The Big Bad Fix

ETC Group, BiofuelWatch and Heinrich Boell Foundation present a comprehensive argument against geoengineering in this report.

Click here to download the full report (pdf)

As a rapidly warming world manifests heat waves, floods, droughts and hurricanes, geoengineering – large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s natural systems – is being presented as a strategy to counteract, dilute or delay climate change without disrupting energy- and resource-intensive economies. Alarmingly, current debates about this big techno-fix are limited to a small group of self-proclaimed experts reproducing undemocratic worldviews and technocratic, reductionist perspectives. Developing countries, indigenous peoples, and local communities are excluded and left voiceless.

As this report details, each of the proposed geoengineering technologies threatens people and ecosystems. Holistic assessments of the technologies also show that if deployed they are highly likely to worsen rather than mitigate the impacts of global warming.

The irreversibility, risk of weaponization, and implications for global power dynamics inherent in large-scale climate geoengineering also make it an unacceptable option.

Small-scale geoengineering? UAE’s rain-making mountain

Plans are currently being modeled by the UAE to build a mountain and seed clouds above it in order to tackle an acute water shortage. This isn’t necessarily geoengineering (extreme weather modification maybe), but the thinking behind it mirrors the wrong approach being taken to tackling climate change, laid out since the Paris Agreement was signed. In the same why that drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions now is much more certain to be an effective solution to the problem of climate change than future geoengineering, or relying on unproven negative emissions technologies to balance carbon budgets in the second half of the century, surely massive water conservation efforts are much more likely to be successful in tackling a water shortage than trying to engineer geography to make it rain more? The article below is a good summary of the arguments against the UAE’s new mountain.

Hell No, the UAE Should Not Build a Rain-Making Mountain to Fix Its Water Problems

by Alissa Walker (GIZMODO)

It sounds like the plot of a summer blockbuster, but the United Arab Emirates is apparently quite serious about building a mountain to increase rainfall in the region. Would it work? Probably. But instead of launching an infrastructure project where a very rich country attempts to dig its way out of a drought, the UAE needs to get serious about conserving its water.

The science behind a rain-making mountain is not that outlandish. Moist air arriving on ocean breezes would be trapped by the human-sculpted landform, forcing it up into the atmosphere where it would cool, condense into clouds, and eventually—hopefully!—fall as rain. This is the phenomenon known as a rain shadow, where one side of a mountainous area sees more precipitation (and the other side sees less).

Right now, a team of atmospheric scientists are determining the feasibility of such an undertaking. The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)—both legit organizations—are advising on the project, which is in the “detailed modeling” phase. Of course, that means the team could decide that it’s still not a great idea. And let’s hope they do.

There’s no disputing the fact that a large swath of the Middle East is in the midst of a water crisis. A recent report predicted that parts of the region will be uninhabitable by 2050 due to extreme heat exacerbated by climate change, so the problem is likely only going to get worse. But this seems like the wrong way to go about solving that problem, especially when the UAE hasn’t done much to urge its residents to use less water. In fact, these figures from the International Business Times are quite troubling:

The average UAE resident uses an estimated 550 litres of water daily compared to the international average of 170 to 300 litres a day, according to the Federal Water and Electricity Authority.

According to a report by the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, water demand in the region has risen by a whopping 140 percent where resources are “already diminishing due to droughts, low rainfall and the prevalent climate.”

550 liters is about 145 gallons per person per day, an amount that is astronomically high. In California, where Governor Jerry Brown issued strict conservation measures in 2015, nearly every district was able to cut its water to far below that number. After one year, the entire state was using 23.9 percent less water than the year before.

The UAE isn’t known for scrimping on ostentatious infrastructure. It’s got the tallest building in the world (for now) and a harbor filled with artificial islands in the shape of a palm tree. But it’s got a penchant for introducing flashy, financially questionable solutions for civic problems—remember the jet-pack firefighters enlisted to put out its burning skyscrapers? Building a mountain to solve a drought doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it does fit the UAE’s brand. I’m sure it will make a great tourist attraction when it’s not cranking out torrential rainfall (which, to be honest, will be most of the time).

But that’s the most messed up thing about this. Mountain-erecting—like its little brother, cloud-seeding—is not only an expensive temporary fix for a bigger problem, it’s also not a sure thing. When the situation gets worse, what happens then? Build another mountain?

