Changing the weather is now possible – do we know what we are doing?

changing the weather
Image by tuaindeedz | Bigstockphoto

Changing the weather has been a topic of discussion, experimentation and hope for about 80 years. Now it turns out that China just succeeded in making it rain.

Over the summer, the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its centenary, but the weather was not the best. So they fired silver iodide into the clouds, dispersing them and reducing pollution to comfortable levels.

The ability to change the weather is a hugely significant milestone, and its theory is reasonably simple. Silver iodide is a lot like ice, and when spread into clouds, it attracts more ice, which condenses and falls as snow or rain.

Changing the weather is also pretty controversial.

China’s weather modification programme has been growing significantly. By 2025 it will cover an area larger than India, and this is a cause for concern (see below). If you can make it rain or snow, presumably, you can cause droughts.

In short, welcome to Weather Wars.

Like several technologies around at the moment, the technology itself is impartial. It does what it does. It is what we do with it that matters.

One of the countries ‘raising concerns is the US, but it is also working on changing the weather, and eight states are involved in addressing the issues of drought and forest fires or lack of snow and the skiing dollars that could be lost.

Changing the weather could potentially tackle the ‘megadroughts’ of the not too distant future – now predicted by anyone who thinks global warming is upon us. It could also reduce the rainfall, changing the agriculture and backbone of an economy.

You can imagine a slightly comic storyline, where Country A tries to bring drought upon its neighbour, Country B. Then Country B retaliates by sending a series of 10 category 5 typhoons towards Country A’s capital city.

Perhaps it is not that amusing after all.

The problem with weather modification is that, like technologies such as AI, the longer-term impact is unpredictable.

If you set about changing the weather in one region, the effect on the neighbouring regions is unknown. Even with an army of mainframes, weather forecasting is still not exact, and long-term changes are pure guesswork. The Sahara, after all, used to be the Romans’ grain store.

Weather modification will also lead to an increase in tension among neighbours. If one country wants to increase its rainfall to address a drought situation and increase its farming potential, its neighbour’s mainframe may predict drought and possible famine.

Tensions will rise. Wars have been fought for less.

The weather is the most potent force on the planet (apart from the planet itself). Changing the weather unilaterally is extremely dangerous for the future.

If China can change the weather over an area larger than its neighbour – not to mention building hypersonic aircraft, going to the dark side of the moon and developing ‘pre-crime’ technology – the question is what the rest of the world should do about it.

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