Stream-of-consciousness: flowing from remembering Francis Bretherton, to end-use climate assessment, to Paul Robeson.

Paul Robeson

stream of consciousness: a narrative mode or method that attempts “to depict the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which [sic] pass through the mind” of a narrator.

When I was in high school, my English teachers introduced me to this notion and terminology, as well as a few bits of the corresponding literary genre. It was all eye-opening and fascinating.

Years later, coming up on the eleventh anniversary of LOTRW (that’ll be around the end of this month) and over 990 posts (taking the WordPress metadata at face value) I’ve had opportunities to reflect on blogs as inherently a “stream-of-consciousness” form. In fact, one of their attractions from the outset and all along has been the idea that at any point it would be okay to write about whatever happened to be on my mind versus sticking to some specified path.

So here’s an example. In response to the previous post, a remembrance of Francis Bretherton, I received an e-mail from Roger Pielke, Sr. After some kind words, he offered a link to a recent paper he’d co-authored, entitled Environmental and Social Risks to Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health—A Bottom-Up, Resource-Focused Assessment Framework, noting that “it built on the framework [Bretherton] advocated.”

Here’s the Pielke, Sr., et al. abstract, quoted verbatim:

Risks from human intervention in the climate system are raising concerns with respect to individual species and ecosystem health and resiliency. A dominant approach uses global climate models to predict changes in climate in the coming decades and then to downscale this information to assess impacts to plant communities, animal habitats, agricultural and urban ecosystems, and other parts of the Earth’s life system. To achieve robust assessments of the threats to these systems in this top-down, outcome vulnerability approach, however, requires skillful prediction, and representation of changes in regional and local climate processes, which has not yet been satisfactorily achieved. Moreover, threats to biodiversity and ecosystem function, such as from invasive species, are in general, not adequately included in the assessments. We discuss a complementary assessment framework that builds on a bottom-up vulnerability concept that requires the determination of the major human and natural forcings on the environment including extreme events, and the interactions between these forcings. After these forcings and interactions are identified, then the relative risks of each issue can be compared with other risks or forcings in order to adopt optimal mitigation/adaptation strategies. This framework is a more inclusive way of assessing risks, including climate variability and longer-term natural and anthropogenic-driven change, than the outcome vulnerability approach which is mainly based on multi-decadal global and regional climate model predictions. We therefore conclude that the top-down approach alone is outmoded as it is inadequate for robustly assessing risks to biodiversity and ecosystem function. In contrast the bottom-up, integrative approach is feasible and much more in line with the needs of the assessment and conservation community. A key message of our paper is to emphasize the need to consider coupled feedbacks since the Earth is a dynamically interactive system. This should be done not just in the model structure, but also in its application and subsequent analyses. We recognize that the community is moving toward that goal and we urge an accelerated pace

Hmm. What’s particularly fascinating here are the echoes to end-use-based climate-assessment approaches that have been proposed by Richard Moss and collaborators, and that are currently being pursued, with help from emerging networks such as SCAN (the Science for Climate Action Network). The basic idea – greatly over-simplified – is to complement conventional assessments (that start with scientific findings and consider the possible impacts) with assessments that start with societal questions and concerns and drill down to identify the existing science that is relevant and/or new science that would be most useful to addressing those particular societal needs.

Wound up reading Roger’s paper in its entirety and forwarding the link to colleagues in the Policy Program here at AMS (full disclosure: who are pursuing work along SCAN-like lines with support from NOAA’s Climate Program Office). Might add, this came as the United States has finally sorted out its path forward for developing the next U.S. National Climate Assessment.

In turn, this material called to mind a similar policy shift at the US National Weather Service that has been underway over the past few years – a move from production-of-forecast focus to a starting point that begins with end-use (also known as impact-based decision support, or IDSS) and works back.

But (building on today’s metaphor) that’s a bit further downstream, possibly (no promises!) the subject of a future post…

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Drifting around the final bend-in-today’s-stream-of-consciousness: Paul Robeson, and his powerful (and evolving) renditions of Old Man River (the video here provides his latter-day version of the song’s lyrics – changes described in the Wikipedia link above to his biography). The man was an extraordinary artist (singer and actor) but much more – a lawyer, political activist, McCarthyist target, athlete. His life story is painful to recall but inspiring in like measure – a microcosm of the rough road facing Americans of color throughout the 20th century. Perhaps you have the time for a bit of a read, a little remembrance, and some soul-searching in light of today’s troubles.

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