vision thing,” as he called it, eluded him. “Some wanted me to deliver fireside chats to explain things, as Franklin D. Roosevelt had done,” he confided to his diary. “I am not good at that.” He was, he said, a “practical man,” who preferred “what’s real,” not “the airy and abstract.”

Perhaps not surprising! Usual definitionsof “vision” go something like this: the act or power of sensing with the eyes; sightcompare hallucination[!!!]…the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be[1].

The reference to hallucination, or something like it, may have been what gave Bush pause. In presidents and other leaders this holds particular danger. Emanuel Macron was swept into power in France but today is widely regarded with skepticism because his vision reputedly includes a Jupiterian self view. President Duterte (Philippines) and Xi Jinping (China) and some other world leaders readily come to mind in this group.

While artists (think Samuel Coleridge) may find inspiration or vision in drug use, the vision demanded of leadersis of another sort. Successful leaders don’t introspect and then seek to impose their ideas on a larger public. Rather they tend to listen to that public’s grave (but often vague) concerns, give them focus and voice, and work with that public to develop options and approaches for meeting the challenge.

President Bush was actually rather good at this – especially when it involved the extra measure of making the public interest paramount, even at great personal cost. He’d campaigned for election famously promising read my lips; no new taxes. But national circumstances would soon demand something else:

The line later hurt Bush politically. Although he did oppose the creation of new taxes as president, the Democratic-controlled Congress proposed increases of existing taxes as a way to reduce the national budget deficit. Bush negotiated with Congress for a budget that met his pledge, but was unable to make a deal with a Senate and House that was controlled by the opposing Democrats. Bush agreed to a compromise, which increased several existing taxes as part of a 1990 budget agreement.

The country was the better for it.

Why are we still talking about this former president from years past? Because this particular Bush vignette has special present relevance to the now

Today a successor weighs the purely personal political cost of walking back a campaign promise against serving the national interest: allowing government workers to return to their service of the American people, opening up a realistic, inclusive discussion on national security, immigration, health care, infrastructure, America’s place and role in the world, and other issues; and charting a course forward.



[1]Weather forecasters may experience an affinity with this bit.

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Idled: an (imposed) loss of “agency” hurts our nation and the world.

“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 Declaration of Independence (1776)

Speaking of government,

 The current federal shutdown is entering its third excruciatingly painful and costly week. This is a uniquely American dysfunction; the rest of the developed world seems to find no difficulty in maintaining uninterrupted national services. So why are we going through this?

Because we can. Some or many of our elected leaders are either (1) experiencing a memory loss, a kind of forgetting that governments and rule of law are essential to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, or (2) showing deliberate disregardfor the well-being of 320 million others.

Notionally, there’s responsibility to be borne by both sides in the current partisan standoff. However, one side seems to be acting out a national-scale version of the playground’s it’s my ball[1]and I’m going to go home, while the other seems to be saying, let’s get government back on the job while we work on any remaining differences. Any underlying motivation is a matter for each of us to judge – but this assessment matters less than the impacts.

America is the victim. The burden is falling on individuals and communities, and enterprises unequally. As the news media have reminded us for days, any family with the misfortune to have made plans long ago for a visit to a national park (America’s best idea) has been hit hard. Less notoriously, the same holds true for anyone seeking advice from an actual human being at the IRS, or anywhere else. Just try making such a call. And that’s before we add in the cost resulting from our diminished standing in the eyes of the rest of the world, whether friend or foe.

But those most immediately affected, most victimized, are the federal employees, whether furloughed or working without pay. Sure, the money matters. They’re living paycheck to paycheck to the same extent as the rest of us. But, for them, it’s not just about the money. These are civil servants. They thoughtfully opted for a career devoted to public good: the safety, security, economic well-being, equity of opportunity, and quality of life for every American – versus personal gain. Now they’re forcibly restrained from making progress on these urgent and deeply-held values/national aspirations: safety and public health, education, housing, justice, modernization of aging infrastructure, air- and water- quality, and innovation. What’s more, their vital role in providing the regulations and policies that foster private enterprise, whether small businesses or global corporations, has been put on hold.

In a word, federal employees have lost “agency.” That’s not in the narrow sense of the agency they work for: DoC, DoJ, DoL, EPA, NOAA, NSF, etc. It’s a loss of agency in the social-science sense:

In social science, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. By contrast, structure is those factors of influence (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, ability, customs, etc.) that determine or limit an agent and their decisions. The relative difference in influences from structure and agency is debated—it is unclear to what extent a person’s actions are constrained by social systems.

One’s agency is one’s independent capability or ability to act on one’s will…

Federal employees are thus facing the same loss of agency that’s the chronic nightmare for refugee populations in Syria, the Sudan, and other global trouble spots, as well as those who find themselves confined to emergency shelters following hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, drought, and flood. Their ability to help themselves, regain control over their lives has been compromised. Instead, they can do little more than wait, while accepting whatever help others decide they need, or enduring whatever privation someone else imposes upon them.

