A Conversation with T. Boone Pickens: Tonight Is about Opportunities

Often, when people talk about T. Boone Pickens–the featured guest at the AMS Annual Meeting special session at 7:30 p.m. tonight (Ballroom D)–they remind you that he got his start as a paper boy. At age 12, Pickens took a newspaper route with 28 deliveries and turned it, through merger and acquisition, into a conglomerate of 156. A penchant for rapid expansion through acquisition was born, and the result was an investor-corporate dynamo.
But we’re AMS, so we’re not here to talk about how he made his billions with Mesa Petroleum or BP Capital Management. Tonight AMS Policy Director William Hooke will undoubtedly ask Pickens how he intends to make his next billion, and–from everything Pickens is saying–he’s going to do it by taking advantage of what science is telling him.

In that regard, Pickens is clearly not the common businessman. He explains, “The gambling instincts I inherited from my father were matched by my mother’s gift for analysis.”
So, instead of paper routes and corporate raiding, we’re going to remind you that T. Boone Pickens got his start in the oil business with a Bachelor’s Degree in geology. Indeed, while Pickens is the kind of businessman who takes opportunities where he sees them, usually that means seeing the big processes, the glacial but inevitable trends and not just the ephemera blowing in the wind. Actually, he also lost $150 million on wind energy already–abandoning one-time plans to build the world’s largest wind farm in Texas–and so in that sense no one is better qualified than Pickens to kick off the intensive discussions this week about how our science is working to make renewable energy a better bet these days.
Right now, the big picture is telling Pickens that natural gas is the alternative fuel of choice, as a means of ending American dependence on imported energy resources.

As ever, energy is, for Pickens, an opportunity, but it’s also about the big picture–really the biggest picture of where society is heading economically, strategically, politically, socially, geophysically. For us, then, the strategic move is to capitalize not on what science has to tell business, but on what business has to tell science, tonight, in Ballroom D.

Correction: You, Not the Birds, Are the First Line of Defense for Space Weather

If you’re here in Austin, along with a few thousand of your closest professional colleagues, you’re not just here to share what you know. You’re here to learn what you need to know for the next great opportunity. Chances are, that opportunity is not at all where you were looking for it just a few years ago. It’s going to take a correction of professional course, and the AMS Annual Meeting is the place to start making that correction.
The next great thing in atmospheric science may be working closer with your colleagues who study the biology and chemistry of air-sea exchanges. It might mean getting to know how to deal with social science. It might mean looking above the clouds and not below, or taking input from different scales of time and space and applying them to your own, or thinking about renewable energy, not just potential and kinetic energy.
If you’re ready to take a hint from community leaders like NWS Acting Director Laura Furgione, UCAR President Tom Bogdan, and others, let alone the National Research Council, it’s time to start learning about the opportunities from outer space, too. In fact it is barely too soon to do so: our economic infrastructure is already completely wrapped up in technology that is highly dependent on the good graces of the sun. One little blip of activity for our massive sun, like a Coronal Mass Ejection, can wreak billions of dollars worth of havoc–and temporary infrastructure paralysis–on our little planet Earth. Space weather is not just one of those next great things in research and forecasting, it’s already crucial.
Yet research shows that right now, the birds likely know more about space weather than the average weather forecaster. That’s right: according to recent laboratory findings, birds have an innate ability, probably due to the chemistry and mechanics of their ears, that enables them to follow Earth’s geomagnetic fields on their long annual migrations. Birds use space weather to find their way. They can hear geomagnetic fields, we can’t.
A number of your colleagues will be correcting that right here in Austin. Some will attend the 10th Conference on Space Weather. (Yes, the 10th! Where have you been? In that time, not only has smartphone usage exploded, but the number of flight operations over the poles has increased by 28-fold–an amazing testament to rapid growth of vulnerability to Space Weather.) The good news for those looking for an opportunity to start making the correction now is that Sunday has two half-day short-course sessions on Space Weather. Students wondering what’s next after their conference ends at noon might be encouraged to know that the afternoon session includes interactive discussion with a blue ribbon space weather panel–and that students are eligible for reduced rate registration!
According to the short course description, “meteorologists are frequently the “first line of defense” for the public.” Clearly this is no job for birds. Time to make that correction, take that opportunity.

