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Friday, January 7, 2011

The Climate Change Agenda After Cancún: Part I By: Myles Estey | Briefing

The Climate Change Agenda After Cancún: Part I

By: Myles Estey | Briefing
CANCÚN, Mexico -- Observers and participants at December's climate change summit in Cancún, Mexico, routinely identified a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol as one area where progress was essential. As a result, watchdog groups offered surprisingly upbeat assessments to describe Cancún's outcome. Their optimism, however, should be measured.

The Whale


The Whale... If you saw the front page story of the San Francisco
Chronicle, you would have read about a female humpback whale who had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines. She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to
struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line rope
wrapped around her body, her tail, her torso, a line tugging in her
mouth. A fisherman spotted her just east of the Farallon Islands
(outside the Golden Gate) and radioed an environmental group for
help. Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined
that she was so bad off, the only way to save her was to dive in and
untangle her. They worked for hours with curved knives and
eventually freed her. When she was free, the divers say she swam in
what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and
every diver, one at a time, and nudged them, pushed them gently
around as she was thanking them. Some said it was the most
incredibly beautiful experience of their lives. The guy who cut the
rope out of her mouth said her eyes were following him the whole
time, and he will never be the same.

May you, and all those you love, be so blessed and fortunate to be surrounded by people who will help you get untangled from the things that are binding you. And, may you always know the joy of giving and receiving gratitude. Peace on earth!  
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'Aflockalypse': Here's Why We Should Really Be Concerned About the Huge Bird and Fish Die-off

The massive death toll of dead birds and sealife should draw attention to the countless other species on the brink of extinction. READ MORE
Tara Lohan / AlterNet

Thursday, January 6, 2011

WATER WORLD Study backs community management to save world's fisheries


Giant tuna sells for record 396,000 dollars in JapanTokyo (AFP) Jan 5, 2011 - A monster bluefin tuna sold for a record 396,000 dollars in the year's first auction at the world's biggest fish market in Tokyo Wednesday amid intense pre-dawn bidding. The 342-kilogramme (752-pound) fish -- caught off Japan's northern island of Hokkaido -- fetched a winning bid of 32.49 million yen (396,000 dollars), said an official at the Tsukiji fish market. It was the highest such bid yet, topping the previous record of 20.02 million yen paid for a bluefin tuna in 2001, the officials said.

A piece of "sashimi", a slice of raw fish, from the massive specimen would be estimated to sell at up to 3,450 yen at cost price, local media reported. The fish was bought by a pair of Japanese and Hong Kong sushi restaurant owners who also made the joint top bid for a bluefin in the first auction of last year at Tsukiji, a market the size of more than 40 football pitches. "I felt relieved," the Hong Kong sushi restaurant owner told reporters at the market, where a total of 538 bluefin tunas were sold for high prices in the pre-dawn auction. "It's a good tuna," he said. "The high price came because overseas buyers have also been demanding tuna."

Local media said bidders from China, where the popularity of high-grade bluefin is growing, had helped push the sale price to its new record. "The globalisation of food led to the high price," one participant said, according to Kyodo News. "This is good news that enlivens the entire market. I hope the Japanese economy will get a boost and pick up as well." Decades of overfishing have seen global tuna stocks crash, pushing some Western nations to call for a trade ban on endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna. Japan consumes three-quarters of the global catch of bluefin, a highly prized sushi ingredient known in Japan as "kuro maguro" (black tuna) and dubbed by sushi connoisseurs the "black diamond" because of its scarcity. (AFP) Jan 5, 2011 A study by marine scientists has given powerful backing to campaigners who say the future of many of the world's fisheries lies in co-management by government, local people and fishermen. Publishing in the science journal Nature on Wednesday, researchers said the traditional "top-down" approach -- trawling quotas set down and policed by central authorities -- was failing in many fisheries as rules were often poorly implemented or abused.
The best-managed fisheries are those that bring together local representatives and fishermen who co-determine how the resources should be managed and enforce these decisions effectively, they said.
"They have very strong, cohesive communities with strong leaders," Nicolas Gutierrez, a University of Washington fishery scientist, who headed the paper, told AFP.
One billion people depend on fish or shellfish as their primary source of protein, but a third of fish stocks worldwide are overexploited or depleted, according to figures cited in the study.
Gutierrez and colleagues looked at 130 fisheries in 44 developed and developing countries, factoring in the size and location of the waters, the sustainability of the catches, the fishing gear used, the species fished, the regulatory system and wealth derived and shared from fishing.
Those that performed best shared responsibility between the government and users, rather than followed a rulebook conceived and directed by the central authorities.
Among the stars is a co-managed fishery of water snails, also known as Chilean abalone, which was tentatively launched in 1988 and covered initially four kilometres (2.5 miles) of Chile's coastline.
It now embraces 4,000 kms (2,500 miles) of coast and involves more than 20,000 artisanal fishers.
The study did not focus on deep-water international fisheries, Gutierrez said.
Most of the fisheries it investigated were generally within 50 nautical miles of the coast. Catching techniques included industrial trawlers as well as artisanal fishing.
Gutierrez added that governments or organisations seeking to strengthen community management in fisheries had to talent-spot strong leaders and these may need training in economics or ecology or given the help of experts.
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The First Decade Of The 2000s Warmer Than The Preceding Decades

