‘Weathermodifications by China need more discussions on its ethics’
29th Jul, 2022
China has conducted over half a million weather-modification operations during the last two decades and it is raising ethical and social issues.
What is the issue?
- China's stubbornness to play with the environmental phenomenon is not hidden from the world. It has conducted over half a million weather-modification operations between 2002 and 2012, but now the operations have raised ethical and social issues.
- From artificial rain to artificial snowfall, the list can go on. It has left no environmental component where its intrusion is not evident.
Past claims and events of China:
- Weather-modification program: In 2020, Beijing said it would expand its weather-modification program to generate artificial rain or snowfall over an area exceeding 5.5 million square kilometres — more than1.5 times the total size of India.
- The authoritarian regime has made the weather-modification program in China even faster and more dramatic.
- Beijing Olympics, 2008: China used weather modification to prevent rainfall.
- China’s cloud seeding: China has been conducting regular cloud seeding around Shiyangin Hebei Province to supply water to the north — Greater Beijing Region, which is critical for the country.
- It allegedly caused a blizzard in 2009, resulting in extensive damage, economic loss, and a few deaths.
- The weather modification is fixed in Shiyang. Cloud seeding is regularly done to produce enough water to transfer to Beijing.
- Solar geoengineering: China is doing intensive solar geoengineering research, which requires global attention.
- Tianhe (“Sky River”): Qinghai-Tibet plateau, Asia’s biggest freshwater reserve. Chinese scientists are working on the ambitious Tianhe (“Sky River”) plan to divert water vapour northwards from the Yangtze River basin to the Yellow River basin, where it would become rainfall.
What is weather modification?
- Weather modification (also known as weather control) is the act of intentionally manipulating or altering the weather.
- The most common form of weather modification is cloud seeding, which increases rain or snow, usually to increase the local water supply.
- Weather modification can also have the goal of preventing damaging weather, such as hail or hurricanes, from occurring; or of provoking damaging weather against the enemy, as a tactic of military or economic warfare like Operation Popeye, where clouds were seeded to prolong the monsoon in Vietnam.
United Nations on Weather Modification
- Weather modification in warfare has been banned by the United Nations under the Environmental Modification Convention.
- The Environmental Modification Convention (ENMOD), formally the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques is an international treaty prohibiting the military or other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects.
- Status: The Convention is signed by 48 States, of which 16 have not ratified it. India ratified this convention on December 15, 1978.
- North Yemen became the first state to deposit the treaty on 20 July 1977. The treaty came into force and closed for signature on October 5, 1978.
- Compliance: Article V of the Convention provides for a consultation mechanism to solve any problem arising in relation to the objectives and the application of the provisions of the Convention.
Ethical Issues related to Environmental Modifications:
- Any action pertaining to Environmental Modifications confronts serious ethical issues of fairness and responsibility across individuals, nations, generations, and the rest of nature.
- The Climatic changesoriginating from the environmental modificationsare dominantly intergenerational. This “perfect moral storm” poses a profound challenge to humanity. It brings together three major challenges to ethics:
- The tragedy of the commons:The 'tragedy of the commons refers to the situation when individuals, acting rationally in their own self-interest, nonetheless act irrationally as a collective group by irreparably depleting a resource that is owned in common. China’s action is a potential example of 'the tragedy' on a global scale.
- Skewed Vulnerabilities: For many of the most vulnerable countries and people who are not a part of China’s actions regarding weather modification, appears to be seriously unfair and casts a notable shadow over the champions of environmental justice.
- Intergenerational Ethics: Intergenerational ethics, also called obligations to future generations, branch of ethics that considers if present-day humanity has a moral obligation to future generations to aim for environmental sustainability.
Can China Use Weather as a Weapon?
- China has a long history of establishing dominance over natural resources through gigantic engineering projects and using them as strategic assets, for example, the Three Gorges Dam.
- India is dependent on the river that follows the Tibetan plateau, China’s weather modification program in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau portends more challenges.
- Analysis of satellite images that showed how China has been altering the Galwan river’s ecosystem to gain an upper hand in the Galwan region and so it won’t be much of a surprise if project Tianhe starts disturbing the ecosystem, weather, environment changes in the Indian states of bordering neighboring Indian states of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand as well as Union Territory of Ladakh and gain political mileage over the region.
Silence of global community overWeather Modifications:
- Weather modification occurs in the air, where there are no boundaries. This impacts international politics and we need more imagination to deal with geopolitics.
- It is debatable in terms of international issues because there is no good global setting to discuss it. China conducts weather modifications and the consequences are felt in neighbouring nations, it can cause conflicts.
- So, more research is needed and more dialogues between countries need to be conducted as soon as possible.
- It is also important to note that the UN in 1976 passed the ENMOD Conventionwhich prohibits military or any other hostile use of Environmental Modification Techniques and China is a participating member. This makes it more important, and the global community must start considering it more seriously than ever.
Impacts of weather modifications
- Weather modifications have both physical and social science dimensions:Scientists have different views about these dimensions.
- A lot of research has been done about the physical dimension. The social science dimension deserves more attention. For example, excess snow produced from cloud seeding can result in deaths, triggering a human-induced disaster.
- Conflict of interests: there is a correlation with ecological modernization, where technology is regarded as the best solution to environmental problems but at the time the technology in the lack of data acts as a precursor to man-made disasters. The authoritarian regime in China can control the viewpoints of all scientists.
- Some people regard geo-engineering as a quick solution to climate change. There is nothing wrong while looking at weather modification as an extension of geo-engineering, but swinging like a pendulum in either direction.
- Earth's system is very dynamic:It is not like conducting experiments in a laboratory. So, we need more research to make it more precise. We also need more space for discussions on the social consequences and moral or ethical issues.
The actions of China in weather modifications have no territorial limits. The mighty Brahmaputra floods its banks every year. Earlier, the floods that come “normally” around June, started as early as April. They will also leave later- floods now last for six months. The ethical question arises, who should be held responsible for such disastrous environmental phenomenon across the globe.
Weather-Modifications in the backdrop of geoengineering raise questions about its consequences. Extensive research, data sharing, and global cooperation are needed to answer questions on who will benefit from it, who will suffer and how to compensate those who do.