“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
Page A3 of this morning’s print edition of the Washington Post contains two articles that merit attention. One, by Meeri Kim, reports on the discovery of a massive volcano just discovered beneath the Pacific Ocean. Named the Tamu Massif, after the Texas A&M team who discovered it (TAMU includes students and faculty besides Johnny Football? Who knew?), the volcano’s said to be the size and extent of the state of New Mexico. The second, by Juliet Eilperin, covers an announcement from the ongoing G-20 summit to the effect that China and the U.S. have agreed to work to phase out hydrofluorocarbon emissions. According to her article, the agreement has the potential to cut the equivalent of 500 billion tons of CO2 emissions by 2050 and curtail a full degree of global warming (the article doesn’t specify whether Celsius or Fahrenheit).
These days it’s easy (fashionable, even) to be depressed by the news reports on Earth observations, science and services on the one hand, and the actions of the world’s leaders and governments with respect to resource, environmental, and hazards issues on the other. The former narrative is often about budget cuts, unfilled staff positions, increasing bureaucracy in the proposal process, threats to research universities, and scientists engaged in an unbecoming war with each other and with political leaders over the implications of their work. The latter story line concentrates on political gridlock, the obstinate refusal of countries and their leaders to find common ground to deal with pressing problems and with long-range threats, the focus instead on emergencies such as the current Syrian crisis.
But such pessimism is misplaced.
These two stories remind us that while the negative events and trends capture the headlines and media attention, seven billion people are hard at work, achieving incremental positive progress each day on millions of societal problems. That massive body of work is as obscured to public view as a volcano at the floor of the Pacific Ocean, even though its implications for humanity are profound. Earth scientists have an exciting story to tell, and despite centuries of toil we’re only at the beginning of Chapter 1 of that tale. Expect a stream of interesting discoveries about the planet we live on over the rest of this century, every bit as intriguing and mysterious and soul-lifting as the news from the astronomers (which will continue to dazzle as well). And those political leaders we, the general public, love to view with skepticism and distrust? The reality is they’re intelligent, high-minded, energetic human beings wanting to do the right thing just like us, and seizing whatever opportunities surface.
Meteorologists understand the value of such stepwise, locally-focused work in a special way. Such approaches are at the heart of numerical weather prediction, our signature accomplishment as a community (and our continuing challenge). On a less significant scale (but in the same stepwise manner) the posts on this blog and the thinking behind them have contributed to the development of a book that will be coming out shortly, entitled Living on the Real World: How Thinking and Acting Like Meteorologists Will Help Save the Planet. The book is on track to be published by the American Meteorological Society about the end of the calendar year. You can already see a University of Chicago press advertisement for the book here.