by: Wes Ishmael

Pagan sacrifices.

Burning forests.

Detonating bombs.

Shooting at clouds.

Those are just a few ways folks have tried to prove Mark Twain wrong over time. He's the one who famously remarked that everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it.

In fact, entire nations have tried to do plenty.

According to the Texas Weather Modification Association (TWMA), “The first hint of the potential of human activity to alter the behavior of clouds came just after the Civil War, when civil engineer Edward Powers made the observation that rainstorms often occurred where major battles between Union and Confederate troops were waged. The immense smoke, dust, and other particulate matter put into the air during conflict seemed to invigorate clouds to rain more.”

During World War II, innovative G.I.s figured out that if they could build fires big enough, close enough to runways, they could burn off fog so planes could land.

Back in the 1960's the U.S. seeded clouds over the Ho Chi Minh trail in an effort to extend the monsoon season and slow the enemy during the Vietnam war. The subsequent furor, when the nation and the world learned about Operation Popeye, spawned the mid-1970's United Nations Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques.

So there.

Since and in between, individuals and nations have worked hard at modifying the weather for civilian purposes, too.

China made the loudest ruckus recently with its guarantee of a rain-free opening Olympics ceremony in Beijing, thanks to that nation's formidable investment in weather modification apparatus and know-how. The opening festivities were indeed dry. Then again, drought there has also made for one of lousiest projected Chinese corn crops in recent memory.

Speaking of which, according to TWMA, “Weather Modification has been tried since 1891 in Texas; the first attempt was by patent attorney Robert Dyrenforth, who was given a $2,000 grant by the U.S. Congress to do a series of rain making experiments near Midland. Severe droughts have driven the need for weather modification since its beginning, and the current attempt is no exception.” TWMA has eight state chapters. You want to go seeding clouds in Texas; you also need a license, by the way.

According to a paper a few years back from the Committee on the Status and Future Directions in U.S Weather Modification Research and Operations at the National Research Council (NRC), “Operational weather modification programs, which primarily involve cloud seeding activities aimed at enhancing precipitation or mitigating hail fall, exist in more than 24 countries, and there were at least 66 operational programs being conducted in 10 states across the United States in 2001. No federal funding currently is supporting any of these operational activities in the United States. Despite the large number of operational activities, less than a handful of weather modification research programs are being conducted worldwide. After reaching a peak of $20 million per year in the late 1970s, support for weather modification research in the United States has dropped to less than $500,000 per year.”

Budget cuts are taking a bite out of some of those operational activities, too, especially when no one can really prove that weather modification works dependably if at all. At best, it seems one of those sciences that comes up short of exact.

Consider cloud seeding. In simple terms, you drop silver iodide or dry ice into clouds, providing more stuff for moisture to attach to and hopefully fall from the sky. Aside from other essentials, cloud seeding requires, well, clouds, which are often scarce during droughts when weather modification would be most useful.

In the aforementioned NRC paper: “The committee concludes that there still is no convincing scientific proof of the efficacy of intentional weather modification efforts. In some instances there are strong indications of induced changes, but this evidence has not been subjected to tests of significance and reproducibility…”

That's why the caterwauling over presumed global warming is such a logical puzzlement. If man can't change the weather, and if the climate is just the amalgamation of weather over a specific period of time, it would seem he can't do much to change the climate, either.

That's before considering the fact that since roughly the turn of the new century the global temperature has flat-lined or declined steeply, depending on which temperature data you look at.

At least Al Gore and his Flat Earth brethren can take solace in the fact that they're last in a long line of climatological doomsayers. If you're old enough you might remember when the eco-craze kicked off in the early 1970's. At that time, it was global cooling that had everyone in an uproar. It was all that darned hair spray and other consumer aerosols went the pseudo-logic, punching holes in the ozone, allowing too much heat to escape, ushering in a new ice age.

That scare borrowed from legitimate concerns a few years earlier about the nuclear winter that might ensue if some Cold War nut case started pushing buttons.

All told, there's no telling how many times in history one climate disaster or another was supposed to be just around the corner.

Each time, where science and physical efforts fail, it seems like folks with a bone to pick can always fill the gap with legislation. This time around, it's all of the Green House Gas regulations, trading away lots for nothing in return. Incidentally, it's at least slightly odd that ponzi schemes are illegal but cap and trade is not.

A dozen years ago or so, when the global warming debate was reaching full cry, and the pretentiously named Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was becoming the darling of eco-maniacs, I chatted with an Ivy League meteorologist embroiled in the debate. Turned out he was a world renowned expert and part of the panel. He was a dark horse on the committee, though, who wasn't buying into the Chicken Little theories of imminent doom. He related his frustrations with the politics at play within the panel, helped me understand which data was credible and not.

“So, with all of the research, what do we know about global warming?” I asked. He told me, “We know that global temperatures have increased at times in history and we know that global temperatures have declined at other times in history.”

That's it.



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