Globally, a quarter-billion young people, ages 16-24, are suffering this same loss of agency. They’re the so-called NEETS (Not in Employment, Education, or Training). This, from The Economist (not quite current but gives the flavor):

Official figures assembled by the International Labour Organisation say that 75m young people are unemployed, or 6% of all 15- to 24-year-olds. But going by youth inactivity, which includes all those who are neither in work nor education, things look even worse. The OECD, an intergovernmental think-tank, counts 26m young people in the rich world as “NEETS”: not in employment, education or training. A World Bank database compiled from households shows more than 260m young people in developing economies are similarly “inactive”. The Economist calculates that, all told, almost 290m are neither working nor studying: almost a quarter of the planet’s youth...

This lack of agency among young people of the world is a major cause of social unrest, upheaval, and mass migration. It is contributing to the pressure on U.S. borders from South and Central America, and to European influx from the Middle East and Africa. And it doesn’t just matter today; it holds implications for tomorrow. Those disenfranchised now will find their future opportunities more limited as well.

Loss of agency is a big deal.

_______________________________

The gates of hell are locked on the inside– C.S. Lewis

A final comment, a bit closer to home.

It’s telling that immigration is the trigger. The European and American challenges are to manage flows of people and commerce across borders, not close off such flows entirely. To do the latter is to move one step closer to C.S. Lewis’ hell.

Meteorologists find it natural to recognize this. The atmosphere knows no borders, and so the science and practice of meteorology have had to be similarly global (and open with respect to the virtual boundaries separating public- from private sector and academia) to be effective. Formal international cooperation in meteorology dates back to the mid-nineteenth century.

It’s therefore uniquely painful for National Weather Service employees and government geoscientists to be cut off from communication and collaboration with counterparts both domestically and from around the world. That’s happening with the particular poignancy as these other elements of the American Meteorological Society gather to meet in Phoenix. U.S. government participation will be missed. And progress toward shared goals of global weather readiness, more effective development of food, water, and energy resources, and environmental protection will be correspondingly slowed.

_____________________

[1]Rhymes with “wall.”

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Bush 41 and climate change.

George Herbert Walker Bush as CIA Director

George Herbert Walker Bush. The world has completed a week of mourning and celebration of a life well lived and a presidency well executed, through an extraordinary series of memorial services and observances, and through millions of words of retrospective.

The latter covered a range of subjects: the man’s military service in World War II. His work in Congress. His stints in China and at the CIA. His vice-presidency under Reagan. But those of us with ears tuned to the environmental-frequency dogwhistle were not left out. Want a sample? Just google George Herbert Walker Bush and the environment and click on NEWS. You’ll find a smorgasbord of material to choose from. To give the flavor, here are a few words, these from Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund:

“President George Herbert Walker Bush will be remembered for a great many proud achievements and outstanding qualities. He knew that our country matters far more than political party or personal ambition, and that the national interest demands that we protect America’s precious natural heritage. And he knew that there is no inherent conflict between environmental progress and economic progress, because the well-being of the nation requires both.

[He worked] closely with Environmental Defense Fund and lawmakers from both parties to secure passage of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which helped turn back the acid rain pollution that was devastating the lakes and forests of the northeastern United States…

…[The] cap-and-trade system he championed has been phenomenally effective in cutting the sulfur dioxide pollution that causes acid rain, reducing national average levels of that pollution by 88 percent since 1990…

 … President Bush and his team [worked as well on] the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which his administration was essential in negotiating. As he said, ‘We know that the future of the earth must not be compromised. We bear a sacred trust in our tenancy here.’ President Bush’s legacy is enormous, and we have much to learn from it today.”

There’s much more in this (generally) positive vein[1].

It’s worthwhile to dig a bit deeper, and ask, why did this president – an oilman! – get behind the climate change issue (and others), when, say, some of his successors have not been so strongly engaged?

A full answer would demand more than a few words in a blog, but perhaps the president’s one-year tenure as director of the Central Intelligence Agency is revealing. That tenure was interesting in and of itself, but for present purposes it suffices to note:

George Herbert Walker Bush understood how and why national security mattered. He was attracted to the job and the responsibility in the first place. The world offers responsibilities that enjoy the limelight, and others that are in the shadows. Recall that at this point in the Mr. Bush’s career, it wasn’t obvious that a presidency would lie in his future, and most people would not have considered a clearly-short-term position working for America’s only unelected president to be an obvious path to that brass ring, or to any prominent future.

He saw intelligence as a vital guide/first step to national security. Intelligence has long influenced history’s outcomes, but the CIA was only established belatedly, in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Pearl Harbor had taught the United States an important lesson at terrible cost; at the outset of the Cold War, the United States was determined not to be surprised in such a terrible way again. Presidents have varied in their grasp of this reality.

He recognized intelligence had to be gathered, interpreted by others – a large number of others. Seven billion people can get into a lot of mischief very quickly, whether at the instruction of their leaders or while their leaders’ backs are turned. The vital role of governments in providing societal stability can also make them sometimes slow to react and respond. It’s therefore important to see trouble coming – and see it while it’s still a long way off. Take immigration – just one example of many. Social disruption of any kind – poverty, joblessness, terrorism, war, genocide, famine, natural disasters, and more – can trigger sudden, large movements of people, generating refugee populations and flashpoints at national borders and straining the global social fabric. Keeping tabs on brewing troubles, incipient hotspots, is labor-intensive and can’t be accomplished domestically. It takes a global reach.