Policy Symposium Keynote to Focus on Tree-Climate Connnections

by Caitlin Buzzas, AMS Policy Program
The keynote speaker for the 8th Symposium on Policy and Socio-Economic research at the AMS Annual Meeting in January will be author and journalist Jim Robbins. The Montana-based science writer for the New York Times just wrote a book on the connection between trees, forests and our atmosphere, The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet.
Robbins’ talk for our meeting (Monday,7 January, 11 a.m., Room 19a) is going to span many different aspects of our annual meeting including public health, climate, and weather. The topic, “The Few Things We Know and the Many Things We Don’t about the Role of Trees and Forests on a Warmer Planet,” could be of interest to just about every topic the symposiums cover.
If you want a preview, check out his TED talk on YouTube, where Robbins’ commitment to the science of trees in climate is explained:

They say that everyone must have a child, write a book and plant a tree before they die. But for the writer and freelance journalist of the New York Times, Jim Robbins, if we just do the last part, we’d already be off to a great start. The author of “The man who planted trees” tells how he became a rooted defender when he observed the devastation of the old growth pine trees on his property in Colorado because of climate change. For him, science still hasn’t studied deep enough about these beings that filer air, stop floods, recover desert areas, purify water, block UV rays and are the basis of medicines as well as decorate the view. Much beyond shade and fresh water.

The 2013 AMS Annual Meeting actually goes a long ways toward fulfilling Robbins’ vision of discovering more about trees in our climate, with dozens of related presentations. At Monday’s poster session (2:30 p.m., Exhibit Hall 3), for example, Juliane Fry is presenting lab findings that may eventually refine regional climate mitigation policies that rely on tree plantings to produce cooling secondary aerosols. Also, as victims of fire disasters, forests feature prominently in the Weather Impacts of 2012 sessions (Tuesday, 8 January, Ballroom E). Similarly, on Wednesday (2:30 p.m., Exhibit Hall 3) Anthony Bedel will present a poster on the connection between changing climate and increasing potential for forest fires in the the Southeast, due to thriving fire fuels.
Young scientists are also following this line of work: Sunday’s Student Conference posters (5:30 p.m., Exhibit Hall 3) include a presentation by Zeyuan Chen of Stony Brook on understanding airflow in a cherry grove to better help orchard managers save their trees from bark beetles. Another student, Meredith Dahlstrom of Metropolitan State University in Colorado, presents in the same session on interannual and decadal climate mechanisms related to fluctuations in the prodigious capacities for carbon storage in the Brazilian rainforests.

Spotlight on Early Career Professionals

If you haven’t noticed, a lot of AMS members are just starting out in the atmospheric sciences, making their way to success in a field that is full of continually evolving–and often little-known–prospects for advancement. Now is a good time, however, for those early career professionals trying to learn more about what’s ahead and meet the colleagues they’ll be encountering in coming years: AMS is providing new opportunities for them to get to know more about each other and their common futures.
The November issue of BAMS features an interview with KMGH, Denver, Colorado, weekend meteorologist Maureen McCann, part of our ongoing series of features about young people in the atmospheric sciences community. Maureen has a lot to share about getting started in the field. For example:

On advice she would give to an early career professional starting in this field: The best advice would be take whatever comes your way for your first job.  Your first job is key to fine tuning your skills and becoming familiar with the nuts and bolts of television news.  Keep in mind that it’s temporary and you will use this experience to move onto the next job, if that’s what you desire. Small market life has a lot of benefits! I look back on my time in my first market, Bangor, Maine, with great memories. The friendships I made there were with people in the same boat as myself: fresh out of college looking to get their career started.
Another point of advice is to always keep your resume current. You never know when opportunities will present  themselves. I aim to update my demo reel every six months. I probably would have missed out of the Denver opportunity if I didn’t have an updated reel online for the news director.
On who she seeks advice from and why: I’d have to say the broadcast community as a whole. Social networking has revolutionized how meteorologists can exchange information or gather feedback. There are some message groups on Facebook that serve as an excellent forum for this dialogue. Whether you have a question about graphics, or forecast models, or you’re looking for input on a prospective job location, chances are someone else has the same question too. It’s a great resource to poke through daily and see what the discussion topics are.  It’s also a good way to make connections beyond traditional ways like conferences.

For the full interview, see the November issue of BAMS and look for similar features in the future thanks to your new AMS Board on Early Career Professionals.
Another opportunity to get to know early career professionals is coming up at the Annual Meeting in Austin, with the First Conference for Early Career Professionals on Sunday, 6 January 2013. Early- to mid-career professionals will offer guidance and hold open discussions to solicit input on how the AMS can further benefit members who are beginning their careers in the atmospheric sciences. That evening, attendees and all other Annual Meeting participants are invited to attend the third annual AMS Reception for Early Career Professionals.
If you have advice for early career professionals or would like to nominate an early career professional to be featured in BAMS, the Board for Early Career Professionals would love to hear from you. You can contact Andrew Molthan, current chair of the AMS Board for Early Career Professionals, at [email protected].