Fifty-two years ago today, US president John F Kennedy announced at the 1961 United Nations General Assembly a proposition to implement schemes that could effectively predict and control global weather patterns.
His position was a united front: “We shall propose further cooperative efforts between all nations in weather prediction and eventually weather control.”
The techniques he was proposing had in fact already begun, for in April of the previous year the solar powered TIROS satellite was launched into orbit from Cape Canaveral on a mission to relay back images of cloud formations. The voyage was reported as a great success and an innovation that “opens up new vistas for weather forecasting and control”.
In this sense, the term ‘control’ is referred to as a step toward benefitting mankind by discovering methods to lessen the effects of natural disasters or improve the stability of economic sectors that are heavily influenced by weather.
The advancements in weather forecasting and prediction are common place in everyday life and are often for granted. However, the concept of weather manipulation and control is an almost unknown subject. As such, there is a very limited knowledge of the extent of geoengineering projects that have been employed in our atmosphere.
Projects such as ‘cloud seeding’ are among the most commonly admitted to, for the effort to either intensify or nullify precipitation in areas of drought or flood by the spraying of silver iodide has the potential to be used for a great amount of good. However the unknown side of asserting influence on the weather extends far beyond the realms of rainfall and has always been ordained to have military applications.
In 1958, before Kennedy’s speech, the US military announced success in weather modification by sending powerful electromagnetic beams into the upper atmosphere, using ionospheric heaters similar to the ones used at the HAARP instillation. The facility defines itself as “a scientific endeavour aimed at studying the properties and behaviour of the ionosphere, with particular emphasis on being able to understand and use it to enhance communications and surveillance systems for both civilian and defence purposes.”
The HAARP technology has enormous capabilities for weather manipulation and its development was not prevented by the 1976 UN Weather Weapons Treaty – the Convention on the prohibition of military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques. This defined weather weapons as “environmental modification techniques”, encompassing “any technique for changing – through the deliberate manipulation or natural processes – the dynamics, composition or structure of the Earth.”
This treaty prohibited the hostile use of modification; however provisions were made if the applications are for “peaceful purposes”. The 1996 USAF document, Owning the weather in 2025, promises are made that “weather-modification can provide battle-pace dominance to a degree never before imagined” – a comment that could be directed towards the ionospheric heating facility, HAARP.
Even the beneficial cloud seeding has been used by the military, though. In Vietnam, ‘Project Popeye‘ was a weather modifying operation to cause constant rain in an effort to turn all roads into flooded water ways. It was finally admitted by the US Air Force that 2,600 cloud seeding flights were made during the manoeuvre.
HAMP (Hurricane Aerosol Micro-Physics) has attempted “to test the effects of aerosols on the structure and intensity of hurricanes” to better understand and predict hurricanes in an effort to diminish their power before they make landfall.
In a paper entitled Aerosol Effects and Microstructure on the Intensity of Tropical Cyclones, included in the July 2012 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, the authors concluded, “We recommend that hurricane reconnaissance and research airplanes are equipped with aerosol and cloud physics instruments and fly patterns that will allow such measurements.”
Also in HAMP’s final report, the authors said, “The effects of aerosols should be taken into account in the prediction of TC intensity”, and, “The HAMP hypothesis that the introduction of small aerosol particles into the clouds act as CCN [cloud condensation nuclei] and can weaken the storm intensity is supported.”
The realistic outcome of climate change is a rise in frequency in more extreme weather patterns, as increased water temperatures give an enhanced injection of energy, culminating in more violent storms. Hurricane Sandy is an example of such; described at the worst storm in 100 years and suggested by conspiracy theorists to ‘coincidentally’ coincide with Barack Obama’s election win. Could it have been the result of weather control or exacerbated by our influence on the climate?
Weather manipulation is a largely unregulated practice and even though conspiracy stories about manmade freak weather events are abound, evidence for such experiments is highly contested. The true limits and effects of man’s control of our unpredictable weather system are as yet unknown.
Jamie Mitchell is originally from Cambridge and studied English at the University of Lincoln. He graduated with a upper second class honours degree in 2013. His interests include renewable energy, climate change and sustainable living.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family
When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?
What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?
As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.
Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.
5 Good Options
As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:
1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country
Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.
2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.
3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.
4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.
5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel
If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?
Putting it All Together
You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.
You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.
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