He trusted those others, including career civil servants. Virtually all of us function essentially all the time, with respect to every aspect of life, on the basis of secondhand information, and on trust. To operate otherwise, especially to be constantly making case-by-case decisions about whether to trust information provided by others, or the intentions of others, is hugely costly – not just in dollars, but in time, imposed stress, limits to our aspirations and more.

Such caution may be necessary. We’re all familiar with the idea of trust but verify. This expression is often attributed to President Reagan, but he only popularized it, by using it frequently in the context of nuclear disarmament. Why? Because it’s in origin a Russian proverb of long standing.

Not surprising to learn that it comes from a culture where trust has been in short supply, and for cause. By contrast, trust in America has historically been high, though our trust in institutions and each other has been declining in recent decades and has plummeted over the past two years.

George Bush understood (without using that particular label) that environmental intelligence also mattered to national security. Even then, he could see worldwide the effects of drought, desertification, floods, famine, and other natural events in displacing entire populations and turning stability into unrest and disruption.

Adding all this together, a decade later, then-President Bush was prepared to grasp the implications of climate change as articulated in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and ensure that America took the lead in developing, and continually improving the necessary environmental intelligence to characterize the threat, signing the Global Change Research Act of 1990 into law, and leading the U.S. delegation at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992. He trusted the input from scientists on this as much as he’d trusted the analysis of his own CIA years earlier.

_____________________________________

A closing vignette: recent news coverage noted that the Nation’s leading science agency on climate change matters has yet to brief the current president.

Don’t be too hasty to point an accusing finger. Might not be that surprising. Presidents are busy.

For some time during the corresponding run-up to Rio, President Bush himself hadn’t received any such briefing. But at one point, then NOAA administrator John Knauss was instructed by Pennsylvania Avenue to represent the U.S. at a preparatory meeting in Oslo. All of us involved knew he was being asked to present and put a happy face on an unpopular U.S. stance about some particular. But Knauss was a good sport. He sent a message to the White House: if he was going to represent the President’s views, he’d like to know firsthand what they were. The result was substantive, one-on-one (!!) meeting between the two. (At the time, a photograph of that circulated, but if it exists on the web today it’s in some obscure nook or cranny. Haven’t been able to surface it.

Different times!

_____________

[1]Of course, this being the year 2019, it’s possible to find negative media coverage of President Bush’s environmental tenure as well. However, these are in the decided minority – in part reflecting an underlying reality, but in part because people tend to grade on a curve.

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George Herbert Walker Bush, 1924-2018.

“I come before you and assume the Presidency at a moment rich with promise. We live in a peaceful, prosperous time, but we can make it better. For a new breeze is blowing, and a world refreshed by freedom seems reborn; for in man’s heart, if not in fact, the day of the dictator is over. The totalitarian era is passing, its old ideas blown away like leaves from an ancient, lifeless tree. A new breeze is blowing, and a nation refreshed by freedom stands ready to push on. There is new ground to be broken, and new action to be taken.– George Herbert Walker Bush, Inaugural address, January 1989

U.S. Presidents hold a formal set of responsibilities (versus powers), as spelled out in the Constitution – and as augmented over time by national exigency. But in addition to mandated roles such as Chief Executive and Chief of State they also are judged by ideals enshrined not in law so much as tradition. One of these has been that of Chief Citizen:

The president as chief citizen is supposed to be the face of the people, and represent his people as the popular leader. The president must be trustworthy and work for the public interest. The president must put the nations [sic] best interests above himself and one person or one group of people.

Presidents, though imperfect in this and other respects (for they all human and therefore flawed, no better and no worse than you and me), to varying degrees see the office less as an ascent to power and more as a call to service.With a few notable exceptions, this call had been lifelong – beginning in government and elected office at a local or state level, or perhaps the military – not any spur-of-the-moment whim. President G. H. W. Bush embodied this.  His resume included military service in combat, a stint in Congress, ambassador to the United Nations, Chief of the U. S. Liaison Office to the People’s Republic of China (relations weren’t ready for an ambassador at the time), Director the CIA, and Vice President. (Whew!)

That history explains the background sound you and I awoke to this morning. It is the sound of 320-million Americans exhaling – getting a chance to express and exercise a desire they’ve been holding in for far too long – the desire to praise and see the positive in a leader instead of finding fault. It is the rustle of the morning papers and the voices of the news desk anchors and the buzz of social media as journalists of every persuasion rise to honor the man and his work – and incidentally the country and the people he honored (by taking so seriously his role as Chief Citizen, and considering that foundational and not antithetical to his day job). Millions, perhaps billions, of such words of praise and observance are already online. More are being penned, typed, and voiced hourly. And Americans everywhere are applauding what they hear (and their memories of the time and the man).