The annual mean temperatures for 1901-2010 are marked in blue and the mean temperatures for each decade in red. Helsinki, Finland (SPX) Jan 06, 2011 The first decade of the 2000s, or the years 2001-2010, was warmer than the preceding decades in the whole of Finland, even though 2010 was colder than the long-time average. According to the Finnish Meteorological Institute's statistics, the first decade of the 2000s (2001-2010) was the warmest decade in the history of Finland's temperature measurements, which began in the 1840s. The mean temperature for the past ten years in Finland was about 0.3 degrees C higher than that for the 1930s, the next warmest decade.
The difference between the mean temperature for the past decade and the mean temperature for the reference period 1971-2000 is greater in Northern Finland than in Southern Finland. Generally, the mean temperature is 0.5-1 degrees C higher than during the reference period.
However, in many places in Lapland, the mean temperature is 1-1.5 degrees C higher than during the reference period.
Winters have warmed up the most When the first decade of the 2000s is examined by seasons, the temperatures for all seasons are among the two warmest within the past 160 years.
When the decade is compared against the climate prevailing in 1971-2000, the greatest difference is seen in the mean temperatures of winters, i.e. the periods from December to February. In Lapland, the mean temperature of the winters in 2001-2010 was over 1.5 degrees higher than normally.
Elsewhere in the country as well, the difference was 0.5-1.5 degrees. The winters were unusually mild especially in 2006-2009, and the winter of 2007-2008 was the mildest during Finland's entire measurement history. During the past decade, only the winters of 2002-2003 and 2009-2010 were colder than average. Both were unusually cold when compared against the period 1971-2000.
The mean temperatures of other seasons have also risen when compared against the average for 1971-2000, but not as much as winter temperatures. For instance, the mean temperature of summers in 2001-2010 was 0.5-1 degrees C higher than the average for 1971-2000 in virtually all of Finland.
More rains in winter There was no significant difference between precipitation for the first decade of the 2000s and the average for 1971-2000. When precipitation figures for the various seasons are compared to the average precipitation in 1971-2000, precipitation during winters and sometimes during springs has been greater than during the reference period, while precipitation during autumns has remained below the average.
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Carbon Taxes Are The Answer To The Stalled Climate Negotiations

Emissions of carbon dioxide are externalities - social consequences not accounted for in the market place. They are market failures because people do not pay for the current and future costs of their emissions. London, UK (SPX) Jan 06, 2011 For global warming policy, the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Copenhagen Summit) was a major disappointment. Designed to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, the Summit concluded without a binding agreement because of deep divisions on the distribution of emissions reductions and costs. In addition, the United States failed to take action on a carbon cap-and-trade bill in 2010. Confronting this policy vacuum, leading climate economist William Nordhaus argues in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that carbon taxes are the best approach to achieve significant emissions reductions.
William Nordhaus argues that the cap-and-trade approach used in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol will not accomplish the goals of slowing climate change. As currently designed, it is both economically inefficient and ineffective and should be supplemented or replaced. Additionally, a carbon tax could be a useful means to cut budget deficits while meeting environmental objectives.
Emissions of carbon dioxide are externalities - social consequences not accounted for in the market place. They are market failures because people do not pay for the current and future costs of their emissions.
"If economics provides a single bottom line for policy, it is that we need to correct this market failure by ensuring that all people, everywhere, and for the indefinite future, face a market price for the use of carbon that reflects the social costs of their activities," Nordhaus states.
He says that it is necessary to raise the price of carbon to implement carbon policies so that they will have an impact on everyday human decisions, and on decision makers at every level in every nation and sector.
At present, incentives and levels of involvement vary, and where some countries have implemented strong emission control measures, they only cover a limited part of national emissions. For example, the European Trading Scheme - Europe's effort to initiate a cap-and-trade structure - covers only about half of EU emissions.
Economic evidence suggests the cost of this limited participation is high. Participation will have to involve everyone by the mid 21st century if the aim of keeping global temperature change within the 2 degrees Celsius target of the Copenhagen Accord is to be achieved.
Given a choice between a cap-and-trade system (such as is embodied in the Kyoto model), and a carbon tax system (such as is used for limiting gasoline or cigarette consumption), Nordhaus favours taxation: "Countries have used taxes for centuries," he says. "By contrast, there is no experience - as in zero - with international cap-and-trade systems."
A carbon-tax model also provides a friendly way for countries to join a climate treaty. Countries considering joining under the current Kyoto model have to weigh up concerns about the long-term impacts of climate change with heavy pressures that big countries could apply.
Under the carbon-tax model, by contrast, countries would need only to guarantee that their domestic carbon price would be at least at the level of the international norm - a relatively straightforward and transparent choice.
How do we modify the Kyoto Protocol to include tax-type models? Some have suggested a hybrid approach combining both quantity and price approaches. An example of a hybrid plan would be a traditional cap-and-trade system combined with a floor carbon tax and a safety-valve price. The Kyoto treaty might also be broadened, to allow countries to fulfill their treaty obligations if they have a domestic regime with a minimum carbon price attached to all emissions.
One further impetus for climate-tax legislation comes from the need to curb the growing budget deficits in many high-income countries. A carbon tax would provide an important revenue source, and a carbon tax is the closest thing to an ideal tax that can be imagined, he argues.
"The international community should move quickly to replace the current cap-and-trade structure by one in which the central economic mechanism is a tax on greenhouse-gas emissions," Nordhaus concludes.
William Nordhaus is a Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University, CT. He has served on several committees of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), including the Committee on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Systems, the Panel on Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming, and the Committee on Implications for Science and Society of Abrupt Climate Change. The architecture of climate economics: Designing a global agreement on global warming by William D. Nordhaus is published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Volume 67, issue 1. The article will be free to access for a limited period from The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is published by SAGE.
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Carbon taxes are the answer to the stalled climate negotiations

