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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Controlling the Weather: Stupidity in a Pretty Box

(Edit: Helps if I spell "controlling" correctly)
A relatively recent article over at io9 presented the reality that we are already fiddling with the weather, which seems to me to be somewhat of a stupid thing to do. That's right, we're actually messing around with the natural order of the Earth. Now, setting aside that we've already pretty much messed with how things work on this planet as it is, there is a serious issue with screwing around with something as strong and destructive as the weather.
The story has it that Chinese meteorologists can actually 'seed' the clouds, or make them drop their payload of lovely, beautiful, useful rain at another location, rather on where they might drop them, wherever that may be. The reason for the article is that China wants the meteorologists to step it up a notch and fiddle with heavier rains to make sure the Olympics are rain free.
I see lots of issues with this not because I think it's somewhat environmentally immoral to play around with things that occur naturally, but because this has to be a big step towards that little realm we call stupid.
I don't know if fiddling with the weather the way these meteorologists are will have any adverse effects on the environment, but is that a risk worth taking? What I don't understand is why they don't just fling a giant tarp over the top of the dome, or build something over the top to keep the rain out. This seems like a risk not worth taking. Let's propose some what-ifs in this case.
  • What if we fiddle and nothing happens?
    Then we fiddle some more until something does happen and someone paying attention throws a fit. Humans are impulsive and we're always pushing the boundaries without paying attention to the long-term effects. This is especially so in political policy, but science too. I don't think anyone paid enough attention to the atomic bomb before two were dropped on Japan (perhaps if more people realized how bad radiation is they'd think twice). Often times, when we look at such events in science, this means that new policies are put into place that hinder the ability to do things in a non-damaging way. Take cloning technology. Well, they jumped ahead and made themselves a sheep, and some other things, and people had a fit and said "oh it's immoral" and "it's playing God", and completely ignored all the medical benefits that can be learned from cloning. We might develop ways to create new, perfect organs personalized to your DNA, which could rid all those pesky problems of bodies rejecting new organs. But we don't have that. Instead we have a society afraid of cloning technology.
    In this case, we fiddle, something goes really wrong, and nobody is allowed to fiddle with much of anything anymore. Yes, I can see that happening. If you screw up the weather permanently, by some stroke of misfortune, who the heck is going to let you fiddle with anything life-changing again?
  • What if we fiddle and something goes wrong, but it's not so bad?
    So if we fiddle and something minor goes wrong, say we change a simple weather pattern and it messes up some crops or something, then we will see a reversal of science that will put ridiculous and detrimental restrictions in place. Such restrictions will be narrow-minded, as they always are, that manage to stifle scientific advancement. Scientists are forced to waste time working around these restrictions to find different ways that are much more difficult and expensive to do the same things they were doing before. In this case, however, we'd see a complete shutting down of the science, rather than allowing scientists to learn from it so they can reverse any negative effects or even find ways to do good things with said technology.
  • What if we fiddle and something goes very very wrong?
    This is the worst case scenario, actually. Everything goes wrong, the weather gets messed up, and we're screwed, or at least things have to change so drastically for us that a lot of people end up screwed. The likelihood of this happening, of course, is very slim, but that's not the point. If it does happen, we're screwed. There'll be three outcomes of this:
    1. Religious zealots take over and drive us straight into a time of oppression--of science, removal of freedoms like speech, thought, etc. among other problems. This is probably your worst case scenario, though, because here everything really goes wrong. We see civil liberties go out the window, human rights trampled on, war, death, disease, and hatred clouding everything.
      Yes, this is a legit claim against religious authority in a post-disaster world. As much as religious folks would like to think that things wouldn't go so far downhill, they will, as has happened in the past repeatedly. Religions want to keep a hold on things and when it comes to survival they will take drastic steps to ensure control.
    2. Science takes over and does two things:
      • We end up in a huge recession where death, disease, war, etc. all take over nad people start dying and fighting desperately for survival.
      • We end up figuring out either the miracle cure OR we somehow figure out how to survive in the changed world.
    3. Religious zealots and science fight for survival, bringing us into a battle that may or may not be violent, but will have adverse effects on society economically and environmentally. If the world is already suffering from extreme environmental downfall, then so too will it suffer from the doings of a political or militaristic war between the two factions.
To put it simply, this is utterly stupid. Why would we even consider messing with the weather in this fashion? Granted, nothing may go wrong, but what if it does? Think a little more outside the box and be certain that nothing is going to happen before going off and messing with things as powerful as the weather.

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