Joining the trend, this and the next three posts will contribute four President-Bush vignettes. Each illuminates important, but not necessarily the most important, of his contributions. Instead each was selected because they made a personal impression, and because they partially address the dilemma described in the previous LOTRW blogpost– the widening gap between (1) scientists’ growing understanding of the nature and causes of climate change, and the accompanying and growing risks; and (2) the needed individual, local, and national actions to forestall the worst of the coming problems.

Vignette 1. “This is the most important speech I will make in my presidency.”President Bush spoke these words not to the thousands assembled on the Mall for his inauguration, but a week or two later, in the DAR Constitution Hall. Behind him on the stage, the members of his Cabinet. His audience? Several thousand members of the career Senior Executive Service. Every SES’er in the DC area had been summoned.(Yes, the call was stronger than an invitation; it was an instruction.)

The interior of Constitution Hall. I sat in the cheap seats, in the back, but it was a privilege to be in the room.

That was the President’s opening. He went on to add that he’d worked for years with the career civil service and came away from the experience uniformly impressed. He said he found the millions of career federal employees, managers, and executives to be dedicated, service-oriented, patriotic, high-minded, productive, and essential to the country. He said that his accomplishments and those of his Cabinet (because he was admonishing them even as he encouraged us) would depend upon our work.  He talked about trusting us – and listening to and learning from us.

He added this touch – saying he’d won the office because his SF-171 (until January 1995, the required application form for Federal employment) was better than that of his opponent.

There was more, but you get the idea. When we all walked out of that building, I’d have gone through fire for him. (Okay, okay. To know me is to recognize I’m susceptible to that kind of talk, but I’d wager I wasn’t alone that day.)

Put that together with the passage from his inaugural address, and the message to those of us working on global change (whether in the federal government, or in the private sector) is simply, and powerfully, this:

  • Democracy has won the global competition with totalitarian governments of a variety of forms for human allegiance. The day of the dictator is over. (Optimism isn’t so rampant on this point today as it may have been then, but that’s still the secular trend. We all yearn to live free.)
  • Trust is vital, and in fact given. Those responsible for making a better world with respect to elimination of poverty, improving public health and safety, education (and global change and the environment) are empowered to take ownership and make progress as fast as practicable. Pick any issue – the majority of us will be focused on something else – but we trust you. In fact, we’re counting on you. Leaders can and should always set this tone. For the most part, they are. You and I are empowered to work on what matters, and where and in ways we can best contribute. If we all do our bit, in our specialized corner of human affairs, the world will trend to a better place.

“A peaceful, prosperous time… we can make it better… A new breeze is blowing, and a nation refreshed by freedom stands ready to push on. There is new ground to be broken, and new action to be taken [including with respect to climate change].”

Well said, Mr. President! More on how he backed up those words with respect to climate change in the next LOTRW post. But in the meantime, you and I need to remember:

We’re free to act, on climate change and every other issue. Nothing is holding us back.

 

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Dog whistling… and the latest National Climate Assessment.

Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different, or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The analogy is to a dog whistle, whose ultrasonic whistling sound is heard by dogs but inaudible to humans. –  Wikipedia

The word of the Lord came to me:  “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman,  and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people,  then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head.  Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves.  But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.” – Ezekiel 33:1-6 (NIV)

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Members of the American Meteorological Society, and hundreds of thousands of geoscientists in the United States and worldwide, labor day and night to advance understanding of the Earth and apply those advances to the benefit of mankind. We contribute to enhanced resource development. Public health and safety. Environmental protection. We’re (admittedly specialized) sentinels.

This is our calling.

Advancing understanding and applying those advances confer daily benefits. Every sort of government and private sector and individual decision and action is shaped by information the geosciences community develops and provides.

So far so good! But along the way, geoscientists, in the course of their research, have uncovered a host of longer-range concerns: unintended environmental consequences of resource development; long-term increases in community-level vulnerability to hazards; reductions in ecosystem services; impending limits to food, water, and energy supplies. Scientists and practitioners alike have communicated the growing risks in every way imaginable.

For decades, many of the looming problems have been lumped together under the label of global change, or global warming, or climate change. Successive United Nations IPCC assessments and special reports have characterized current trends and expected impacts with increasing specificity over this period. It’s clear that such changes are real, already underway, and pose great risks to society and to ecosystems; and that the human activity is the major (and largely preventable) cause.

The specifics are coming into focus. Individual nations have supplemented the IPCC work with detailed assessments of the domestic implications. In the United States, these have taken the form of National Climate Assessments. In fact,  the Fourth (2018) National Climate Assessment was released this past Friday, to considerable news fanfare.

The report makes for sobering reading. It points to new community-level risks, as well as exacerbation of old ones; losses to the overall U.S. economy; fraying of the linkages we rely on that connect natural, built, and social systems. The Assessment drills down to detail negative impacts on water, health, indigenous peoples, ecosystems and ecosystem services, agriculture, infrastructure, oceans and coasts, tourism and recreation.

