When I was a child, my mother would take my sister and I to Wasaga Beach on the shores of Georgian Bay during the summer months. It’s the longest fresh-water beach in the world and during Canadian summers it becomes a metropolis of tourists and fun-seekers from all over the province and beyond. The main beach hosts a strip mall of over-priced beach-themed shops, ice cream vendors, live music venues and – once upon a time – even a huge water slide setup. Our yearly trips up were one of the highlights of my summer – as a young child I built sand castles, read bad fiction and went swimming; as an adolescent I basically girl-watched all day.
Unfortunately, my mother’s work schedule only permitted us to go up on a given weekend that usually had to be planned well in advance. Sometimes we got lucky and we’d pick a weekend that turned out to be perfect weather – sun shining, not a cloud in the sky, whatever you like. But often, as is typical, the weather would crap out and we’d be stuck sitting around on a largely-deserted beach, waiting for the rain to start that would signal “time to go home”, because swimming in a large body of water during a lightning storm isn’t intelligent no matter how you look at it. Us kids would always be disappointed if we saw dark clouds on the horizon during the drive up because it meant a short day trip, but my mother would repeat this old adage to remind us there’s basically nothing we can do:
“Whether the weather be sunny, or whether the weather be not, whether the weather be cold, or whether the weather be hot, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.”
This was scant consolation to a couple of children eager to hit the beach for a day of summer fun, and being the avid science fiction fan I was, I longed for the day when we’d live in a Star Trek world where the weather was monitored and regulated by giant computers. On some level, the weather was the only thing left in nature we couldn’t control: we had medications to combat disease, our tools of production allowed us to live through the droughts and famines that killed off our ancestors, and of course being at the top of the food chain eliminated the concern we might walk out our front doors and get eaten by a pack of wolves or something. A weather-control system would invalidate nature’s last major stranglehold on humanity, I reasoned, and would finally crown us true masters of the Earth.
When I got a little older and started learning more about the world’s incredibly complex ecosystem I realized how boneheaded this idea was: we just don’t know enough about how and why the weather works to wrest control of it away from nature and expect things to continue along as they have been. Philosopher Daniel Quinn called this sort of thinking the “Taker” mentality; the idea that we know better than nature how the planet should be run is precisely the line of thinking that’s landed us in the ecological pickle we’re in today. Fact is, we’re just not that smart, and fiddling with vast powers we don’t fully understand is tantamount to giving a toddler a loaded pistol. Sooner or later, something tragic is bound to happen.
Which is why, when Rachel (one of my myriad correspondents) sent me this story this morning, I was deeply disturbed and shoved even more deeply into my foxhole of disgust at the people I’m supposed to refer to as fellow citizens of our planet.
For those of you who don’t want to read through the article (and frankly, I wouldn’t blame you), turns out Moscow’s Mayor Yury Luzhkov has decided the people of his fair city have had enough of snow, so he’s pledged to ensure there will be no snow in Moscow this year.
Just…take a minute and roll that around your brain. He’s going to stop it from snowing. Say it with me, and then tell me what’s wrong with that sentence. Yury Luzhkov is going to stop the snow.
Can we all take a moment and appreciate what a patently bad idea this is? If you still haven’t read the article, here is another gem:
“For just a few million dollars, the mayor’s office will hire the Russian Air Force to spray a fine chemical mist over the clouds before they reach the capital, forcing them to dump their snow outside the city.”
Chemical mist? Leaving aside the obvious concern that the Russian Air Force can be routinely hired for missions of this type by a civilian organization, is there anyone, anywhere who thinks that spraying chemical mist into the sky is in any way, shape or form a good idea?
In Jeff’s words, this is “another great idea from the people who brought you Chernobyl”. And while I don’t share his distrust of nuclear power, I can certainly see where he’s coming from – this has disaster written all over it.
It gets better: this isn’t the first time Luzhkov has pulled the God card. During his tenure as mayor, he forwarded a plan to reverse the flow of the River Ob to help irrigate Siberia and related nations. Scientists told him it couldn’t be done, thankfully, and I can just imagine how that conversation went. (How, exactly, would one go about reversing the flow of one of the largest rivers on the continent? I imagined some kind of Swiss-Family-Robinson Rube-Goldberg device employing pulleys, winches and very large buckets.)
This time around, Luzhkov is aware of the science involved in his plan – a science that’s been proven to work both in Russia and elsewhere.
During the Beijing Olympics, Chinese authorities intended to use a similar process to curb torrential rains in the general region where the games’ opening ceremonies were to be held. They used almost eleven thousand artillery weapons and rocket launchers to “seed” the clouds with silver iodide – a move designed to make the clouds drop their loads of rain well before they reached the capital city.
Okay, to be fair then, I can’t actually claim the Chinese or the Russians are actually stopping precipitation; they’re just causing to fall elsewhere. That doesn’t really make it better. In fact, in a lot of ways it could be worse.
Think about it this way: ever heard of the Butterfly Effect? No, I’m not talking about the Ashton Kutcher disaster of a few years ago; I’m talking about the philosophical concept the movie was ostensibly based upon. Basically, it’s a pithy metaphor: the flap of a butterfly’s wings somewhere in North America, say, could conceivably lead to a typhoon in Southeast Asia. The point is everything is interconnected and reliant upon everything else.
Meddling with nature has proven time and time again to produce results we can’t expect, control or prepare for. Many schools of thought suggest that human influence on this planet’s delicate, complex ecosystem has led to severe changes in weather patterns and climate as it is. Part of Luzhkov’s reasoning for this brilliant plan of his is, in addition to taking the strain of snow removal off the backs of Moscow city workers, the additional precipitation in the surrounding areas would lead to a “bigger harvest” in the agricultural zones. He told a farmer’s organization (with great zeal, I might add):
“It will make financial sense!”
Great idea, Yury. It will make financial sense until your renegade poison clouds dump silver iodide rain all over your fields, causing mass flooding and genetic mutations in your potatoes, turning the vodka made from those potatoes into some kind of super-soldier serum that will turn every Stoli-swilling native of the Moscow suburbs into a drunken X-Man.
What? Oh, you want to see proof of my vast, sweeping prophecies? I’m sorry Yury, but that’s not my job because I’m not the nutcase who wants to spray chemical cocktails into the sky so he doesn’t have to shovel his front step in January. The burden of proof is on you if you want to go through with this cockamamie scheme of yours. Changing the world’s weather for your own gain? You’re like a bad James Bond villain.
Congratulations for living into the Russian Bad Guy stereotype, and for being the most ill-informed individual on Earth on the subject of environmental science.
Somebody please stop this guy, because nobody should be monkeying with the weather for any reason whatsoever, whether Yury likes it or not.