Here’s a little more reflection on the subject of recent posts: Earth observations, science, and services for the 21st century.
This particular thought didn’t originate with me. Its starting point? A recent e-mail from a wise and thoughtful colleague. She said, “Do you ever feel that whatever problems our community senses, whether it is being on the radar at the White House or on the campaign platform of candidates, are our own making? I feel a bit like the personal crisis when one wakes up, wants to shake off the old and put on the new, and maybe buy that bright red shiny sportscar. We need an infusion of new, fresh leadership of individuals…”
Our difficulties are of our own making?
You mean it’s not just that Congress has decided to put a wholly arbitrary ceiling on spending at a time when our country arguably needs stimulus? It’s not just that the political debate has gotten so fractious that even our issue – taking the fullest measure of the Earth and using that information for human benefit – can no longer be seen to transcend politics?
Exactly. Let’s take a moment to explore this idea seriously. But before diving in, here’s another anecdote, from some twenty years ago. At that time the U.S. Global Change Research Program was just ramping up. A bunch of us were in a meeting. Mike Hall was speaking . [Along with Jack Fellows, Shelby Frisch, Bob Corell, Shelby Tilford, Ari Patrinos and a handful of others, Mike was one of the architects of USGCRP. ] The subject was something similar; I can’t remember the exact context. Mike said, “I’m a boat owner. And one of the things boat ownership has taught me is that if something goes wrong, it’s my fault.”
Nothing about… who could have seen that squall line coming? Or have expected that frayed line to snap under the strain? Or have anticipated the erratic seamanship of the sailor maneuvering his sloop alongside?
Maybe this idea of shouldering responsibility for how things are going in our lives should come along a little more frequently than once every couple of decades – and originate from more than one or two people. Maybe this is a notion each of us could cart around and consult as frequently as we do our iPads or smartphones.
Responsibility? Sounds burdensome…but it carries with it a wonderful flip side. Simply this: if we made our present problems, we can also make our future opportunities. We don’t have to wait for others to see our plight and help us. We don’t have to simply hope that events and history will turn around; we can change our destiny. And in changing our future, we also change the world’s.
So what might such a re-making of ourselves and our impact look like? My wise friend has a feel for the tangible, and if she were writing this piece she’d probably have a great set of specifics. Such as linking our work to legislative mandates: the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, GFG regulation and forest sequestration under the Clean Air Act, the national assessment framework under the aforementioned USGCRP. Great idea! And, I suspect, she has a handful more.
But…just as you pretty much know me if you’ve been following this blog…and because I don’t know many of you, I’m going to suggest you do some reflection (surprise!), along a few general lines. [And you might well ponder a bit and come up with your better ideas. Please do so! And please write!]
Practice gratitude. So often we’re so wrapped up in the next thing we need – this or that technological capability, a larger revenue stream, more human capital – that we forget to be thankful, and then express thanks, for the support the general public has given our community over the years. It would be therapeutic for us take stock in this way – and for the taxpaying public to hear more of it.
Expand your idea of neighbor; then act in your neighbor’s best interest. We all know we’re supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves. But most of us, most of the time, act in what we perceive to be our self interest. And equally important, we have a narrow view of our neighbor. We limit the label to family and people who live physically close to us. We confine the notion to people who think like us and…have similar self-interest. We need to cast a broader net.
We also need to broaden our idea of what’s in their best interest. It’s not any more beneficial for them to be self-centered than it is for us. By being more interested in them, and at the same time encouraging them to be more interested in those around them than themselves…we can make Earth observations, science, and services for the 21st century viral.
Renew yourself. My friend, being both wise and practical, is looking to a new generation of leaders. The American Meteorological Society experience with its Summer Policy Colloquium and its 400 alumni suggests this is working. But why should the rest of us wait for that? Why shouldn’t we pay much more attention to continual self-renewal? What’s stopping the rest of us from seeing every day as a new day, and acting on that knowledge? Let’s not succumb to burnout. Let’s not make our retirement our greatest legacy to progress.
Catch the excitement. Instead of throwing over that SUV or Prius or compact that’s been so practical and served us so well, let’s see the shiny red paint and the sportiness beneath the skin. Let’s get back in touch with our earlier excitement about our work and our vision.
You know what? If as a community, we practice these things and thereby get better at them over time, it may not be that long before we’re on the White House radar screen or on candidate platforms…but we’ll be too busy and productive to notice much one way or the other.
So as the weekend draws to a close, and we re-engage with the workplace, let’s emulate Thoreau: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams: live the life you have imagined.”
And thanks to my friend for inspiring this line of thought.