RDo you remember when Donald Trump wanted to nuke hurricanes so they wouldn’t hit the United States? Everyone burst out laughing, but Trump’s warped little mind was actually onto something. You may not be able to bomb hurricanes into oblivion, but you can shoot things into the atmosphere in order to change the weather. It’s a process known as cloud seeding and a number of countries, including the UK and US, have been experimenting with it for decades.
The general public hasn’t paid much attention to cloud seeding or other forms of geoengineering, but now is the time to sit up and take notice: China has massively stepped up its efforts to control the weather, a decision that should alarm us all.
Between 2012 and 2017, China is believed to have spent more than $1.34bn (£1bn) tackling water shortages by wresting control of the elements. But what he plans to do now is on a whole different scale. Earlier this month, China’s State Council announced that by 2025, its weather modification program will cover about half of the country. It aims to control rain and snow in an area that is more than 1.5 times the size of India or 20 times the size of the UK. In other words, a huge bloody area.
China’s success in making it rain and snow is questionable. Earlier this year, a study funded by the US National Science Foundation found that: “Cloud seeding can increase snowfall over a wide area if atmospheric conditions are right.” This is one of the first studies to show that cloud seeding works; however, current technology is not exactly simple or cost effective. We can’t just turn the rain on and off with the flick of a switch, nice as that is.
But how successful China will be is almost irrelevant. What’s truly terrifying is why he is stepping up his weather modification program. It’s not just posturing (although that certainly plays a role), it’s also desperation. The climate crisis is not around the corner – it is there. Water shortages today affect more than 3 billion people worldwide. About 1.5 billion people suffer from severe water scarcity. The UN estimates that, by 2030, water scarcity will have displaced up to 700 million people. And if all those stats don’t worry you, the fact that investors have started to take water scarcity seriously should: Earlier this month, water futures began trading on Wall Street for the first time.
This, of course, is only a part of the many climate-related issues facing the world. Five years have passed since the Paris agreement and, as Greta Thunberg recently warned, we “continue to accelerate in the wrong direction”. The past decade has been the hottest on record and every year seems to bring “unprecedented” natural disasters. I don’t need to tell you, of course. You know that. We all know that. And yet world leaders have yet to commit to the kind of action that needs to be taken to stem the crisis we are heading towards. There is no real will to change the status quo. No real desire to fundamentally change our behavior. No real desire to question an economic model obsessed with growth, growth, growth, growth at all costs.
There is, however, a willingness to pour money into shiny new technology that promises miraculous solutions. I can’t predict the future (or change the weather), but I think we’re going to see a boom in experimental geoengineering over the next few years, and not just in China. But no matter how smart we think we are, I have a feeling mother nature will be the last laugher.