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Sunday, February 21, 2010
the ethics of cloudseeding and weather manipulation
Listening to:BonJovi in my head, don't judge
Reading:50 million things
Weather:43! melting
What a winter. I've got around 3 feet of snow everywhere here. I've spent many many hours shoveling and sweeping, day after day. I have 2 buckets of compost on the back porch ready to dump in the pile up the hill, but it would take me many hours of sweaty labor to blaze a trail through the snow to get to the pile. I gave up on the front steps 2 snows ago, it was up to the top rail, though it's been slowly compacting itself down and there's probably only 2 feet of heavy wet snow on there now. Oy. Temperature-wise it's been cold, though we have not had terribly low lows. It's mostly been consistently low highs, going weeks without getting above freezing, but often only going down to the teens at night instead of the usual jan-feb periodic singles and below 0. And it ain't over yet, we usually get the big one in March. Wooooohoooooo!

Oddly I haven't had the wicked cabin fever even though I've been snowed in here for 5+ days at least 3 times already. It's been a little hard on the mind to have to relentlessly get snow off the 100+ foot driveway day after day, but being at home and eating my own cooking and keeping the heat going and pipes flowing has been mostly pleasant.

I've watched a lot of TV, including a variety of history and science and science history stuff. Today I saw a show on largescale weather and earth manipulation, like attempts to short-circuit hurricanes and create rains in drought, and changes the paths of molten lava from volcanic eruptions. Very interesting. There's actually some some progress in this stuff, though most of the big projects have ultimately been failures, so we're still pretty far away from some evil weather-making machine in the hands of terrorists or superhero nemeses.

It made me wonder a little about the ethics of humans changing the weather. I'm always concerned about the unintended consequences of manipulating nature on a large scale. Apparently one of the hurricane-killer technologies attempted was to fly in and seed the hurricane with silver iodide, causing supercooled water in the hurricane to freeze, weakening the eyewall, widening the eye, and reducing the cyclonic windspeeds, thereby reducing the power of the hurricane to do damage to humans and their stuff. It failed, apparently because of the lack of supercooled water present, there was more ice than initially identified.

But if it worked, what would happen to the added silver iodide? What unintended consequences might result? What longterm consequences might happen from lack of badass hurricanes in the areas that get them now? What impact on the distribution of precipitation might result? And then ethics-wise, how much resources should be send where to do this thing, assuming it is expensive? What level of storm is deemed worthy of short-circuiting? How would insurance companies find new ways to cash in on this shit? Which people on the globe would we deem worthy of the cost of protection? Which nutcase wants to fly the plane into hurricanes? Would we learn how to aim hurricanes or lava at our enemies?

I used to watch a soap opera when I was in middle school, General Hospital. Back then one of the antagonists on the show hatched an evil weather-manipulating plot to create a snowstorm or some such shit. I'm sure Sadam Hussein was cooking up some diabolical weather manipulating plots down in that spiderhole. And there are plenty of real-life examples of bad unintended consequences of manipulating nature, such as intentional introduction of non-native species that go nuts and screw up their new environments (zebra mussel, multiflora rose, european rabbit, etc.).

My instinct is conservative on this stuff. Don't take giant steps for fear of giant negative unintended consequences. But that doesn't absolve me from the need to wrestle with possibilities like helping huge populations in drought-stricken areas to be free from poverty by giving them rain. Or jamming tectonic plates to prevent earthquakes in places like Haiti. I know we don't have those technologies yet, but isn't it a good idea to try to work out the ethics and policy stuff before we're faced with the real opportunities? Even if it makes your brain hurt?

And btw, I really appreciate the thoughtful comments to my last post. Agreed, why postpone the wild rumpus til you're dead? Perhaps better to let the wild rumpus keep on keeping on at that point. And I am glad to know that there are clergy who don't think bogus christianization at funerals is a good thing. Those are folks I would love to consult on the Hippie Hole project. I'm sure they have some valuable insights on better ways to help people say goodbye in meaningful and more satisfying ways.


permalink posted by cat 3:24 PM

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the ethics of cloudseeding and weather manipulation
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