Weaponized Weather

As the world slowly wakes up to the threat of global warming, a
few high-profile scientists known as geoengineers are pushing plans
for large-scale technological ‘solutions’ to the looming crisis.
According to David Shiga, writing for the
New Scientist‘s environmental blog,
the various ideas have included a proposal to launch trillions
of tiny ‘sunshades’ into space to angle the sun’s rays away from
the earth and a plan to inject sulfur into the atmosphere to
create a sort of global shade. Shiga questions the plausibility
of these plans, asking whether ‘even entertaining these ideas
take[s] focus away from practical, if somewhat inconvenient,
steps we will have to take to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions?’

The real problem with geoengineering might be worse than simple
distraction. Historian James R. Fleming writes for the
Wilson Quarterly that the United States
has been pursuing geoengineering technology since the 19th
century. Early attempts by American scientists focused on
rainmaking to combat droughts, but the projects quickly turned
militaristic as the US government realized the potential of
turning earth’s climate against its enemies.

After World War II, Fleming writes, advances in ‘cloud seeding’
technology were quickly turned against the post-war enemies of the
United States. North and South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, India,
Pakistan, the Philippines, Panama, Portugal, Okinawa, and Cuba have
all been the targets of US programs of artificial rainmaking,
Fleming reports, all under military sponsorship with ‘direct
involvement of the White ­House.’ When evidence of those programs
emerged in the 1970s, the United Nations quickly banned the use of
environmental modification techniques for hostile purposes.

Today’s geoengineering projects, however, are presented as
efforts to protect the earth, rather than acts of war. Writing for
the electronic engineering magazine
IEEE Spectrum, William Gail acknowledges
the militaristic history of geoengineering, but still maintains
that such projects are needed to combat global warming. In fact,
according to Gail, the question is not if these projects
will be implemented, but when. ‘[I]t is inevitable,’ he
writes, ‘that we will begin to apply our newfound capabilities to
actively manage — even engineer — climate.’

In spite of the United Nations ban, the Wilson
Quarterly
‘s Fleming argues, ‘it is virtually impossible to
imagine governments resisting the temptation to explore military
uses of any potentially ­climate-­altering ­technology.’ When
scientists speak of injecting the atmosphere with sulfur, the idea
begs the question: Who will control the weather? Fleming points out
that many countries, including Russia, may have differing views
from the United States on what an ideal environment is (for
example, the Russians might want an ice-free Arctic Circle open for
trade routes). Should these two nuclear powers end up butting heads
over their preferred climates, the so called ‘solution’ to global
warming may end up causing more harm than the problem itself.

Go there >>
The Climate Engineers

Go there, too >>
Far-Out Schemes to Stop Climate Change

And there >>
Climate Control

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