Homeland Security, arguably the most incompetent agency in the astonishingly incompetent Bush Administration, has announced that it wants to spend tens of million dollars fighting hurricanes. That’s right, HS, loser by a knockout against Hurricane Katrina, has staggered to it’s feet and declared that it wants a rematch, not just against another hurricane but against all hurricanes.
The project has been given an estimated price tag of around $64m (£32m) over six years. Scientists will first conduct tests using models and small scale experiments before the most promising idea is developed for large scale testing.
Among the plans is a scheme to seed hurricanes with microscopic particles of salt that have been released into a storm from an aircraft. Research has shown that such seeding can cause hurricanes to dump large quantities of rain over the sea before it reaches land. The rainfall also carries away the heat that powers the hurricane, weakening it.
Apparently fighting terrorism isn’t enough to satisfy the dreamers at HS, who now want to add geo-engineering to their resume.
Do you thinks the folks who brought you this…
are capable of taking on this?
“Part of the reason the department is so dysfunctional is that it tries to do too many things,” says Clark Kent Ervin, the first inspector general of DHS. “Many people feel that the department should stick to counterterrorism efforts.”
Dr John Latham, a British researcher at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, has proposed spraying a fine mist of sea water into the clouds over the parts of the Atlantic Ocean where hurricanes form, to increase their brightness. This would mean more sunlight is reflected back into space, causing the sea to cool.
He said: “Even cooling the surface of the water by a couple of degrees will reduce the intensity of the storms and the frequency with which that they form.”
Other ideas include using thousands of buoys to send warm surface water down while bringing cold water up from below, spraying soot particles into hurricanes, and spreading a film of oil in front of hurricanes. All of these ideas have in common an attempt to reduce the heat energy of the hurricane and thus slow its winds.
It is worth noting, that nowhere in Homeland Security’s announcement of this plan is there a reference to Climaticide. That’s right, not a word about global warming, the chief reason that hurricanes and other tropical cyclones are increasing in intensity. And not a word about restricting the greenhouse gas emissions that are the underlying cause of the problem.
There is a certain frame of mind, left over from the 19th and 20th centuries and still common among some engineers and scientists, which believes that any engineering caused problem –And what is Climaticide but an originally, unintentional (now become intentional under this administration) instance of geo-engineering?–can be solved by more engineering.
This is the hubris (see here for why this hubris is “dysfunctional”) of “man conquering nature” and symbolized at its most extreme by such post-World-War II proposals as the US plans to alter climate so as to produce famine in the USSR or the USSR’s proposal to damn the Bering Sea, pump cold water out and warm water water in, melt the polar ice cap and create the Northwest Passage.
HS’s proposal is not new. There have been a number of attempts, often under the auspices of the military, which is always on the lookout for a new weapon, over the last 60 years to control hurricanes. The most grandiose was Project Stormfury which ran from 1962 to 1976. Although, it was initially thought to be successful, later research showed that hurricanes already did the things on their own that Stormfury’s scientists were attempting to achieve by seeding them with silver iodide.
There have been numerous other efforts to control storms:
…the famous scientist Irving Langmuir and his associates at the General Electric company were exploring a new proposal for rainmaking. Their idea was to “seed” clouds with a smoke of particles, such as silver iodide crystals, that could act as nuclei for the formation of raindrops. Langmuir quickly won support from military agencies, and claimed success in field experiments. A small but energetic industry of commercial “cloud seeders” sprang up with even more optimistic claims. Controversy followed, polarizing scientists, exciting the public and catching the attention of politicians. As soon as some community attempted to bring rain on themselves, people downwind would hire lawyers to argue that they had been robbed of their own precipitation. Concern climbed to high levels of government, and in 1953 a President’s Advisory Committee on Weather Control was established to pursue the idea. In 1958, the U.S. Congress acted directly to fund expanded rainmaking research. Large-scale experimentation was also underway, less openly, in the Soviet Union
Declassified documents have confirmed the UK’s Ministry of Defence conducted experiments with rain clouds in 1952, code named Operation Cumulus. After the experiment, a destructive rain storm destroyed the village of Lynmouth, Devonshire and killed 35 people.
During the Vietnam War the United States government spent
…many millions of dollars on a grand experiment in actual climatological warfare. The U.S. Department of Defense directed extensive cloud-seeding over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, hoping to increase rainfall and bog down the North Vietnamese Army’s supply line in mud. The public did not learn of this until 1974, two years after the program wound down in failure. Many people were dismayed when they learned of the experiment. There followed a series of resolutions, in bodies from the U.S. Senate to the General Assembly of the United Nations, outlawing climatological warfare. The movement culminated in a 1976 international convention that foreswore hostile use of “environmental modification techniques.”
And as you read these words:
The Chinese authorities have said they intend weather modification to protect outdoor venues from rain during the Olympic Games later this year. They claim they have perfected a technique that reduces the size of rain drops and can delay rainfall.
As H.R. Byers has said with more than a bit of understatement:
“The history of weather modification is one of painfully slow progress.”
Climaticide poses the greatest threat to humanity in our times. By this time we know what causes it (we do through our emissions of greenhouse gases) and what we need to do to protect ourselves (implement policies that halt then reverse the accumulation of those gases in the atmosphere). Despite this knowledge the human race has been slow to react, so slow that we now have probably less than a decade to act if we are to avoid catastrophe for ourselves and future generations. It is tempting in such a situation to become desperate and turn to pie-in-the sky schemes to solve our problems. But to do that is simply to postpone any real progress that we might make. While we may very well adopt some sort of adaptive geo-engineering proposals in specific instances, there is no substitute for dealing with the root issue of the problem: our civilization’s addiction to the false god of unchecked growth, an illusion made possible only by our reckless, self-destructive consumption of fossil fuels.
Greenhouse gas mitigation avoids catastrophic global warming with high confidence and few negative side effects (and, indeed, many positive side effects). No one has proposed a geo-engineering plan that meets either of those two tests.
Geo-engineering is to mitigation as chemotherapy is to diet & exercise.
according to Joe Romm.
Says historian of science, Stanley Wearth:
The costly research programs were perpetually on the brink of proving something, but never got truly convincing results. Many academic meteorologists came to disdain the whole subject, infested as it was with unfulfilled promises and commercial hucksters.(5) Despite these misgivings, the U.S. government spent more than twenty million dollars a year on weather modification research in the early 1970s.
And here Wearth quotes H.R. Byers more fully:
Weather modification,” a participant [Byers] had written ruefully back in 1974, “is based on sound physical principles that cannot be applied precisely in the open atmosphere because several processes are interacting together in a manner difficult to predict.” Moreover, attempts to change the weather “are superimposed upon natural processes acting, perhaps indistinguishably, to the same or opposite effect…. Therefore it should not be surprising that the history of weather modification is one of painfully slow progress.”(21) Much the same could be said of research on climate modification.
Even Joseph Golden, one of the participants in Project Stormfury and a supporter of Homeland Security’s current proposal, understands that even if any of the schemes work that
“… there are still major issues that were never resolved, like what about the unintended consequences.” Where, for instance, would scientists direct a storm? Toward a less populated area? What about the impact on other nations? Mexico, for instance, relies on hurricanes for a significant portion of its annual rainfall. And who would be accountable if something went wrong?
To summarize, the American taxpayer is being asked to fork over millions of dollars for preliminary studies on a highly questionable proposal to control hurricanes (a proposal with a very spotty past) to no less than the United States Department of Homeland Security, the poster child for the appalling incompetence of the Bush/Cheney kleptocracy.
I don’t know, strikes me as a stupid idea somehow…
Crossposted at Daily Kos