Carbon taxes are the answer to the stalled climate negotiations
For global warming policy, the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Copenhagen Summit) was a major disappointment. Designed to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, the Summit concluded without a binding agreement because of deep divisions on the distribution of emissions reductions and costs. In addition, the United States failed to take action on a carbon cap-and-trade bill in 2010. Confronting this policy vacuum, leading climate economist William Nordhaus argues in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, published today, that carbon taxes are the best approach to achieve significant emissions reductions.
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Panel: BP Well Blowout Revealed Industry-Wide Problems

Panel: BP Well Blowout Revealed Industry-Wide Problems
Mark Seibel, McClatchy Newspapers: "The errors and misjudgments that led to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling rig last spring weren't the result just of blunders by BP and its contractors, but reflect industry-wide problems that require new regulations and standards, a presidential commission has concluded."
Read the Article
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Everyone is under attack.

Whitehouse Blames Industries for Deepwater Blast from the Council on Foreign Relations

Whitehouse Blames Industries for Deepwater Blast
In advance of its full report on last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a U.S. presidential commission cited a "failure of management" at British Petroleum, Transocean, and Halliburton as the overarching cause of the disaster. The inquiry found the blowout to be preventable and recommended fundamental reforms in the face of existing "systemic risks" (WashPost). The explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig and the ensuing catastrophe killed eleven workers and led to the largest offshore oil spill in history. Despite the adverse ruling, analysts suggest BP's overall liability (FT) could ultimately be reduced because culpability is spread over several actors. In European markets, shares of both BP and Transocean (Reuters) traded up on Thursday.
The Obama administration imposed a bevy of new industry safety measures (WSJ) since the accident last spring, but rising gas prices and a new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives may alter the regulatory landscape.
Industry expert Jack Coleman said the Obama administration overreacted to the Gulf spill by suspending most new offshore drilling and moving to expand liabilities for future accidents, with implications for U.S. energy security.
This New York Times editorial supports the Obama administration's response to the drilling disaster and suggests the oil industry has yet to learn its lesson.
Explore the critical events surrounding the Deepwater explosion in this timeline from the Guardian.
The Gulf spill was the most recent instance of an industrial disaster pitting companies from one country against citizens and governments of another. This CFR slideshow provides a chronology of ten major instances in which multinational corporations were involved in industrial incidents.
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To Bee Or Not To Be?