Chances are good that upon receiving this, you and I were already in a sober state of mind. You might have contributed directly to the Fourth National Climate Assessment itself. Perhaps you worked on a recent IPCC assessment or report. If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely part of the community of researchers and practitioners trying to advance the geosciences and put the new knowledge to work. You and I live and work in an ocean of such warnings and reports; from where we sit, the stream of newly-discovered reasons for concern is constant and unrelenting. How could anybody ignore it?

But we turn out to be the dogs in this dog-whistling metaphor. We get the message, loud and clear. But a sampling of the news coverage shows journalistic concern for the timing of the Assessment matched concern for the substance of the Assessment itself, however dire the latter. News media were nearly unanimous in concluding and reporting that the Assessment was released on Friday of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in order to bury it. American thoughts were elsewhere: family, Black-Friday Christmas shopping, a raft of football games, and recovery from the previous day’s gastronomic excess.

Some observations:

First, God’s words to the prophet Ezekiel might seem to offer some comfort to the thousands of geoscientists whose warnings seem to fall on deaf ears.  We gave the warnings; we did our best. But that comfort is scant. The National Climate Assessment makes clear that today’s efforts are inadequate to the scale and scope of the challenge, stating:

Communities, governments, and businesses are working to reduce risks from and costs associated with climate change by taking action to lower greenhouse gas emissions and implement adaptation strategies. While mitigation and adaptation efforts have expanded substantially in the last four years, they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.

What’s more, we know all-too-well from experience with natural disasters of every sort that in hindsight, many members of the public are quick to say “The tornado (hurricane, derecho, flood, volcanic eruption, earthquake, drought) hit with no warning,” despite well-documented evidence to the contrary. Even as the effects and impacts of climate change continue to grow more apparent, we can forecast that years down the road, our community will be blamed from all quarters: “geoscientists could have and should have done more to warn; nobody saw this coming.”

Second, people in today’s world (and Americans are no exception) are continually performing triage: distinguishing between calls for their attention that (1) can wait; (2) are time-critical, where prompt action has a payoff; or (3) are beyond any capability they may have individually for making an immediate and tangible difference. Collecting firewood, finding food for a starving child, or medical care for a sick one; meeting the boss’ deadline; doing the grocery shopping; picking up the kids from school or daycare all fall into category (2). Dealing with climate change, as usually framed, gets binned by the public into categories (1) and (3).

Thoughts about how to break this impasse in a future post. In the meantime, please offer any suggestions of your own.

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Real news, uncertainty, and urgency.

Quantification of ocean heat uptake from changes in atmospheric O2 and CO2 composition.

The ocean is the main source of thermal inertia in the climate system1. During recent decades, ocean heat uptake has been quantified by using hydrographic temperature measurements and data from the Argo float program, which expanded its coverage after 20072,3. However, these estimates all use the same imperfect ocean dataset and share additional uncertainties resulting from sparse coverage, especially before 20074,5. Here we provide an independent estimate by using measurements of atmospheric oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2)—levels of which increase as the ocean warms and releases gases—as a whole-ocean thermometer. We show that the ocean gained 1.33 ± 0.20  × 1022 joules of heat per year between 1991 and 2016, equivalent to a planetary energy imbalance of 0.83 ± 0.11 watts per square metre of Earth’s surface. We also find that the ocean-warming effect that led to the outgassing of O2 and CO2 can be isolated from the direct effects of anthropogenic emissions and CO2 sinks. Our result—which relies on high-precision O2 measurements dating back to 19916—suggests that ocean warming is at the high end of previous estimates, with implications for policy-relevant measurements of the Earth response to climate change, such as climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases7 and the thermal component of sea-level rise8. –  L. Resplandy, R. F. Keeling, Y. Eddebbar, M. K. Brooks, R. Wang, L. Bopp, M. C. Long, J. P. Dunne, W. Koeve & A. Oschlies Nature, volume 563, pages105–108 (2018)

This is what real news looks like.

Earth’s oceans appear to have been warming more extensively than we’ve realized. This insight comes on the heels of recent IPCC findings that the harm likely from 20C of global warming will likely be greater than previously thought, and that limiting warming to something more like 1.50C would be substantially safer. That IPCC report also suggested nations have only a brief time window in which to effect such a soft landing.

Two reflections:

  1. First, with regard to uncertainties in what we think we know. At some point in my youth (the 1950’s? 1960’s?) my statistician father shared a result he’d seen in a peer-reviewed paper somewhere that looked at “variations” in physical constants over time. His narrative went something like this (in italics here, but NOT an exact quote):

The authors found that experiments and careful measurements would yield a published value for this or that physical constant, complete with error bars. For the next several years, subsequent publications by different authors or groups would refine the estimate, but always within the earlier error bars. Then someone would come along with an entirely new and (arguably more reliable – that’s how it would get published) approach, yielding a new estimate, one outside the earlier error bars. For the next several years, subsequent estimates would refine that new number, again within the (now new) error bars. They demonstrated this phenomenon across several physical constants, not just one.

As a statistician, he was always on the lookout for misuse, abuse, and misrepresentation of statistics, especially by scientists from other disciplines. Whatever paper he’d seen affirmed an innate skepticism he held.

