Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control (Columbia Studies in International and Global History)
James Rodger Fleming
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As alarm over global warming spreads, a radical idea is gaining momentum. Forget cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, some scientists argue. Instead, bounce sunlight back into space by pumping reflective nanoparticles into the atmosphere. Launch mirrors into orbit around the Earth. Make clouds thicker and brighter to create a "planetary thermostat."
These ideas might sound like science fiction, but in fact they are part of a very old story. For more than a century, scientists, soldiers, and charlatans have tried to manipulate weather and climate, and like them, today's climate engineers wildly exaggerate what is possible. Scarcely considering the political, military, and ethical implications of managing the world's climate, these individuals hatch schemes with potential consequences that far outweigh anything their predecessors might have faced.
Showing what can happen when fixing the sky becomes a dangerous experiment in pseudoscience, James Rodger Fleming traces the tragicomic history of the rainmakers, rain fakers, weather warriors, and climate engineers who have been both full of ideas and full of themselves. Weaving together stories from elite science, cutting-edge technology, and popular culture, Fleming examines issues of health and navigation in the 1830s, drought in the 1890s, aircraft safety in the 1930s, and world conflict since the 1940s. Killer hurricanes, ozone depletion, and global warming fuel the fantasies of today. Based on archival and primary research, Fleming's original story speaks to anyone who has a stake in sustaining the planet.
not freeze. Inspired by Markin’s popular book Soviet Electric Power, Borisov also assumed that huge amounts of electricity would soon be available to run the pumps, perhaps from hydroelectric generators or nuclear reactors. The dam was, of course, never built, but if it had been attempted, would the nations of the world have confronted the Russians? The net climatic effect of the project, if it had been carried out, is still highly uncertain. A good argument can be made that the effect would be
“Outline of Weather Proposal.” 7 Waldemar Kaempffert, “Julian Huxley Pictures the More Spectacular Possibilities That Lie in Atomic Power,” New York Times, December 9, 1945, 77; “Blasting Polar Ice,” New York Times, February 2, 1946, 11. 8 “Sarnoff Predicts Weather Control and Delivery of the Mail by Radio,” New York Times, October 1, 1946, 1. 9 “Talk of the Town,” New Yorker, October 12, 1946, 23. 10 . MacCracken, “On the Possible Use of Geoengineering.” 11 “Storm Prevention Seen by
locations and over widespread areas of the globe. Adherents of the new mechanical and chemical philosophy insisted that all atmospheric phenomena could be reduced to their component processes and could be explained by an emerging body of natural laws. They developed new instruments—thermometers, barometers, hygrometers, and calibrated rain gauges—for observing and quantifying aspects of the atmosphere. New practices and perspectives meant that henceforth no atmospheric process, however seemingly
in the mountains.” Hatfield said his technique was much more subtle and less noisy and flamboyant than those of his predecessors, but that he charged much more. He claimed that he never wanted to apply to Washington for a patent, “for that would mean the publication of information and rain-producers would spring up like mushrooms all over the country” (as they did after 1947). When asked about those who were skeptical of his methods, Hatfield quickly added, “Censure and ridicule are the first
pilot who received an award for cloud-seeding operations during the Chernobyl cleanup, shared his testimony:I am proud to say that I took part in the operation back in 1986; my comrades are proud as well. The area where my crew was actively influencing the clouds was near Chernobyl, not only in the 30-kilometer zone, but out a distance of 50, 70, even 100 kilometers. The plane was equipped with artillery shells which were filled with a seeding material, silver iodide, and we were following orders