Rain by Cloud Seeding: A Technology of the Past?

Post by Nicolas Chabert, J.D. expected May 2018, Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University.

Scientific advances in the 1940s led us to modify the weather at will: the use of solid carbon dioxide (dry ice) and silver iodide can delay, eliminate or produce precipitation or snow, [and allow] the modification of large sections of the atmosphere.

Assumed benefits of this technology include the elimination of hailstorms, dispersion of clouds and fogs, production of rain and snow, amelioration or diversion of hurricanes and storms, as well as the reduction of snow, suppression of lightning, and large scale circulation modification. Despite proponents’ claims that cloud seeding is inoffensive, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization

supports sound science practices in weather modification research,” reports there are more than fifty nations currently operating “hundreds of weather modification projects,” and warns cloud seeding is an emerging technology with inherent uncertainties that require “programmes of focused research” to better understand its effects.

The Safety Data Sheet for Silver Iodide, the Category 2 Chemical mostly used for cloud seeding in the past 70 years, warns that contact may cause skin irritation, serious eye damage or irritation and

damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure, … skin rash, running nose, headache and irritation of the mucous membranes.

The effects of cloud seeding on the environment are uncertain, and such operations possibly cause environmental prejudice beyond a targeted operational area. The Convention on Biodiversity recognizes that states have a

responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

Liability may thus be incurred by a country engaged in weather manipulation that destroys life and property in a foreign state, or

injury or damage … caused by weather modification activities executed in an area not subject to the jurisdiction of any nation (e.g., over the high seas).

The Environmental Modification Convention (“ENMOD”) is an international treaty of unlimited duration crafted to prohibit environmental modification by the military or for hostile or destructive purposes. ENMOD, however, is limited to environmental modification in armed conflict. There is currently no dedicated international regulation of weather modification for non-hostile use in peacetime.

Instead of dispersing pollutants in our atmosphere to produce rain, we have a duty to develop clean technologies such as the WaterSeer, a device that “pulls water from the air,” or MIT’s fog harvesting mesh. The international community has a duty to promote conservation and ecological technology, encourage improved agricultural practices (such as drip irrigation), and formulate a regulatory device to improve, standardize, and possibly terminate cloud seeding programs globally.

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