In my career since, a couple of similar stories have stood out. Early on after I’d made a switch in graduate school from solid-state physics to geophysical sciences (late 1960’s), I read a paper reporting new estimates of the density of the Martian atmosphere, derived from radio occultation of probes orbiting that planet. The results showed an atmosphere perhaps one percent as dense as Earth’s at the surface, an order of magnitude less than what the researchers had expected to find based on prior estimates derived from other techniques/considerations.

Years later, I was working closely with Ned Ostenso, then Acting Chief Scientist of NOAA, who was telling me about his days as a graduate student in geology at the University of Wisconsin. He and several other students were tapped to do a transect of the Antarctic as part of the International Geophysical Year, and take soundings of the thickness of the Antarctic ice sheet. They radioed back to their faculty advisers some estimates the order of ten thousand feet. Their advisors radioed back: You’re an order of magnitude high. Recheck equipment… Of course it turned out that the students had gotten their sums right.

  1. Second, the news from Resplandy et al. ought to be rocking our world. But it’s not. That’s because we’ve been swimming quite a while in another, stormier sea (itself increasingly devoid of life-sustaining oxygen?) that makes it hard for this heat uptake and its implications to register. That’s of course the virtual ocean of information, including seas and swell of breathless news headlines. competing for eyeballs and therefore focused laser-like on the inflammatory, the polarizing, the urgent, the personality-based aspects of our world – and less on underlying issues. Jobs, the economy, and trade? Healthcare? Education? Immigration? The environment? It’s easy to pay more attention to the messengers than the message.

Reminiscent of the cockpit resource management challenge: stay focused on situational awareness versus cockpit hierarchy and squabbling about irrelevancies.  It’s also reminiscent of a booklet by Charles Hummel that became a management classic in the 1960’s entitled The Tyranny of the Urgent. Hummel argued that the merely urgent and the vitally important constantly compete for our attention – and that the urgent almost always wins (think about what happens when you’re working on a project and the phone rings or an e-mail from your boss pops up). A corollary is that the urgent almost always has a deadline, where the vital (e.g., how will humankind cope with global warming) almost never does.

I’d write about this at greater length, but it’s time for me to go vote.

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Think and act like a meteorologist: VOTE.

Back on October 17th, the Washington Post ran an article with this sobering title: Despite rampant voter enthusiasm, the reality: many don’t plan to vote in November. Some excerpts:

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Interest in the midterm elections is at a fever pitch in much of the country, with both Democrats and Republicans far more passionate than they’ve been in more than a decade.

Could this be the year that Tennessee’s Montgomery County shows up to vote?

Located northwest of Nashville along the Kentucky border, this county often has one of the lowest voting rates in the state — in a state that often has one of the lowest rates in the country, and in a country that has one of the lowest rates in the world, trailing most developed nations.

During the divisive 2016 presidential election, Montgomery County registered its lowest turnout in the past six presidential elections. Of residents who were old enough to vote, just 42 percent actually did, according to a Washington Post analysis. Meanwhile, the national rate was 61 percent and statewide was 51 percent, according to the U.S. Elections Project. Historically, those numbers fall in midterm elections

…The reasons for not voting may vary by location but feature similar strains of disillusionment and skepticism. Tennessee has harsher voting restrictions in place than states with higher turnout rates, but few people cite those as reasons for not voting.

Montgomery County residents offered a list of reasons: The state mostly has been controlled by Republicans for years, so many right-leaning nonvoters say their chosen candidate doesn’t need their support to win and left-leaners say their candidate will never win. Both sides ask the same question: Why bother?

Others said they don’t care about politics — often citing its nastiness — and don’t want to pick a side. And still others said they just can’t get excited about the candidates on the ballot.

“I just think that it’s a waste of my time,” said Leo Meeks, 39, a lifelong Clarksvillian who majored in political science in college but hasn’t voted in at least eight years. Even if he did vote, he said, the winner is often determined by gerrymandered districts or the electoral college, not voters. “Because whoever’s going to get into office is not going to be influenced based on what my goals are or what my needs are or what the public’s needs,” he said. “It’s going to be driven by capitalism, by big companies. . . . Money controls.”

This is just one article, from one news source, focused on the 2018 midterms… but even the quickest, most superficial Google search turns up other similar coverage, spanning  the New York Times, NPR, Vox, Live Science, CNN and myriad others. Despite consequential national stakes, despite appeals to civic duty, American voter turnout remains stubbornly low. This has engendered a veritable cottage industry of analysis, which pops up every two years much like those fireworks stands that materialize in parking lots as the Fourth of July draws near. There’s a lot of attention to demographics: state-by-state and district by district; to Democratic turnout versus Republican turnout; elderly vs. the young; to variations in turnout related to ethnicity, etc. The search for root causes is unrelenting: barriers to voter registration, and how these target the poor, or ethnic minorities; gerrymandering the nation into largely safe Congressional districts, shifting the real battles from the elections per se to the party primaries; (every four years), idiosyncrasies in the electoral-college system that allow presidential candidates to win with a minority of votes. Remote polling places, long lines, conflicts between voting and job and family priorities all play a role. The landscape is rife with proposed policy fixes: making voting mandatory; shift in Election Day from Tuesday to a weekend, following a pattern prevailing across much of the world; districting commissions to reduce gerrymandering; same-day registrations; fewer restrictions on absentee voting; and countless others as well as variations on these themes.

