Can We Control The Weather?
By Art Horn
In the wake of the destruction caused by hurricane Sandy there have been calls to control the weather and stop disasters like Sandy from occurring again. Apparently there are those who believe we can actually do it. On November the 1st, 2012 Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York said “Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be, given this weeks devastation, should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action”. In his speech to the Democratic National Convention President Obama said “More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future. And in this election you can do something about it.” On November the 12th, 2012 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the UN’s General Assembly and pronounced “Finally, let me say we all know the difficulties in attributing any single storm to climate change. But we also know this: extreme weather due to climate change is the new normal. This may be an uncomfortable truth, but it is one we ignore at our peril.” In all of these statements the obvious implication is that these leaders think that if we take some kind of action, we can do something about the weather.
In all of the above statements the implied or stated method for controlling the weather is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. The thinking, if you want to call it that, is this. Reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air from 0.04% of the atmosphere to some arbitrary amount, say 0.03% or the level at the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1850, will somehow bring the weather back to “normal”. This reduction would be a whopping 0.01%. They have no idea how this reduction will actually change the weather back to how it should behave but they are sure it will work. They are so sure that they believe we should dismantle everything that has provided us with reliable, affordable energy up to this point and try something new. The EPA is already working hard to close the coal companies.
The fact of the matter is that the United States has already been reducing the amount of carbon dioxide it contributes to the atmosphere. However, the United States is only 18% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. World carbon dioxide emissions are continuing to rise despite our reduced input. Apparently our reduction has not been enough to change the weather back to normal so, according to Ban Ki-moon we must do more. In his address the General Assembly on 11/12/12 he said “Our challenge remains clear and urgent: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to strengthen adaptation to even larger climate shocks we know are on the way no matter what we do, and to reach a legally binding agreement by 2015, as states agreed to do last year in Durban.” So he thinks that a treaty, formulated and administered by the UN to control and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air will give the UN (him?) the degree of control we need to stop “climate shocks we know are on the way.” In other words, control the weather.
The idea of controlling the weather is not new, in fact, it is quite old. Napoleon believed that by shooting cannons into the air he could create rain and as a result, disrupt his enemies. This became known as the “Concussion theory of rainmaking” and was used (unsuccessfully) up to the civil war. The US congress looked into controlling the weather in 1891. They brought in a retired Brigadier General named Robert Dyrenforth to launch balloons carrying explosives. The only success he had was to set off prairie fires. Enter Charles Hatfield “The Wizard of the Weather”. Around 1900 Hatfield began offering his services. He would explain to farmers that it would take time to erect his towers that would release his “moisture accelerator” concoction into the air. He always got paid first. From 1962 to 1983 the US government funded “Project Stormfury”. The project used cloud seeding with tiny silver iodide crystals in an attempt to weaken hurricanes out over the oceans before they struck land. In 1965 hurricane Betsey made an unusual (but not unprecedented) loop as it headed north off the coast of Florida and then slammed into Miami. Stormfury said they did not seed the hurricane but Congress didn’t believe it. Eventually the project was de-funded.
Today the latest scheme to control the weather is reducing the tiny amount of carbon dioxide in the air by an even infinitesimally tinier amount. The atmosphere that covers our planet is extraordinarily complex. It is so complex that we have a great deal of trouble forecasting what it will do just days ahead, sometime much less that that. And if you’re going to control the weather you must control the oceans as well. The oceans of the world contain more than 1,000 times the amount of heat contained in the atmosphere. Changes in the oceans that result from cyclical patterns such as El Nino and La Nina, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation have dramatic implications for the atmosphere. We would also need to control the energy output from the sun which, after all, is the primary source of energy for the planet.
Like the Wizard behind the curtain in the land of Oz, all of these people who claim they know how to control the weather are just men. They are humans who speak with profound words from high platforms in impressive locations but in the end, they have no more idea of how to change the weather than you and I.
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