Are they really going to tame the weather? Are just create a bigger weather chaos?
As the climate crisis escalates, China is planning a rapid expansion of its weather modification program.
Chinese officials indeed want to increase fivefold the world’s biggest cloud-seeding operation to cover an area more than one and a half times the size of India.
China has started about 60 years ago with seeding clouds with silver iodide or liquid nitrogen to reduce droughts locally. They also created clear skies ahead of major events, such as the 2008 Olympics or last October’s 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. But again this was locally.
Now, they want to modify regional weather patterns, i.e., to extend the artificial rain and snow programme to cover at least 2.1m sq miles (5.5m sq km) of land by 2025.
According to The Guardian: “The long-term plan envisages that by 2035, the country’s weather modification capabilities would reach an “advanced” level and focus on revitalising rural regions, restoring ecosystems and minimising losses from natural disasters.“
China weaponizes the weather
This political decision follows a rapid buildup of capacity in recent years that has cost $168m (1.15bn yuan) in 2017, with the purchase of 4 new planes, eight upgraded craft, 897 rocket launchers and 1,856 digital control devices to cover 370,000 miles (960,000 sq km), about 10% of China’s territory.
Part of that is a new weather modification system in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, Asia’s biggest freshwater reserve. Chinese scientists are working on the ambitious Tianhe (“sky river”) plan to divert water vapour northwards from the Yangtze River basin to the Yellow River basin, where it would become rainfall.
While China say they have found potential channels near the boundary of the troposphere that could carry 5bn cubic metres of water annually, Indian websites have speculated that China is weaponising the weather and may already be disrupting rainfall patterns.
There are concerns about the lengths to which the Communist government is willing to go to in tampering with the elements. In the 1970s, Chinese generals proposed using nuclear weapons to blast a channel through the Himalayas so that warm humid air from the Indian subcontinent could be diverted to green the deserts of central and northern China. The country is also in the midst of the world’s biggest water diversion scheme, which aims to achieve a similar goal.
Is China going to tame the weather?
China is not alone in trying to alter the weather for strategic purposes.
The US company General Electric conducted the first cloud-seeding experiments in 1946.
The technology was later adopted and upgraded by the Soviet Union and then applied with fervour by China during the Great Leap Forward, when Mao Zedong said “manmade rain is very important. I hope the meteorological experts do their utmost to make it work.”
Finally, the US attempted to manipulate seasonal rains during the Vietnam war (Operation Popeye) to flood the communist supply route along the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Even if weather modification is institutionalised and widely deployed in China, many scientists doubt about the effectiveness of cloud seeding, particularly on a large scale. And many argue that this scale of intervention could set a precedent for Beijing to take the first steps in climatic geoengineering.
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