Guest Post: To Bee Or Not To Be?
Posted: 05 Jan 2011 04:53 PM PST
Painting by Anthony Freda:
Bees – upon which the entire human food chain rests – are suffering a sharp decline.
As the Guardian pointed out Monday:
The abundance of four common species of bumblebee in the US has dropped by 96% in just the past few decades, according to the most comprehensive national census of the insects [a three-year study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences].
Sydney Cameron, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, led a team on a three-year study of the changing distribution, genetic diversity and pathogens in eight species of bumblebees in the US.
By comparing her results with those in museum records of bee populations, she showed that the relative abundance of four of the sampled species (Bombus occidentalis, B. pensylvanicus, B. affinis and B. terricola) had declined by up to 96% and that their geographic ranges had contracted by 23% to 87%, some within just the past two decades.
Cameron’s findings reflect similar studies across the world. According to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the UK, three of the 25 British species of bumblebee are already extinct and half of the remainder have shown serious declines, often up to 70%, since around the 1970s. Last year, scientists inaugurated a £10m programme, called the Insect Pollinators Initiative, to look at the reasons behind the devastation in the insect population.
As the Guardian notes, bees are essential for human food production:
Bumblebees are important pollinators of wild plants and agricultural crops around the world including tomatoes and berries thanks to their large body size, long tongues, and high-frequency buzzing, which helps release pollen from flowers.
Bees in general pollinate some 90% of the world’s commercial plants, including most fruits, vegetables and nuts. Coffee, soya beans and cotton are all dependent on pollination by bees to increase yields. It is the start of a food chain that also sustains wild birds and animals.
Insects such as bees, moths and hoverflies pollinate around a third of the crops grown worldwide. If all of the UK’s insect pollinators were wiped out, the drop in crop production would cost the UK economy up to £440m a year, equivalent to around 13% of the UK’s income from farming.
The collapse in the global bee population is a major threat to crops. It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon pollination by bees, which means they contribute some £26bn to the global economy.
“Pollinator decline has become a worldwide issue, raising increasing concerns over impacts on global food production, stability of pollination services, and disruption of plant-pollinator networks,” wrote Cameron. “
The Guardian notes that bees are not the only pollinators which are declining:
But the insects, along with other crucial pollinators such as moths and hoverflies, have been in serious decline around the world since the last few decades of the 20th century. It is unclear why, but scientists think it is from a combination of new diseases, changing habitats around cities, and increasing use of pesticides.
The Guardian points to some of the potential causes of bee decline:
Parasites such as the bloodsucking varroa mite and viral and bacterial infections, pesticides and poor nutrition stemming from intensive farming methods.
As Fast Company pointed out last month:
A leaked EPA document reveals that the agency allowed the widespread use of a bee-toxic pesticide, despite warnings from EPA scientists.
The document, which was leaked to a Colorado beekeeper, shows that the EPA has ignored warnings about the use of clothianidin, a pesticide produced by Bayer that mainly is used to pre-treat corn seeds. The pesticide scooped up $262 million in sales in 2009 by farmers, who also use the substance on canola, soy, sugar beets, sunflowers, and wheat, according to Grist.
The leaked document (PDF) was put out in response to Bayer’s request to approve use of the pesticide on cotton and mustard. The document invalidates a prior Bayer study that justified the registration of clothianidin on the basis of its safety to honeybees:
Clothianidin’s major risk concern is to nontarget insects (that is, honey bees). Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid insecticide that is both persistent and systemic. Acute toxicity studies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis. Although EFED does not conduct RQ based risk assessments on non-target insects, information from standard tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoids insecticides (e.g., imidacloprid) suggest the potential for long-term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects.
The EPA is still allowing the use of Clothianidin to this day. And see this.
And as I’ve previously pointed out:
To recap: bees are fed junk food totally different from what bees naturally eat with very little nutritional content, taken out of their normal natural environment and shoved into trucks, and then driven all over the nation.
The poor nutrition, exposure to numerous pesticides (and genetically modified foods), and stressful condition of being constantly trucked all over the country are hurting the bees. Why do beekeepers do it? Because high-fructose corn syrup and soy protein are cheap junk, and because the widespread use of pesticides coupled with trucking bees around the country is the low-cost industrial farming business model.
The bottom line is that raising and using bees to pollinate crops in a way that won’t kill so many bees will be more expensive … thus driving up food prices.
There is also evidence that genetically modified crops might be killing bees … or at least weakening them so that they are more susceptible to disease. See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this.
And as Agence France-Presse notes, inbreeding may be weakening the bees.
(On a side note, no one has yet asked whether silver iodide or other compounds used in weather modification affect bees. They may not, but someone should test the bees for such compounds and their metabolites so that we can rule out them out as a cause of colony collapse.)
Albert Einstein reportedly said:
If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!
That might have been a slight exaggeration, but Einstein was right: If we kill off the bees, we will be in big trouble.
There are also reports of birds and fish mysteriously dying world-wide. While these may or may not be connected with the collapse of bee populations, it is a sign that all is not right with the world.
As I wrote two years ago:
First the frogs started disappearing.
Then the bees started disappearing.
Now, its birds. According to CBC, tens of millions of birds are disappearing across North America.
According to the Seattle Times:
Pelicans suffering from a mysterious malady are crashing into cars and boats, wandering along roadways and turning up dead by the hundreds across the West Coast, from southern Oregon to Baja California, Mexico, bird-rescue workers say.
Frogs and bees are so different from people that they are easier to ignore. But birds are larger, more complicated, warm-blooded animals, and thus closer to us biologically.

People will be in real trouble unless we figure out why the amphibians, bees and birds are dying.

Humans Have Intentionally Modified Weather for Military Purposes and Climate Control for Decades

This article is important and is being included in its entirety.

Guest Post: Humans Have Intentionally Modified Weather for Military Purposes and Climate Control for Decades

