A Transition Document for President Bush
Roger A. Pielke, Jr.
Environmental and Societal Impacts Group
Not wanting to appear out of step with the times, we here at the WeatherZine have decided to submit this "transition document" to President Bush. Our transition document is prepared in the tradition of neither "compassionate conservatism"
(www.salon.com/politics/feature/2000/08/03/goldsmith/) nor "pragmatic idealism"
(washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/campaigns/wh2000/stories/dlc120398.htm). Nor does it contain advocacy for this or that program, justified by eye-catching (but sketchy) benefit-cost ratios.
Instead, we offer what Thomas Paine (www.bartleby.com/133/) described as "simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense; and have no other preliminaries to settle with the reader, than that [you] will divest [your]self of prejudice and prepossession." Okay, if that sounds a bit highfalutin, we are sure that the three suggestions that follow are larrupin' (www.texasmonthly.com/ranch/sayings/) good ideas for how you, Mr. President, might dramatically improve the contribution of the atmospheric and related sciences to the needs of society in the 21st century.
Settle once and for all the debate over the respective roles of the public and private sectors in the provision of weather services. This debate has been ongoing for decades and one reason for its lack of resolution is that participants from various perspectives have well-considered positions on which reasonable people can disagree. (A Text Box provides some links to sites with information about this debate.) Of course, like many seemingly deadlocked policy debates, this one has its share of irrationality, historical momentum, and fratricidal behavior. When most of science and technology was engaged in important, bipartisan debates about technology policy in the 1980s and 1990s, the atmospheric sciences apparently were playing hooky. The community has demonstrated that it is not prepared to resolve this issue by itself. So our suggestion is that you empower a Cabinet-level commission, perhaps led by the Secretary of Commerce and comprised of representatives of business, government, and academia from inside and outside the weather community, to study the issue and provide some recommendations. We are not suggesting what those recommendations should be, but it is clear that the middle ground is a much wider space than the debate's adherents have come to believe. The importance of weather information to the nation's economic vitality and competitiveness is too important to let this issue fester any longer.
Decouple global climate policy from energy policy. Global climate policy, more popularly and incorrectly known as "global warming," has over time become defined as energy policy focused narrowly on international negotiations about implementation of the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gas emissions. This is unfortunate. As Frank Laird writes in the current Issues in Science and Technology, "Spending time fighting over the Protocol emissions targets will just delay getting to the important tasks of making desperately needed improvements in the environmental and social conditions of the world's people." It would be very easy to embrace the highly partisan status quo by pointing to scientific uncertainties and economic realities as reasons for inaction. But a better course would be to recognize that, independent of the Kyoto Protocol; there are good reasons to improve national energy policy (look no further than recent events in California). And many of these improvements would actually contribute to and coexist well with aspects of the Protocol. At the same time, the United States and countries around the world have become in many ways increasingly vulnerable to weather and climate. Many of the actions needed to address these vulnerabilities make sense no matter what the future climate. As we have argued elsewhere, "environmental prospects for the coming century depend far less on our strategies for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions than on our determination and ability to reduce human vulnerability to weather and climate" (www.theatlantic.com/cgi-bin/o/issues/2000/07/sarewitz.htm).
There is a window of opportunity for the Bush Administration fundamentally to recast the environmental debate in this country in a way that moves beyond the "anti" or "pro" environment litmus test that "global warming" has become. Decoupling energy and climate policies is a necessary first step.
Streamline the provision of "climate services" to the nation. After the public has spent tens of billions of dollars on climate research over more than three decades, these investments are bearing sufficient fruit to create a demand for operational "climate services," which refers to information (sometimes, but not always, forecasts) about climate (and inter-related earth system information) that is useful to decision makers in areas ranging from insurance and agriculture to weather derivatives and catastrophe bonds. Because of the perceived usefulness of climate information, "climate services" are multiplying like rabbits across government, academia, and the private sector. While recognizing that the difference between diversity of effort/healthy competition and duplication of effort/redundancy can sometimes be hard to see, it seems obvious that the development of climate services would best be approached systematically, rather than in an ad hoc fashion. Systematic consideration of "climate services" must recognize ongoing activities (like those listed in the second Text Box). Other important considerations are the appropriate balance of public and private sector roles (as discussed in detail above), the proper mix of regional and federal efforts, the use and value of particular products and services, and the various mechanisms for the transfer of research results into practical products and services to end users. Reconciling these various considerations could be accomplished through the leadership of your Office of Science and Technology Policy and/or the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Addressing the issue of climate services would help the scientific community better focus and prioritize its limited resources, enhance the transfer of research results into useful products and services, and ultimately contribute more effectively to national needs.
By addressing these three topics you will fundamentally reshape the atmospheric sciences and their contributions to society. But if taking on these challenges isn't appealing at the moment, let us tell you about the importance of funding the WeatherZine community; we can show an impressive benefit-cost ratio ...
– Roger A. Pielke, Jr.
Environmental and Societal Impacts Group
National Center for Atmospheric Research
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