One way or another, all these schemes confront what seems to be a human bias along the lines of “my vote doesn’t matter.”

Here’s where meteorologists ought to have an edge. We know that in chaotic systems like the Earth’s atmosphere, small changes in conditions at any moment or place can exert a big difference later on and downstream. Throughout our careers, we’ve confronted the reality that in weather prediction, everything matters, down to the smallest details – in wind, temperature, pressure, and humidity; the particulars in solar and infrared radiation balance; interaction with physical, chemical, and biological properties of the Earth’s surface, especially the water. Even down to:

the flapping of the butterfly’s wings.

Armed with that awareness, imbued with that knowledge, nothing deters us from the polls, right? We know our vote matters and we act accordingly. We show up and are counted.

Right?

Part of the reason for the question is that the meteorological demographic is not one that the pollsters examine. I don’t know of a single survey that breaks out a comparison between meteorologists and the general population. So the encouragement here is not evidence-based so much as it’s a hunch. Or perhaps only a hope.

Two concluding thoughts.

Vote like a meteorologist. You and I should think like meteorologists when it comes to deciding whether to vote, but it shouldn’t stop there. We should think like meteorologists when it comes to how (or for whom or what) to vote. We don’t base weather predictions on wishful thinking. We’re reality-based. Similarly, we don’t base weather predictions on the wind or pressure field alone, or what happened yesterday or a year ago. We approach prediction comprehensively, balancing all factors according to nature’s rules.

In the same way, we shouldn’t pick a candidate for broad responsibilities based on a single issue. Immigration. Health care. Jobs. Judicial appointments. Foreign policy. Tariffs. Education. Innovation. Environment. Basic human values – honesty, fairness, integrity, etc. All these, and more, matter! And evidence and facts matter more than rhetoric – especially rhetoric that appeals to fear, or anger, or hate, or that is based on falsehoods.

We approach our complex meteorological science in a disciplined way. We ought to be commensurately measured and structured with our political choices. They make not make a difference with respect to how our science and technologies fare over the next two years, but they will make a difference in the way our science benefits the larger society over that period.

Vote for a meteorologist. Finally, vote for a meteorologist. We may not know how our political participation stacks up against other communities and sectors in our society. But we do have voting underway now for the volunteer leadership of the American Meteorological Society – our next president and next group of Councilors. The deadline to Vote is November 7, 2018. Not sure of the exact statistics on the percentage of our members who vote; let’s just say based on figures from previous years that there’s always room for improvement.

Did I mention we should vote?

Vote.

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Tropical storms pummel, and bring to light, a third-world America.

“Out of sight, out of mind[1].”

Most of us of a certain age are familiar with “third world” nomenclature. When coined, in the 1950’s, the term referred to countries unaligned with either the NATO- or Soviet blocs during the Cold War. Over time, because a number of those Third World nations were also poor and non-industrial, the phrase morphed to this latter connotation. Since the Cold War ended, the term has fallen into disuse; it’s often replaced by developing countries, least-developed countries, or Global South.

Scholars have long recognized that even so-called developed nations contain pockets of poverty within their borders. From time to time, journalists pick up on this. Thus, for example, last fall, the Washington Post ran a story entitled There’s a Third-World America that No One Notices. It started this way:

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Americans in Puerto Rico have spent weeks without reliable access to clean water, electricity and cellphone service. The conditions on the ground remain deplorable, with shattered homes and damaged infrastructure everywhere.

But what if hundreds of thousands of Americans lived in these conditions for generations and no one noticed? That’s exactly what some border communities in Texas experience on a daily basis: third-world conditions compounded by public and official indifference to their plight.

In the “colonias” of the American Southwest, hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens have lived without running water for decades (not to mention the lack of electricity, sewage treatment and drainage). Homes are built without regard for safety codes or regulations. The result is structures that look like shacks, hastily built by residents with little money and even less construction expertise…

As the reference to Hurricane Maria hints, natural hazards – floods, drought, storms, earthquakes and more – exacerbate such pre-existing social disadvantages. The rich are less vulnerable to hazards to begin with. Statistically, they live in better-built structures, on safer land, sustained by more robust critical infrastructure. The disadvantaged – the poor, ethnic minorities, elderly, the young – are more at risk. What’s more, statistically speaking the rich better understand the workings of the social safety net; following disasters they can and do use that understanding to gain better access to government aid, and recover more quickly and completely. By contrast, third worlders take it on the chin.

Speaking of Hurricane Maria, more than a year on, the news media continue to update the continuing struggles of Puerto Rico to deal with Maria’s aftermath. The news is sobering. Writers question whether and how Puerto Rico can ever recover from the destruction of the electrical infrastructure and a “year of darkness;” polluted water; access to school and education; the loss of tens of thousands of jobs; and even the minimal respect for the dead needed to depict accurately the toll.