Washington’s Blog
Weather modification is a well-known endeavor. For example, governments have been seeding clouds for decades to create more rain.
And during warfare to create mud to slow the enemy’s ability to use roads.
As the Guardian reported in 2001:
During the Vietnam war, the Americans launched Project Popeye, a secret mission to seed the tops of monsoon clouds and trigger phenomenal downpours that would wash away the Ho Chi Minh Trail used for ferrying supplies.For five years Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were sprayed during the monsoons, and military intelligence claimed that rainfall was increased by a third in some places. It only came to an end in March 1971 when [Washington Post] journalist Jack Anderson exposed the project and caused such a public furor that the UN general assembly approved a universal treaty banning environmental warfare.
But the US air force planners recently came up with new proposals to launch new weather weapons. Instead of silver-iodide, the idea is to shower fine particles of heat-absorbing carbon over clouds to trigger localised flooding and bog down troops and their equipment. Lasers on aircraft would also trigger lightning onto enemy aircraft, whilst other lasers could be fired at fog to clear a path over enemy targets on the ground.
Whether or not they work, past experiences tell us to be wary of tampering with the weather. In 1947, meteorologists tried to kill off a dying hurricane out at sea by seeding the clouds. The following day, the hurricane suddenly gathered strength, swung round and hit Savannah, Georgia causing extensive damage. The weather boffins were so rattled by the disaster it was not until August 1969 that they dared try again.
When Hurricane Debbie was 700 miles out at sea, they flew three seeding missions around its eye, where tropical storms are at their most intense, but the results were mixed – with each seeding the hurricane’s winds were reduced and each time they picked up again.
Interestingly, U.S. weather modification efforts during the Vietnam war were revealed as part of the Pentagon Papers.
As the Washington Post reported on July 2, 1972:
Indochina – by the evidence of a long-ignored passage in the Pentagon Papers – has been a test battleground, the site of purposeful rain-making along the Ho Chi Minh trails.
Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) is prominent among members of Congress who believe it has become a reality. “There is very little doubt in my mind,” he says. Rep. Gilbert Gude (R-Md.) states: “There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s going on in Vietnam.”
“I think there’s no doubt rain-making was used in Laos on the trail,” says a Senate committee aide wee versed in defense affairs.
It is a “successful” pre-1967 use which is documented in the “senator Gravel” version of the Pentagon papers. In late February, 1967, this document discloses the Joint Chiefs of Staff prepared a list of “alternative strategies” for President Johnson.
One, titled “Laos Operations”, read:
“Continue at present plus Operation Pop Eye to reduce trafficability along infiltration routes … authorization required to implement phase of weather modification process previously successfully tested and evaluated in same area. (Italics added)
In 1967 — according to columnist Jack Anderson, who published the first allegation of Indochina rain-making — U.S. forces started secret Project Intermediary Compatriot “to hamper enemy logistics” … (with) claimed success in creating man-made cloudbursts … and flooding conditions” along the Ho Chi Minh trails, “making them impassable.”
The Post makes clear that cloud-seeding wasn’t limited to the Vietnam war theater:
The Defense Department freely reports that it has “field capacities” for making rain. It used them in the Philippines in 1969, in a six-month “precipitation augmentation project” at the Philippines request; in India in 1967, at a similar invitation; over Okinawa and Midway Islands, and in June, July and August, 1971, over drought-stricken Texas, at the urgent request of Gov. Preston Smith.
Navy rain-makers are currently involved in two long-range California programs — one over the Pacific off Santa Barbara, an attempt to increase rainfall over a national forest; the other over the Central Sierras to try to increase the snow-pack for electric utilities that depend on water power.
In 2008, the Denver Post noted the enormous scope of weather modification projects:
Scientists are monitoring more than 150 weather-modification projects in 40 countries, including at least 60 in the Western United States. The projects include wringing additional snow out of clouds for California hydropower and easing droughts in sub-Saharan Africa.
Most of the current research on this inexact science is being conducted abroad ….
In 2005, the Boston Globe provided an account of the early discovery of silver iodide as a tool for modifying weather:
In 1946, over Mount Greylock in western Massachusetts, a General Electric research chemist named Vincent Schaefer scattered three pounds of crushed dry ice out of an airplane into a cloud and set off a snow flurry. It was the world’s first successful cloud seeding-later that year, the meteorologist Bernard Vonnegut (brother to the novelist) discovered that silver iodide smoke had a similar effect-and weather modification emerged from the realm of con men and eccentrics. Most meteorologists remained skeptical, but by 1951, 10 percent of the United States was under commercial cloud seeding.
“Intervention in atmospheric and climatic matters on any desired scale” was only decades away, predicted John von Neumann, the mathematician who helped invent and began programming the first electronic computers to model the weather. Over the next 30 years, the federal government spent hundreds of millions of dollars on projects all over the country to increase precipitation, to mitigate hailstorms (an age-old enemy of farmers), and, most successfully, to clear the fog from around airports. Perhaps the era’s most ambitious endeavor was Project Stormfury, which sent up airplanes to seed the eye walls of hurricanes with silver iodide to weaken the winds before landfall.
(And see this discussion by an MIT scientist regarding the use of weather modification to mitigate hurricane damage.)
Moreover, the Post points out that – even in 1972 – weather modification has been tested for other applications as well:
Among patterns that can be predictably” be modified [Robert M. White, the current chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ] said, are: cold fog (which can be cleared from airfields) ; cumulus clouds (most common in the tropics — “In Florida,”, White said, “we have been able almost at will to make them grow explosively”); orographic clouds (moist air moving up over mountains — “At the right temperature you can begin thinking of milking them for water”) and hailstorms (which can often be suppressed, according to recent claims by the Russians, who fire silver iodide into them from rockets and artillery).
And – as the Post notes – even in 1972, the government was studying the affect of weather modification on climate:
ARPA Director Stephen J. Lukasik told the Senate Appropriations Committee in March: “Since it now appears highly probable that major world powers have the ability to create modifications of climate that might be seriously detrimental to the security of this country, Nile Blue [a computer simulation] was established in FY 70 to achieve a US capability to (1) evaluate all consequences of of a variety of possible actions … (2) detect trends in in the global circulation which foretell changes … and (3) determine if possible , means to counter potentially deleterious climatic changes …”
“What this means,” Lukasik explains, “is learning how much you have to tickle the atmosphere to perturb the earth’s climate. I guess we’d call it a threat assessment.”
The Post also quoted high-level scientists warning that enemies could modify weather as a direct form of warfare, for example, by flooding coastal areas where one’s enemy resided.
Now, weather modification is so mainstream that the Chinese government and the State of Texas openly discuss their cloud-seeding programs.

