Weather forecast tell us every day that it might rain tomorrow, but what if we need to make it rain tomorrow? Cloud seeding is a primary weather modification technology. The process of seeding a storm involves dispersing an artificial nucleating agent. There is a controversy surrounding the use of this technology and the effect of chemicals involved. What options do we have over cloud seeding taking into account the potential to overcome droughts and sustain water sources, while ensuring public safety and environment?
Is it really working?
In Wyoming state, a study showed that during ideal condition cloud seeding can increase precipitation by 5-10%, though does it add any value to the economy? In North Dakota, cloud seeding operations have been used to decrease hail which assisted in reducing crops’ damage and increased profit by $134.5 million annually. These studies and several more demonstrate the possible contributions that cloud seeding can provide. Can this technology help us more? Cloud seeding offers a more sustainable water supply to replenish the depleted groundwater caused by excessive pumping.
Fear of the unknown
Hearing that silver iodide is used in cloud seeding can be freighting since silver ions are among the most toxic substance. however, the studies show that seeded storms indicated a silver concentration well below the allowable environmental concentration of 50 micrograms per letter set by the U.S. public health serves.Although it cannot be guaranteed that no harmful effects of cloud seeding will occur in future, the exploding increase in water demands cannot be ignored. cloud seeding technologies have the potential to take a part of the solution, the advancement and the expansion of cloud seeding technology cannot stop based on arguments built on no solid evidence but on the human fear of the unknown.
A day before Tasmania flooding
Hydro Tasmania, a company that has been involved in cloud seeding over Tasmania since 1964, denied its relation to the devastating floods after seeding clouds a day before. The company operations have been on hold since June 2016. This case raises serious doubts on the claimed positive results of cloud seeding. To what extent do we actually have control over the outcome in the targeted areas and surroundings? The company states using small amounts of cloud seeding chemicals would not cause harm, but can we take it for granted?
A cloud seeding program was conducted in an effort to ease drought in Beijing. The result was not as expected, the precipitation fell as snow and temperatures dropped sharply. The snowstorm disrupted flights, road travel, and hindered shipping off the Chinese coast. The French hail prevention project and other studies suggest that the extra area effect may extend to a few hundred kilometers from the seeded area. The fact that the effect of cloud seeding is observed beyond the intended area raises a concern about the accuracy of such programs. The lack of accuracy might lead to an increase in precipitation in nearby regions that could trigger extreme weather conditions. Such conditions might be drastic on the infrastructure and the community living in these regions. Who is responsible in this case?
‘A teaspoon’ of silver iodide
A silver iodide manufacturer warns against the potential health risks of this material. These hazards include eye irritation, burning on cuts and headache to name a few. But to what degree are we exposed to this material? Hydro Tasmania claims that the amount used per square kilometre is less than ‘a teaspoon’. This does not show the full picture since areas that are repeatedly seeded are exposed to a cumulative effect. A study found that this material concentration in rain from seeded clouds is 10-225 times greater than normal. We might consume food grown in agricultural regions that are often targeted by this technology. What if this material cumulate in our food? If so, Is the consumer at risk?
What options are available?
In order to reach a decision, stakeholders must be taken into account. Governments are not only pushing the technology to boost the economy, but also must formulate regulations regarding the use of the technology. Developers such as research centres are seeking financial and technological advantages. Users of the technology can be diverse including companies and individuals who are usually looking for an investment return. The public is directly affected and should be considered as a crucial stakeholder.
There are two possible options:
- Proceed cloud seeding and formulate regulation guiding the development and usage of cloud seeding.
- Cease cloud seeding operation but proceed research to reduce the uncertainty and the risks of the technology.
To reach a morally acceptable decision, the facts have to be evaluated using the relevant frameworks. Jeremy Bentham utility principle can be applied and more specific his idea of a “moral balance sheet”. The benefits of cloud seeding are tangible and can be of great potential as it was mentioned before, whereas the negative effects have no clear evidence and no direct human harm is expected. Hence, proceeding cloud seeding can result in a greater pleasure to more people.
If we were to follow a common sense method, humans have been modifying weather systems since they started burning fossil fuels in much larger scales than cloud seeding projects, the potential harmful effects of chemicals like silver iodide is almost overshadowed by smokestacks spewing kilotons of pollution to the environment.
Considering Hydro Tasmania case, the company action of holding all cloud seeding operations can be thought as a virtuous action so they can review the program. This shows the willingness of the company to compromise its profit for the safety of the public. Virtue ethics would propose that cloud seeding research can be trusted to moral developers, but would governments take all the responsibility for ensuring this? In addition, this approach does not guarantee the misapplication or long term effects of cloud seeding. A relevant evidence is the invention of CFCs products which made refrigeration achievable turned to be destructive to Ozone.
Group 75: Asaad Almaqbali, David, A. Zakwani, Ahmed Badi