There’s really only one get-wet-quick scheme that’s proven to work. Stop using so much goddamn water.

China sets 2020 “artificial weather” target to combat water shortages

A man walks through the dried-up bed of a reservoir in Sanyuan county, Shaanxi province July 30, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING, Jan 13 (Reuters) – China aims to induce more than 60 billion cubic metres of additional rain each year by 2020, using an “artificial weather” programme to fight chronic water shortages, the government said on Monday.

China’s water resources are among the world’s lowest, standing at 2,100 cubic metres per person, or just 28 percent of the world average.

Shortages are particularly severe in the country’s northeast and northwest.

China has already allocated funds of 6.51 billion yuan ($1.05 billion) for artificial weather creation since 2008, the State Council, or cabinet, said in a document setting out the programme from 2014 to 2020.

“Weather modification has an important role to play in easing water shortages, reducing natural disasters, protecting ecology and even safeguarding important events,” it added.

The figure of 60 billion cu m is equivalent to more than one-and-a-half times the volume of the Three Gorges reservoir, part of the world’s largest hydropower plant.

Artificial rain is created by rocket-launching chemicals, such as silver iodide, into clouds to boost rain. China used the technology, known as cloud seeding, to scatter clouds ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.

The target, an increase of a fifth from 2013 levels, aims to battle China’s crippling water scarcity, which threatens a long-standing policy of self-sufficiency in food production, as demand from manufacturing and power generation grows.

The programme is also increasingly used to disperse smog in heavily polluted regions.

Around 70 percent of China’s rivers and lakes have become too polluted to use.

Last month China kicked off the second phase of its South-North Water Diversion Project to send billions of cubic meters of water from central and southern China northwards to Beijing and its environs.

But frequent droughts in central and northern China keep the government under pressure to ensure sufficient water supply.

China launched its “human affected weather” programme in 1958, and has done extensive research in cloud seeding. Last year the government said it had met a target of increasing artificial rain to more than 50 billion cubic meters per year.

China’s “cloud water potential” is huge, with average water vapour levels standing at 1.82 trillion cubic metres, the government said in Monday’s document.

Existing technologies would allow China to potentially induce as much as 280 billion cubic metres of additional rain each year, it added.

(Reporting by David Stanway and Stian Reklev; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Ex-researcher Says US Seeded Clouds over Cuba

LOS ANGELES (UPI) – The United States secretly used cloud seeding to dry up the Cuban sugar crop in 1969 and 1970, Lowell Ponte, a former Pentagon think tank researcher, said yesterday.

Ponte, a former specialist for the International Research and Technology Corp., said the CIA and the Pentagon seeded clouds in wind currents that carry rains to Cuba.

“Between 1966 and 1972 the CIA and later the Pentagon were using cloud seeding to make enemy trails muddy in Southeast Asia,” Ponte said in an interview for National Public Radio.

“But the seeding near Cuba was to cause less rain, not more. It was supposed to squeeze rain out of clouds before they reached the island. You might say we tried to embargo rain clouds.”

The experimental seeding was stepped up in 1970, Ponte said, because Cuban premier Fidel Castro staked the honor of his Communist government on the success of that year’s sugar crop.

“Castro set a harvest goal of 19 million tons of sugar,” Ponte said. “The CIA decided, after Castro’s promises, that failure would demoralize his people and make Cuban communism appear a failure.”

The cloud seeding brought erratic weather in Cuba and the sugar harvest fell short of its goal. Castro offered to resign, but remained in office, Ponte said.

“Weather science is too primitive to say that cloud seeding hurt Cuba’s harvest,” Ponte said, “but it could have. The point is that our government secretly attempted to tamper with weather in another nation, with which we were not at war, in an effort to cause economic and political harm.”

Ponte, auther of “The Cooling,” a book dealing with climatic change and manipulation of weather for political reasons, said the cloud seeding near Cuba was to provide information for a Pentagon project called “Nile Blue.”

The secret project, he said, has studied ways to melt polar icecaps, direct hurricanes and tornadoes as weapons and to “destabilize wearther in the Soviet Union, China and Cuba” to ruin harvests.

The Pentagon and CIA study was aimed at increasing America’s “food weapon,” the political use of food sales in much the same way as the Arab nations use oil, he said.

(Transcribed from the Palm Beach Post-Times.)