And U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas introduced the Weather Modification Research And Technology Transfer Authorization Act in 2004, saying:
Weather modification is the general term that refers to any human attempt to alter the weather…. These efforts have been used in the U.S. for more than 50 years to reduce crop and property damage, optimize useable precipitation during growing seasons and lessen the impact of periodic, often severe droughts.
The weather modification projects in Texas and other States in the U.S. are much more than well considered responses to drought. They are trying to use the latest technological developments in the science to chemically squeeze more precipitation out of clouds. Moisture that is needed to replenish fresh-water supplies in aquifers and reservoirs.
(The bill apparently didn’t pass)
There’s even a Journal of Weather Modification (here’s a peek inside).
The Technology Has Advanced Far Beyond Seeding Clouds With Silver Iodide
The technology has advanced a long way since the early 1970s.
For example, the Telegraph reported yesterday that Abu Dhabi ‘creates man-made rainstorms’ by “using giant ionisers, shaped like giant lampshades, to generate fields of negatively charged particles, which create cloud formation.” “There are many applications,” Professor Hartmut Grassl, a former institute director, is quoted by the Daily Mail as saying. “One is getting water into a dry area. Maybe this is a most important point for mankind.”
And former secretary of defense William Cohen told a conference on terrorism on April 28, 1997 that people can:
Alter the climate … remotely through the use of electromagnetic waves.
The Use of Sulfur Dioxide to Affect Climate?
Tom Wigleysenior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and former director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and current – has proposed releasing sulfur dioxide in the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight and reduce warming. And see this.
Wigley talks about this proposal in a Discovery channel special on weather modification.
Other scientists have suggested the same thing. See – by way of example only – this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this.
More History … and Complicated Issues to Consider for the Future
The above-described Boston Globe article pointed to the complexity of the issues involved in weather modification:
In 2003 the National Academy of Sciences recommended “a coordinated national program” to “conduct a sustained research effort” into weather modification.
Politicians in Western and Southwestern states are funding attempts to tickle more moisture out of the clouds ….
Last fall, a meteorologist named Ross Hoffman suggested in Scientific American that a network of microwave-beaming satellites could literally take the wind out of hurricanes.
In some of the driest parts of Mexico, a Bedford-based company called Ionogenics is testing a rainmaking apparatus that uses an array of steel poles to ionize the air.
China, a country with widespread cloud seeding, has announced plans to engineer clear weather in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics.
Meanwhile, deepening concern over the possibly cataclysmic effects of climate change has spurred a number of recent proposals, some sketched out in considerable detail, to engineer a measure of counteractive cooling. John Latham, an atmospheric physicist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., has proposed increasing the reflectivity of the cloud cover by stirring up water vapor from the ocean with a fleet of giant egg-beater-like turbines.
A few years ago, a team led by the late Edward Teller suggested creating a similar effect by launching a million tons of tiny aluminum balloons into the atmosphere.
As our ability to comprehend the weather improves and as the threat of climate change looms larger, some scientists are ready to brave the uncertainty and tangled ethics of tinkering with the skies. . . .
The US military, unsurprisingly, was intrigued by the possibility of a godlike meteorological arsenal. According to Spencer Weart, a physicist and historian of science at the American Institute of Physics, the thinking in the Defense Department was “maybe we’ll give the Russians a real Cold War, or maybe they’ll give us one, so we should be ready.” Pentagon money funded much of the era’s climate research, helping to create the weather models we now use in forecasting. War gamers dreamed up climatological warfare scenarios like laying down a blanket of fog over an airfield or visiting drought upon an enemy’s breadbasket.
But the grandest climate engineering schemes came from the Soviet Union. The most Promethean among them was a late 1950s proposal to dam the Bering Strait and, by pumping water from the Arctic Ocean into the Pacific, draw warm water northward from the Atlantic to melt the polar ice pack, making the Arctic Ocean navigable and warming Siberia. The leading Soviet climatologist, Mikhail I. Budyko, cautioned against it, arguing that the ultimate effects were too difficult to predict (though he himself had played with the idea of warming the Arctic by covering it in soot to decrease its reflectivity). John F. Kennedy, as a presidential candidate, suggested the United States look into collaborating on the project. While the two countries continued desultory discussions of the Bering Strait plan into the 1970s, the American government was by then losing interest in the whole field of weather modification.
In 1972, a government cloud-seeding run in South Dakota was followed by a violent deluge, and more than 200 people were killed in the ensuing flood. Meteorologists disagreed over whether seeding was to blame, but the incident became an ominous symbol for those who saw weather modifiers as latter-day Pandoras. . . . Boyle’s caution may be merited, but scientists are better equipped today to understand and manipulate the weather than they were 30 years ago.
Some scientists and engineers, such as Daniel Schrag, director of Harvard’s Laboratory for Geochemical Oceanography, point out that, in light of the planet’s growing thirst and rising temperature, even Soviet-scale climate modification is attracting real consideration. Boyle, who spoke at a joint MIT-Cambridge University conference on the topic last year, readily concedes, “There are very prominent, serious scientists who are considering these things.”
A 1996 Air Force report entitled “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025,” argued that “the tremendous military capabilities that could result from this field are ignored at our own peril.”
Even purely peaceful aims would lead to a cascade of seemingly zero-sum conflicts. In the US, cloud seeding has set off several lawsuits in which, for example, downwind farmers have accused a cloud-seeding neighbor of “stealing” their rain. Such issues only grow in complexity along with the scale.
According to Joe Kaplinsky, a technology analyst in London, “To raise these things before the technology has really gotten off the ground is to deprive us of the potential benefits of any technology, because any technology can be misused.” “Of course some people will benefit and some people will lose,” Kaplinsky says, “but there are social mechanisms for solving disagreements, either through compensation or through democratic debate.”
Here is a copy of the Air Force study “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025″.
