Hanging Together: The AMS Washington Forum

by Ellen Klicka, AMS Policy Program
“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” – Benjamin Franklin
News headlines these days are reflecting the increasingly austere and complex environment in which private businesses, governments and academic institutions manage to muddle through towards a better tomorrow. Creating new opportunities to collaborate for mutual advancement is more of a necessity than it used to be. The annual AMS Washington Forum, to be held April 2-4, 2013, fills that need for the benefit of all three sectors that make up the weather, water and climate enterprise and offers insight into the workings of Washington, DC, an increasingly austere and complex city.
This year’s theme, the economic value of the weather, water and climate enterprise, builds on discussions at other recent AMS meetings and may resonate particularly well in Washington circles: Considering the national attention on last year’s natural disasters, renewed interest from Congress in climate legislation, the federal budget sequester, and continued economic uncertainty, this event couldn’t be more timely and on topic.
In the last six weeks alone, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee have scheduled hearings or briefings on pressing topics our community is studying or addressing. Topics range from policy-relevant climate issues to the economics of disasters for America’s farmers.
The notion of tacking a dollar value onto the benefits the weather, water and climate community affords the country is not a new one but it has proved an elusive task. Groups within the AMS membership have been grappling with the development of an approach to size up exactly what the enterprise adds to the economy and American society as a whole for at least a couple years. The AMS Annual Meeting and Summer Community Meeting have included discussions on the topic, as have AMS journals (such as these BAMS articles by John Dutton and by Jeffrey Lazo et al.). With the U.S. tightening it collective belt, it is more urgent than ever that the enterprise be able to objectively demonstrate its worth.
Policy makers rely on quantifiable reasons for making choices that affect the country, and enterprises that are defined by industry may have an easier time estimating their market size. The weather, water and climate enterprise cuts across many industry sectors. Avoided losses can be difficult to pinpoint. Because our community operates in an environment characterized by increasing pressure to justify the need for investment, the AMS Commission on the Weather and Climate Enterprise is planning a valuation effort. The first panel at this year’s Forum will explore the challenge and discuss approaches to a valuation effort.
Subsequent panels will tackle many of the hot issues facing our community right now: international opportunities, data commercialization, environmental security, renewable energy policy, water resource management… the list goes on.
The Washington Forum has evolved through the years since AMS began holding the conference in the national capital. Originally, the forum was held as a benefit to corporate members and fellowship/scholarship donors in recognition of their sponsorship of AMS.  The event expanded to include the government sector and became known as the Public Private Partnership Forum. When the Commission on the Weather and Climate Enterprise was formed in 2005 in response to the National Academies’ Fair Weather Report, it was recognized that the academic sector deserved inclusion as well.
The Washington Forum is an open meeting to which all AMS members and other professionals in the weather, water and climate enterprise are welcome and encouraged to attend. For more information on this year’s event, visit the Forum website.