The Value of Knowing Our Value

by Ellen Klicka, AMS Policy Program
Sometimes articulating the right question is the tipping point on the path to the right solution.
At last week’s AMS Washington Forum, members of the weather, water and climate enterprise and other leaders assembled to discuss the pressing issues the community is facing. Speakers and attendees alike posed questions, shared insights and then posed better questions.
The first panel took a focused look at progressing towards a better understanding of the economic value of the weather and climate enterprise.
One question that is as good as any to begin an exploration is, “Why do we want to estimate the value of the enterprise?” Forum participants frequently revisited this point during the forum. What follows are themes raised throughout the three-day dialogue.
As a community, weather, water and climate organizations and professionals do not justify in quantitative terms their value to society as effectively as other enterprises. Where can this community say it fits in?
The difficulties created by increasingly tight federal budgets are inescapable. Some say if the enterprise does not step forward to demonstrate why its labor is vital to the nation, decision makers with less knowledge will have no choice but to set priorities on their own. Others believe that framing of the issue is divisive, pitting segments of the community against each other for finite resources.
In either case, quantifying the value of the weather and climate enterprise requires a paradigm shift from evaluating the costs of weather to focusing instead on the benefits of weather and climate information.
Part of the challenge stems from the cumbersome and imprecise nature of the steps involved in calculating even the smallest microcosm of the enterprise. If investigators did arrive at a total dollar value or benefit-to-cost ratio of investment in the enterprise, how confident could anyone be in its basis?
The Weather Enterprise Economic Evaluation Team, under the auspices of the AMS Commission on the Weather and Climate Enterprise, will complete a draft request for proposals by this summer to commission the largest study of this kind ever undertaken.
While most members of the enterprise are scientists, the tools of economics will be valuable to this study. For example, an examination of marginal values brings to light the gains from increased investment. Where is the biggest bang for your buck for one extra dollar? Logic points to the biggest need: getting the public to understand and use forecast information effectively so they take appropriate action.
These recent discussions on valuation have not been the first among the AMS membership, and they won’t be the last. The themes of the next enterprise-wide gathering—the AMS Summer Community Meeting in Boulder, Colorado, on August 12-15–include improving weather forecasts; supporting ground transportation, aviation, and conventional and renewable energy; and, yes, determining the economic value of the weather and climate enterprise.
Until then, ponder this multiple choice question:
How good do we want to be as a nation?

A. No worse than we are today
B. As good as we can be (with no realistic limitations on resources)
C. As good as we can afford to be at a fixed cost-benefit ratio
D. As good as or better than other nations at a similar economic development stage

4 thoughts on “The Value of Knowing Our Value”

  1. I think the community needs to go through the exercise of quantifying its value to the US economy but also qualitatively to the average American. We need to know through careful work who is making decisions with this information AND if we are meeting the information needs to actually make decisions that make a difference. The next evolution of the weather enterprise is already upon us with data assimilation for very short term decision making. We are already flirting with our own disaster by overselling recent successes in forecasting (our stories). The problems remain similar in this regard. One major thrust should include getting consumers of our information to tell our stories (on their own mind you), where the information made a difference to them. Establishing that any cultural modification has occurred around our science should be one of the benchmarks that we are making a significant impact. Quantification may give us some numbers but we need to pair that with real success stories. In effect showing those same policy makers that this doesnt just make financial sense but good people sense too.

  2. As much as I agree on both points as listed below, I could also see one major caution with quantifying the value, given the current economic state in the economy. That caution is looking at the post-graduation stats for employment since the mid 90’s. Because for years, a major untold problem within meteorology is that there are nowhere near enough jobs for graduates to go into compared to how many are being graduated every year from all the colleges and universities here in the US. It’s not saying that they aren’t qualified, because in my experience the vast majority of them are. And the vast number can adapt to different portions of their field without too much of a problem. It’s just that there may be too many scientists for the economy to handle.
    I’m not saying that quantifying things would be all bad, because such a quantification might show we have a massive under-utilization of meteorologists and usages by private corporations and public institutions that make for quantity being emphasized over quality, when quality is what the economy and the public is being asked for.
    I am just hoping if such a move is made to quantify everything in dollars and cents, that we as a field be ready for any consequences that come about, positive or negative, as a result from such an undertaking.

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