The American Institute of Physics – the organization mentioned in the Boston Globe article – provides an interesting overview of the history of weather modification:
From 1945 into the 1970s, much effort went into studies of weather modification. American entrepreneurs tried cloud-seeding to enhance local rainfall, Russian scientists offered fabulous schemes of planetary engineering, and military agencies secretly explored “climatological warfare.”
In the mid 1970s … Research turned instead to controversial “geoengineering” schemes for interventions that might restrain global warming if it started to become unbearable.
At the close of the Second World War, a few American scientists brought up a troublesome idea. If it were true, as some claimed, that humans were inadvertently changing their local weather by cutting down forests and emitting pollution, why not try to modify the weather on purpose? For generations there had been proposals for rainmaking, based on folklore like the story that cannonades from big battles brought rain.
Now top experts began to take the question seriously…. At the end of 1945 a brilliant mathematician, John von Neumann, called other leading scientists to a meeting in Princeton, where they agreed that modifying weather deliberately might be possible. They expected that could make a great difference in the next war. Soviet harvests, for example, might be ruined by creating a drought. Some scientists suspected that alongside the race with the Soviet Union for ever more terrible nuclear weapons, they were entering an equally fateful race to control the weather. As the Cold War got underway, U.S. military agencies devoted significant funds to research on what came to be called “climatological warfare.”
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.
Military agencies in the U.S. (and presumably in the Soviet Union) supported research not only on cloud seeding but on other ways that injecting materials into the atmosphere might alter weather. Although much of this was buried in secrecy, the public learned that climatological warfare might become possible. In a 1955 Fortune magazine article, von Neumann himself explained that “Microscopic layers of colored matter spread on an icy surface, or in the atmosphere above one, could inhibit the reflection-radiation process, melt the ice, and change the local climate.” The effects could be far-reaching, even world-wide. “What power over our environment, over all nature, is implied!” he exclaimed. Von Neumann foresaw “forms of climatic warfare as yet unimagined,” perhaps more dangerous than nuclear war itself. He hoped it would force humanity to take a new, global approach to its political problems.
Around 1956, Soviet engineers began to speculate that they might be able to throw a dam across the Bering Strait and pump water from the Arctic Ocean into the Pacific. This would draw warm water up from the Atlantic. Their aim was to eliminate the ice pack, make the Arctic Ocean navigable, and warm up Siberia. The idea attracted some notice in the United States — presidential candidate John F. Kennedy remarked that the idea was worth exploring as a joint project with the Soviets, and the discussion continued into the 1970s.
Beginning around 1961, Budyko and other scientists speculated about how humanity might alter the global climate by strewing dark dust or soot across the Arctic snow and ice. The soot would lower the albedo (reflection of sunlight), and the air would get warmer. Spreading so much dust year after year would be prohibitively expensive. But according to a well-known theory, warmer air should melt some snow and sea-ice and thus expose the dark underlying soil and ocean water, which would absorb sunlight and bring on more warming. So once dust destroyed the reflective cover, it might not re-form.
A 1972 U.S. government rain-making operation in South Dakota was followed by a disastrous flood, and came under attack in a class-action lawsuit.
Already back in 1965, a Presidential advisory panel had suggested that if greenhouse effect warming by carbon dioxide gas ever became a problem, the government might take countervailing steps. The panel did not consider curbing the use of fossil fuels. They had in mind geoengineering schemes — spreading something across the ocean waters to reflect more sunlight, perhaps, or sowing particles high in the atmosphere to encourage the formation of reflective clouds. Some back-of-the-envelope arithmetic suggested such steps were feasible, and indeed could cost less than many government programs. In 1974, Budyko calculated that if global warming ever became a serious threat, we could counter it with just a few airplane flights a day in the stratosphere, burning sulfur to make aerosols that would reflect sunlight away.
For a few years in the early 1970s, new evidence and arguments led many scientists to suspect that the greatest climate risk was not warming, but cooling. A new ice age seemed to be approaching as part of the natural glacial cycle, perhaps hastened by human pollution that blocked sunlight. Technological optimists suggested ways to counter this threat too. We might spread soot from cargo aircraft to darken the Arctic snows, or even shatter the Arctic ice pack with “clean” thermonuclear explosions. [For background, see this and this.]
The bitter fighting among communities over cloud-seeding would be as nothing compared with conflicts over attempts to engineer global climate. Moreover, as Budyko and Western scientists alike warned, scientists could not predict the consequences of such engineering efforts. We might forestall global warming only to find we had triggered a new ice age.
Such worries revived the U.S. military’s interest in artificial climate change on a global scale. A group at the RAND corporation, a defense think tank near Los Angeles, had been working with a computer climate model that originated at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The RAND group had to scramble to find support elsewhere. They turned to the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense.
When a National Academy of Sciences panel convened in 1991 to catalog the options, the members got into a long and serious debate over whether to include the grand “geoengineering” ideas. Might hopes of a future fix just encourage people to avoid the work of restricting greenhouse gas emissions? The panel reluctantly voted to include every idea, so that preparations could start in case the climate deteriorated so badly that radical steps would be the lesser evil. Their fundamental problem was the one that had bedeviled climate science from the start — if you pushed on this intricate system, nobody could say for sure what the final consequences might be.
What About Contrails?
The Environmental Protection Agency notes in a report entitled “Aircraft Contrails Factsheet”:
Persistent contrails can last for hours while growing to several kilometers in width and 200 to 400 meters in height.
Figure 2. Photograph of two contrail types. The contrail extending across the image is an evolving persistent contrail. Shown just above it is a short-lived contrail. Short-lived contrails evaporate soon after being formed due to low atmospheric humidity conditions. The persistent contrail shown here was formed at a lower altitude where higher humidity was present …. (Photos: J. Holecek, NOAA Aeronomy Laboratory, Boulder, CO.)

