Sam Randalls (University College London)
An optimal climate: meteorology, commercialization and efficiency
The paper connects a history of commercialization in meteorology with a history of attempts to directly manage the atmosphere as resource or hazard. Evaluating the development of commercial meteorology alongside the ways in which economists have considered atmospheric sciences (and the atmosphere) provides an informative case study for exploring the effects of neoliberal policies on the practice of science. Relevance and efficiency become key tropes for market entrepreneurs who suggest that the public sector needs to be restrained for fear that public meteorologists might abuse their state funding to bolster their commercial position. At the same time, the public sector meteorological providers are to be set free to operate as if they were private corporations. While the UK and US governments have adopted different responses to these claims, both stem from similar debates about how to fund science. This is not just a contest over funding policy, however, as it has consequences for data networks as well as the provision of weather forecasts and other services. A neoliberal funding regime has effects on science and, in the long run, for society and the atmosphere too. Economists have increasingly made bold claims about the most efficient management of the atmosphere too. From early cost-benefit analyses of the atmosphere through to contemporary climate change assessments, the atmosphere is conceived of as a resource to be exploited to just below a critical level. The optimal climate is thus not just hypothesized in its economic value, but realized in practice too. A commercial science and a managed atmosphere become twin goals for attempts to manage weather and climate risks.