World Class

You often hear how the people of Oklahoma are — or aspire to be — “World Class.” That is, we intend to develop modern schools, universities, businesses, cities, and so on that are on a par with the best on our planet. We want to be recognized around the globe for our innovation and capacity to solve problems creatively.

This is a goal on which Republicans and Democrats agree. In the public sector, Governor Mary Fallin says, “State government can’t continue to operate like an 8-track player in an iPod world.” She’s right.

There is plenty of evidence that Oklahoma is making its mark on the world. To achieve our goals, we are utilizing knowledge resources from around the world, including the United Nations and an array of non-governmental organizations. We are working cooperatively with global partners.

Here’s one example of how we are able to do this.

See the photograph above? It’s a picture of an agricultural producer in Africa, a herder in Eastern Zambia. He is getting a weather report in a text message on his cell phone.

As described in this article from the National Geographic website, timely and accurate advance weather information is helping countless small farmers in rural Africa to become more productive. This capacity is the result of a new technology implemented through the RANET (Radio and Internet for the Communication of Hydro-Meteorological Information) Project.

The article acknowledges the current funding and technical partners in the RANET Project, including UNDP, the Red Cross, World Vision, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

(UNDP, of course, is the United Nations Development Program. According to its website, UNDP pursues its mission by partnering with people “…at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone”).

But, that’s not the whole story.

The article doesn’t mention the history of the RANET project — which actually traces back to 1997.

According to NOAA, RANET received founding technical advice from an array of organizations including the University of Oklahoma:

“The RANET Project was designed specifically to address information access and support of rural communities. Originally conceived and started in the later part of 1997 by ACMAD (the African Center of Meteorological Applications for Development)…, the RANET project is now a cooperative effort of many national and international organizations with founding support and technical advice from the University of Oklahoma, NOAA National Weather Service, NOAA Office of Global Programs…, and the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.”

OU’s initial participation in the RANET project was funded through a $2.2 million federal grant to the university’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS).

A UN report (PDF) from 2007, “Drought Risk Reduction Framework and Practices,” provides more information on the RANET Project.

“For the past several years, RANET has developed programs in a number of African countries. Based on the success of these efforts, the program began pilot efforts in the Pacific. Similar efforts are planned in South and Southeast Asia.”

The UN report also gives credit to “faculty at the University of Oklahoma” for helping to manage the project.

Currently, OU’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies is participating in a couple of newer projects that are similar to the RANET Project.

PACRAIN — The Pacific Rainfall Database. This is a project to collect rainfall data from a variety of sources in a large part of the tropical Pacific Ocean. The project makes the data available in an easy-to-use format.

SPaRCE — The Schools of the Pacific Rainfall Climate Experiment. This project supports the PACRAIN project by providing a supplemental source of data. Each participating school is sent a rain gage, instructional manuals and videotapes, and data sheets. Students at the schools record daily rainfall measurements and return the forms to the University of Oklahoma, where they are entered as a part of the PACRAIN database.

Ultimately, the data that is collected and compiled through these OU projects helps scientists and students from around the world to understand climate-related issues that are global in scale.

As described in the quarterly journal of the SPaRCE Project (“The Pacific Tradewinds Quarterly”), the rainfall data compiled at OU helps to support important climate research and climate forecasting activities. The OU projects work collaboratively with another UN-related initiative — the Pacific Island Global Climate Observing System (PI-GCOS) program — to ensure that the data collection efforts of the world are at their best.

The PI-GCOS program is co-sponsored by several international organizations — including the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). (WMO, UNESCO, and UNEP are specialized agencies of the United Nations).

All of this serves to illustrate how Oklahoma scientists and database administrators are making important contributions to the knowledge resources of the world. Further, it highlights how this essential work at the University of Oklahoma is connected to the important activities of UN agencies like UNDP, WMO, UNESCO, and UNEP.

By engaging in these World Class projects and others like them, the University of Oklahoma is bringing real benefits to the people of our state — including research funding ($14 million annually in the School of Meteorology) and opportunities for valuable learning experiences for OU students.

Finally, this example helps to show how the 4 Anti-UN bills that are currently in our State Legislature offer the wrong approach for Oklahoma. By prohibiting public commerce with UN agencies, they would undermine the efforts of Oklahomans to build a World Class place to live and work.

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