Figure 3. Persistent contrails and contrails evolving and spreading into cirrus clouds. Here, the humidity of the atmosphere is high, and the contrail ice particles continue to grow by taking up water from the surrounding atmosphere. These contrails extend for large distances and may last for hours. On other days when atmospheric humidity is lower, the same aircraft passages might have left few or even no contrails. (Photo: L. Chang, Office of Atmospheric Programs, U.S. EPA.)

Figure 5. Satellite photograph showing an example of contrails covering central Europe on May 4, 1995. The average cover in a photograph is estimated by using a computer to recognize and measure individual contrails over geographical regions of known size. Photograph from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-12 AVHRR satellite and processed by DLR (adapted from Mannstein et al., 1999). (Reproduced with permission of DLR.)

Persistent contrails are of interest to scientists because they increase the cloudiness of the atmosphere. The increase happens in two ways. First, persistent contrails are line-shaped clouds that would not have formed in the atmosphere without the passage of an aircraft. Secondly, persistent contrails often evolve and spread into extensive cirrus cloud cover that is indistinguishable from naturally occurring cloudiness (See Figure 3). At present, it is unknown how much of this more extensive cloudiness would have occurred without the passage of an aircraft. Not enough is known about how natural clouds form in the atmosphere to answer this question. Changes in cloudiness are important because clouds help control the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere. Changes in cloudiness resulting from human activities are important because they might contribute to long-term changes in the Earth’s climate. Many other human activities also have the potential of contributing to climate change. Our climate involves important parameters such as air temperature, weather patterns, and rainfall. Changes in climate may have important impacts on natural resources and human health. Contrails’ possible climate effects are one component of aviation’s expected overall climate effect.
Persistent line-shaped contrails are estimated to cover, on average, about 0.1 percent of the Earth’s surface ….
As Nova notes:

The sheer number of contrails generated on a typical day in busy air corridors can come as a shock. A NASA satellite took this enhanced infrared image of the southeastern U.S. on January 29, 2004.
And CNN reported in 2002:

The thin wisps of condensation that trail jet airliners have a significant influence on the climate, according to scientists who studied U.S. skies during a rare interruption in national air traffic after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
During the three-day commercial flight hiatus, when the artificial clouds known as contrails all but disappeared, the variations in high and low temperatures increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) each day, said meteorological researchers.
“I think what we’ve shown are that contrails are capable of affecting temperatures,” said lead scientist David Travis of the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. “Which direction, in terms of net heating or cooling, is still up in the air.”
In many ways, contrails behave in the same manner as cirrus clouds, thin high-altitude floaters that block out solar energy from above and trap in heat below.
With air traffic growing and contrails becoming more prevalent, the natural variation will further decline and could disrupt regional ecosystems, some scientists speculate.
In some ways, contrails differ from their natural brethren. Cirrus clouds let less heat out than in overall, producing a net increase in the Earth’s temperatures, according to climate scientists. With contrail clouds, they said they are not so sure.
Contrails are denser and block sunlight much more than natural cirrus clouds,” said Travis, who with colleagues reported the findings this week in the journal Nature.
And contrails are much more prevalent when the sun is out,” he said. “When this is factored in, there is a possibility that they offset global warming, and this is what we are trying to determine now.”
It is clear that persistent jet contrails can affect weather and climate. I have no idea whether persistent jet contrails are an unintentional affect of airplanes interacting with the environment, or an intentional attempt to affect the weather.
The articles quoted in the first part of this essay provide support for the possibility that at least some of the affects might be intentional. And as a 2008 international workshop on weather modification noted:

It has been well established that successful implementation of Cloud Seeding resulting in precipitation enhancement has significant positive beneficial impact in managing the issue of global warming and climate change….
German television network RTL purportedly alleges that the German government has admitted testing persistent jet contrails for military purposes – as a high-tech form of “chaff” to disrupt enemy radar.
The EPA attributes formation of persistent jet contrails to altitude and humidity, as well as trace impurities such as sulfur contained in jet fuel. On the other hand, some claim that very high concentrations of chemicals like barium and sulfur have been found in groundwater after the incidence of persistent jet contrails increased.
But whether or not persistent jet contrails are intentionally being created to affect climate or for military purposes or are an unintentional byproduct of flying a modern airplane is beyond the scope of this essay.
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