Succeeding tropical storms have continued to expose additional vulnerabilities across America and its territories. This from the Huffington Post:

Super Typhoon Yutu ripped through the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory of some 55,000 people in the Pacific, early Thursday [October 25] local time as one of the strongest recorded tropical cyclones to make landfall anywhere on the planet.

With maximum sustained winds of 180 mph, Yutu was the most powerful storm on Earth this year and the second-strongest ever to strike U.S. soil, topped only by the Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in 1935. The eye of Yutu passed over the islands of Tinian and Saipan, causing what National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Aydlett described as “catastrophic damage.”

Michael Lowry, a strategic planner for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, called it “one of the most intense tropical cyclones we’ve observed worldwide in the modern record.” The National Weather Service in Guam said it would “likely become the new yard stick by which future storms are judged.”

Despite its impact on thousands of American citizens, the historic and devastating storm seemed like something of an afterthought back in the continental U.S.

Hurricane Michael. But challenges to recovery aren’t limited to U.S. territories. Here on the mainland, the response to Hurricane Michael is on a similar track. This from the October 29th New York Times:

Residents and officials from Panama City, Fla., are urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to speed up its response to a worsening housing crisis that has left thousands homeless or living in buildings damaged when Hurricane Michael tore through the Panhandle nearly three weeks ago.

Officials in Panama City gave FEMA high marks for its initial response to the storm, which slammed into the Panhandle as a Category 4 hurricane on Oct. 10. But as electricity and other services come back on line, they are becoming frustrated with the agency’s complex bureaucracy and increasingly alarmed by what they see as an uncoordinated effort to prevent a permanent exodus of storm survivors from their communities.

Estimates vary widely on the number of people rendered homeless by the storm — local officials place the number at 10,000 to 20,000, with more than 1,000 living in three shelters around the city

…As of Saturday, 48,665 households in Bay County, where Panama City is, have applied for aid through FEMA — about a quarter of all people living in the Gulf Coast county.

So far, 2,273 homeowners and 6,145 renters have received FEMA rental assistance payouts, totaling about $16.5 million, according to the most recent statistics gathered by the agency’s Atlanta regional office.

Another $17.5 million has been paid out to homeowners for repairs or replacement of their wind-battered houses, a small down payment on what is expected to be a multibillion-dollar federal recovery and rebuilding effort that will span years.

And this from the October 26th Huffington Post hints at the reality on the ground:

…More than two weeks after the powerful eyewall of Hurricane Michael passed over Bay County, Mark Ward wonders when the power will work again. And the sewer. And the water.

“We’ve been living out of coolers. We’ve been grilling out.” He points to a red cooler and two grills in front of his mobile home. He has to shout to be heard over the buzz of a generator.

Although electric, water and sewer service were restored to Panama City residents on Wednesday, those like Ward who live in the rural parts of Bay County still lack basic services.

“It’s a struggle. You feel frustrated because our local government seems to care more about the tourism industry than the hard-working people,” says the 49-year-old. “You go off some of these dirt roads that are still unpaved, these houses are crushed. These people have no resources.”…

…Bay County is known for its sugar-sand beaches. Panama City Beach, which made it through relatively unscathed from the storm, is a mecca for spring breakers each year. Mexico Beach, another stunning community on the Gulf of Mexico, was almost obliterated by the storm. Stark, stunning visuals of the destruction there have been a staple of post-hurricane news coverage.

But the rural folks in Bay County say they feel invisible. About 180,000 people live in the county, and according to the Census, 14 percent of them live in poverty

Ronald Lauricellaowns a mobile home [in the area].

[His] yard is a mishmash of downed limbs, piled-up garbage and two tents. Two dogs and a small kitten roam the property.

Lauricella is staying in one tent and keeping food in another.

The inside of his mobile home is another explosion of chaos. The front door and his bedroom window were blown out from the hurricane’s winds. Water soaked the carpets and drywall.

“There’s bugs everywhere,” he said. “It smells. You can smell the mold growing.”

Lauricella, 19, has no property insurance. He’s in between jobs, and hopes to make it to an interview at a restaurant this week if he can scrape up enough money for gas. He figures it’s his only hope to recover from the storm.

“No one’s really sending help our way,” Lauricella said.

No one’s really sending help our way?

Initial reaction? You and I might get defensive, beg to differ. We could cite ways we are already doing something about that, as individuals and as a community. In our work across government agencies, the private sector, and universities we’re improving forecasts, emergency management, and saving lives. The social scientists being added to our numbers are improving our awareness of and outreach to the disadvantaged and disenfranchised in our midst. In our work at NGO’s ranging from the American Meteorological Society, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and myriad other groups we’re also tackling the land-use-, building-code-, and social-justice aspects of the problem.

But we can and should be doing more – leveraging our work by entraining others, building coalitions, buttressing pertinent areas of K-12 STEM education. We can’t allow Ronald Lauricella – and millions more like him in our own American backyard as well as abroad – to fall out of sight and therefore out of mind.

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[1] ‘Out of sight out of mind’ is a proverb that has existed since at least the medieval times. We’re told its first printed usage is possibly in a 1562 collection of proverbs by John Heywood.

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