Sunday, July 12, 2015

Reading Comprehension - Cloud Seeding

This post has been taken from Freakonomics. This is a popular blog which looks at economics from a totally different angle. I would definitely recommend that you guys read it. This particular article is on the environment and the possible consequences of cloud seeding. Interesting. This was also tried in India many years back in Chennai. Was a damp squib then. The idea is floating around once again this year :-(

No. of words: 539
Reading time:
Less than 2 minutes – Very Good
2-3 minutes – Good
3-4 minutes – Fair
Difficulty Level (5 point scale)

With Geoengineering Outlawed, Will Only Outlaws Have Geoengineering?

For the second time this month, the Chinese government has reportedly induced a snowstorm in Beijing by seeding clouds with silver iodide. This form of geoengineering has been around for quite a while. The second storm in Beijing was the heaviest snowfall the city had seen in 54 years. The government’s apparent motivation for forcing precipitation was to relieve a long-standing drought. Beyond creating the various kinds of havoc that such big storms create, there are unintended consequences as well: for instance, the chloride used to rid the streets of snow after the storm is thought to lead to environmental and perhaps even structural damage.

What is the appropriate response to this news?

It probably depends on your view of the world — of politics, the environment, and human nature. Should one ignore the snowstorms and chalk them up to the Chinese simply being Chinese? Or should one think about these small-scale geoengineering exercises as a potential threat to the world’s geopolitical balance? It isn’t hard to imagine the trouble that might result if governmental snow- and rain-making became commonplace: one drought-ridden country declares war on its neighbor after the neighbor “steals” its rainfall.

There are some geoengineering schemes that scientists are considering to cool the earth if global warming becomes dangerous. One involves increasing the reflectivity of oceanic clouds; another suggests mimicking the effect of large volcanoes by spraying sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to diminish solar radiation. These ideas are extremely unpopular in environmentalist circles.

Many environmentalists who argue that intensive carbon mitigation is the sole route to address global warming seem to feel that too many of the world’s citizens (including some political leaders) have their heads stuck in the sand, denying the reality of global warming.

But the point is that those who argue for carbon mitigation as the sole route to address global warming may have their heads stuck in a different pile of sand, and these Chinese snowstorms show why. Here’s what we write in the book:

As of this writing, there is no regulatory framework to prohibit anyone — a government, a private institution, even an individual — from putting sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere. … But of course this depends on the individual. If it were Al Gore, he might snag a second Nobel Peace Prize. If it were Hugo Ch├ívez, he’d probably get a prompt visit from some U.S. fighter jets.

So while environmentalists may find the very notion of geoengineering repugnant, the fact is that geoengineering is already with us, and will likely be put to use whether we like it or not.

This leads to the very important matter of governance. While some environmental activists might like to hope that geoengineering is just science fiction that neither will nor should ever come into play (much as one might have liked to hope the same of atomic weapons), the facts on the ground (and in the Chinese clouds) do not support this view. Government leaders are getting together in Copenhagen next month to discuss collective carbon mitigation. It is becoming increasingly clear that they should be discussing the rules going forward for collective geoengineering as well, whether it is small-scale schemes like the Beijing snowstorms or large-scale ideas that address global warming.

The original article can be found here

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