Fleming (2013) – A History of Weather and Climate Control – Click for Download
Visionary schemes for weather and climate control have a long history, but with very few exceptions have ever worked. Would-be climate engineers and policy makers need to take this into account. My intent here is to demonstrate that- contrary to claims that climate engineering is something wholly new in scale and intent- a number of previous technological interventions have been attempted on the atmosphere, on both regional and planetary scales. By and large, they did not have their desired effects on the physical environment, outpaced their original technical requirements, and gave rise to complicated political, social and economic issues.
I would begin by addressing a claim that although historical cases of weather modification provide a valuable context for thinking about climatic interventions, they represent different temporal and spatial scales, and therefore may be of limited comparative value. Manipulation of weather and climate phenomena is intimately related. Any intervention in Earth’s radiation or heat budget (such as managing solar radiation) would affect the hydrological cycle and the general circulation, thus rainfall and upper-level wind patterns, including the location of the jet stream and storm tracks. The weather itself would be changed by such manipulation. Conversely, intervening in severe storms by changing their intensity or their tracks or modifying weather on a scale as large as a region, a continent, or an ocean basin would obviously affect cloudiness, temperature, and precipitation patterns, with major consequences for monsoonal flows and ultimately the general circulation. If repeated systematically, such interventions would influence the overall heat budget and the climate.
The earliest documented cases were rain-making schemes, and as such tended to be regional rather than global. In 1841 James Espy, America’s first national meteorologist, developed a theory of storms powered by convection, but the so-called “Storm King” went off the deep end technically when he proposed lighting giant fires all along the Appalachian Mountains to emulate an artificial volcano that he thought would generate rains, disrupt cold and heat waves, and clear the air of miasmas. His contemporary, Eliza Leslie, perceptively pointed out that attaining such control might cause serious damage to social relations. There were many other such rainmaking schemes. In the 1920s, with concerns about aviation safety ascendant, independent inventor L. Francis Warren and Cornell chemistry professor Wilder D. Bancroft developed a scheme to dose the clouds with electrified sand delivered by airplane. Rainmaking and fog clearing were both on the agenda, but trials, supported by the U.S. Army Air Corps, were less than promising. It turned out that airplanes could successfully disrupt smaller clouds, but experimenters could not predict whether a treated cloud would subsequently dissipate or thicken.
These early weather modification plans (some of surprisingly large scale) were couched in the context of the pressing issues and available technologies of their eras: Espy wanted to purify the air and make rain for the East Coast, and Warren and Bancroft hoped to make rain and clear airports of fog, while the military sought advantages for its fliers. But intervention is not control, and the hype surrounding both projects exceeded technical capabilities.
Prospects for larger-scale, even planetary intervention in the climate system arrived after 1945 with the dawn of several transformative technologies: nuclear weapons, digital computing, chemical cloud seeding techniques, and access to space (See Table I). Two of the projects listed here involved cloud seeding techniques, and two involved disruption of the space environment. All were part and parcel of the Cold War quest to militarize the atmosphere. Not listed in the table are proposals, dating from 1945, to bomb nascent hurricanes or break up polar ice with nuclear weapons, or to build a digital computer that would produce perfect forecasts and perhaps allow real-time intervention in threatening weather systems as they developed.
|Table I. Weather and Climate Control Projects in the Cold War (Fleming 2010)
||Project Cirrus attempts diversion of an Atlantic hurricane using dry ice seeding.
||Project Argus, top-secret military project detonates three atomic bombs in space.
||Starfish Prime, H-Bomb detonated in magnetosphere. Similar Soviet tests.
||Monsoonal cloud seeding over Vietnam leads to UN ENMOD treaty in 1978.
In 1947 scientists at the General Electric Corporation developed methods for seeding clouds with dry ice and silver iodide, sparking a race for commercial applications and military control of the clouds. They partnered with the military in Project Cirrus to seed an Atlantic hurricane with dry ice, but the experiment went awry. Nevertheless, GE chief scientist Irving Langmuir hyped the possibilities, arguing that hurricanes could be redirected and that the climate might ultimately be controlled on a continental or oceanic scale with the techniques they had developed. Cloud seeding reached around the world, especially into arid areas and upslope watersheds, but they never resulted in fully reliable techniques to enhance precipitation or snowpack. The scale of nature was too huge and problems of verification and social acceptance were too huge. Instead of quasi-military aerial bombardment of the clouds, small-scale practices such as drip irrigation and snowmaking machines became the norm.
Between 1966 and 1974 massive and surreptitious seeding of the Southeast Asian monsoon during the Vietnam War resulted in little measureable rain, but a diplomatic nightmare for the United States when the Soviet Union brought the issue of environmental warfare to the attention of the United Nations. The UN Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD) was the biggest fallout from the effort, followed by a systematic and persistent collapse of US federal support for cloud seeding.
