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Friday, June 14, 2024
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HomeClimate WatchWhat are they doing to our skies? Part Two

What are they doing to our skies? Part Two

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You can read the first part of this analysis here. 

INCESSANT rain. It has hardly stopped this year, and the effects on our farming and food production are devastating. Farmers’ Weekly warned in March that further wet weather heralded a farming catastrophe, and further wet weather there has been, through spring and into summer. The £50million earmarked by the Environment Department (Defra) for rain-affected farmers will do nothing to stop crop failure, food shortage and potential food security crisis. 

It is quite possible this level of rainfall, also manifested in severe flooding across Europe, is part of the natural cycle. But it should remind us of the perils of playing with our skies. There is evidence that rain-making operations in 1952 caused the storm that nearly wiped out the Devon village of Lynmouth, killing 35. 

Today we are in unknown territory about the effect on weather patterns that may be the unintended by-product of now routine weather modification or other geo-engineering. One form of this is cloud-seeding such as in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, where recent unprecedented rain led to flooding and deaths. Another even more risky intervention is solar radiation management (SRM), which involves spraying our skies and other techniques to reflect back or block out sun. We are told these latter are for theoretical modelling only, but active experiments have been reported, as I detailed in Part One.

SRM has been under consideration in this country as well as the US for well over a decade; the justification given is that such interventions may become necessary ‘to minimise or reverse anthropogenic [human-caused] climate change’. The 2010 Commons Science and Technology Committee report on the Regulation of Geoengineering under the heading ‘weather modification techniques’ (Page 15, paragraph 24) provides some insight. Weather modifications such as cloud seeding ‘which affect the weather for no longer than a season’, they advised, did not fall within the definition of geoengineering and therefore, by implication, were in no need of further regulation beyond the 1977 ‘hostile use’ convention referred to in the report. A policy paper titled ‘UK government’s view on greenhouse gas removal technologies and solar radiation management’ published ten years later in 2020 discusses the injection of harmful materials into the atmosphere. It states the absolute need for greenhouse gas removal, though it has no plans to deploy SRM, advises of research it has commissioned into the effects of SRM on climate – a ‘Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project’. 

Most people are in blissful ignorance of any such research or planning, unaware of what could be done to them, or already is being done, or perhaps simply do not care. But they really should. 

What is clear is that such deliberate intervention in the climate system is becoming progressively less taboo with each year of emissions control failure. Over a decade ago the US government, with several of its science agencies, asked the National Academy of Sciences to provide advice on this subject. Its 2015 report, Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earthsaid it was a last-ditch response to climate change but that ‘the likelihood of eventually needing to resort to these efforts grows with every year of inaction on emissions control’.   

The full and terrible risks of SRM, such as of the projects conceived at Stanford and Harvard, described in Part One, are set out in this paper, and underline the importance of finding out what is already going on in our skies; how it could be affecting us.

There is no question about the use and prevalence of cloud seeding across the globe. Since its inception in the 1940s, it has evolved beyond a potential solution to occasional droughts or as a tool for firefighting into other more routine – government and business driven – geo-engineering catalysts for weather modification. Several technologies (and chemicals) are used – ground based and from aircraft as described in this Daily Mail article, typically spraying salt or silver iodide particles around which ice forms in the upper atmosphere to create rain. Cloud-seeding technology in all it various forms has been providing business opportunities from the 1990s onwards as these US Patent applications, here and here, show. This patent for example for coating a salt crystal with titanium dioxide to enhance the condensation process received provision approval for the Gulf in 2017. The size of the market across five major regions North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Rest of the World, projected through to 2032, is set out by Fortune Business Insights. Government and military as well as commercial use is indicated.

The prevalence, the inherent recklessness and the covertness are all problematic. A review in earth.org in April puts it bluntly: we simply do not know the impact of cloud seeding, whether increased precipitation in one area can inadvertently trigger a drought elsewhere, or cause excessive rain leading to flooding. This review also warns that the most commonly used chemical – silver iodide – raises serious ecological concerns regarding its toxicity for terrestrial and aquatic life. Yet countries as disparate at the Russian Federation, Thailand, the US, China and Australia are routinely using such means for repressing heatwaves or wildfires, drought mitigation, to clear fogs, minimise hail or to induce snow in ski resorts. 

More countries than ever, reportedly now including France and Spain, are either already using or ‘exploring’ such methods as, they believe, ‘accelerating climate change deepens concerns over water security’. 

A question for written answer E-007937-15 put to the European Commission by Ramon Tremosa, a Catalonian MEP and economics professor at the University of Barcelona, suggests that such programmes may have been in operation in Spain as early as 2015. It asserts that four employees of Spain’s Meteorological Agency ‘confessed’ to Spain ‘being sprayed nationwide by aircraft spreading lead dioxide, silver iodide and diatomite through the atmosphere with the objective of keeping rain away and allowing temperatures to rise, ‘creating a summer climate for tourism while benefiting corporations in the agricultural sector’. 

It also alleged this was causing severe instances of the stormy weather phenomenon known in Spanish as gota fría; that it was causing respiratory diseases in local populations due to the inhalation of the lead dioxide and other toxic compounds; and that the aircraft were taking off from San Javier military airport in Murcia. Tremosa asked: ‘What is the Commission’s view of this situation? Does the Commission think that there are commercial reasons for these actions by governments, in particular, relating to the interests of food sector corporations, energy companies and the pharmaceutical and medical industries?’ The Commission’s short answer to all was No. 

Do we accept such denials and inquire no further? A peer-reviewed paper in the Journal of Geography, Environment and Earth Science International published in 2017 alleged that coal fly ash (resulting from the burning of coal) had been sprayed into the troposphere since the late 1990s. It further contended that there had been a deliberate effort to deceive the public about this.

Last year a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) review on weather modification recommended far greater prior research and more rigorous monitoring of weather modification programmes, suggesting that no such regulation yet exists. 

Others who have registered their concerns include Laura Kuhl, an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and International Affairs at Northeastern university in Boston, US. Policy discussions about the use (and misuse) of cloud seeding are lacking, she says, though the technology is widely deployed.  Others warn that weather modification and geo-engineering will increase environmental problems, not reduce them; that the reductionist science behind them is prompted by ‘hurried considerations of selling carbon credits on dubious basis, instead of making real gains in terms of environment protection’. 

Once scaled up such efforts pose a serious threat to international relations as well as to the environment, as is already the case with China where weather modification is planned on a vast scale regardless of its impact on neighbouring countries. 

In Part Three I will explore what we know and don’t know about government and corporate weather modification activity in the UK. 

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Jonathon Riley
Jonathon Riley
Lt Gen Riley is a former commander of British Forces in Sierra Leone and Iraq and Deputy Commander of all Nato forces in Afghanistan.

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