The Argus and Starfish Prime nuclear detonations in space, along with similar Soviet testing, constituted actual attempts to engineer space weather and disrupt the magnetosphere. A theory promulgated by Nicholas Christofilos, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, held that the ionized debris and high-energy electrons generated by a nuclear explosion would travel almost instantly through Earth’s magnetic field as a giant current. In case of hostilities a nuclear blast could possibly generate a massive electromagnetic pulse over an enemy city, disrupt military communications, and destroy both satellites and the electronic guidance systems of enemy missiles. These tests, conducted by both superpowers, generated widespread public outrage and were quickly followed by the Limited Test Ban Treaty.
Lessons from History for Weather and Climate Engineering
History teaches us that things change – often in surprising or unanticipated ways – and that a certain amount of clarity can be gained by looking backward as we inevitably rush forward. Schemes aimed at attempted control of weather and climate—often framed as responses to critical problems such as water shortages, military exigencies, and cold war dominance—have fallen short of their goals many times in the past. The checkered history of this field provides valuable perspectives and a cautionary warning on what might otherwise seem to be today’s completely unprecedented climate challenges. Contemporary engineers err if they ignore this history.
Would-be climate engineers are strongly motivated by fears of future global warming, but within recent memory this landscape too has been changing. The past decade-and-a-half of surface temperature measurements seem to indicate that the estimated sensitivity of the climate to increasing greenhouse gases is less than models have projected, temporarily reducing some of the short-term angst. Additionally, there is strong technical resistance, or at least caution, from the faculty of mainstream atmospheric science departments, who tend to be skeptical of simple geoengineering schemes. Increasingly, historians, philosophers, and other humanists and social scientists are getting beyond back-of-the-envelope technicalities and are taking a critical look at complex issues related to the history, ethics, and governance of global control issues. Even the neologism “geoengineering” is in the process of being abandoned (since it is not really engineering in any traditional sense), as is the phrase “solar radiation management” (since there are too many unknowns to really consider it a form of management).
Intervention into weather and climate systems does not result in control over them. Instead it has often given rise to unexpectedly complicated social issues. We should base our decision-making not only on technical expertise and what we think we can do “now” and in the near future. Rather our knowledge must be shaped (and tempered) by what we have and have not done in the past. Such are the grounds for making informed decisions and avoiding the pitfalls of rushing forward claiming we know how to control weather and climate. The following misleading claims were made by various speakers at the 2010 Asilomar International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies; my comments are in italics:
“We don’t have a history of geoengineering to fall back on…” — Yes we do.
“Things are moving quickly, so we don’t have the luxury of looking at history.” — We must take the time.
“We are the first generation to think about these things.” — History says otherwise.
“If an unfriendly nation gets into a position to control the large-scale weather patterns before we can, the result could even
be more disastrous than nuclear warfare.”
— Howard T. Orville,
U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s weather advisor, 1958
There are over 150 legal documents (US Patents) that evidences weather modification aka geoengineering that can be found in Appendix I of this book. Many of these patents cannot be employed or used unless used in aerosol spraying. These weather modification patents date all the way back to 1920!
In 1932, The Soviet Union established the Institute of Rainmaking in Leningrad, setting the stage for decades of experimentation with cloud seeding as a means of altering the weather. The United States followed suit in 1946, when researchers at the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York, discovered that dry ice stimulates ice-crystal formation. In the Cold War’s early years, both superpowers carried out hundreds of experiments using solid carbon dioxide, silver iodide, and other particulate matter to trigger precipitation over their citizens heads.
Operation Drop Kick, in 1955, released infected mosquitoes on poor African American populations in Georgia and Florida and was part of a much larger Tuskegee Operation that lasted between 1932 to 1972 without consent or knowledge from the deliberately targeted innocent poor.
Another example, of just one of hundreds of aerosol spraying conducted over unsuspecting populations over the past decades, was the 1966 spraying of live bacteria over San Francisco residents, to allegedly test to see what biological weapons could be used to help spread a biological weapon in a “simulated germ-warfare attack.” At that time, according to Ms. Rebecca Kreston in Discover Magazine, it was “one of the largest human experiments in history” and “one the largest offenses of the Nuremberg Code since its inception.”
Between 1949 and 1989 secret biological testing has been conducted using humans as guinea pigs in Washington D.C., New York City, Key West Florida and Panama City Florida. Meanwhile, across the pond, BBC Spotlight broadcast from 1998, detailed the large area coverage Germ Warfare experiments conducted by Porton Down scientists in populated areas of Devon, Somerset and Dorset during the 1960s and 1970s.
(Please visit the website/links section to learn more about these and many more experiments on humans over the past decades.)
And the Misdirection…”we’re just starting now….” ha ha aha. this psyop piece put out in 2013
Operation Popeye (ProjectControlled Weather Popeye/Motorpool/Intermediary-Compatriot) was a highly classified weather modification program in Vietnam and Southeast Asia for over a decade beginning in 1963. Not only was cancer causing Agent Orange used for defoliation but also over 2600 cloud seeding sorties were conducted throughout the conflict to extend the East Asian Monsoon season in support of US Government military war department.