Rain Theft

At one point in my life I was crazy about science fiction. I avoided the swashbucklers and the flying dragons for the most part, but read just about everything else. I remember how depressing I found John Brunner's books, especially Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up -- which imagined a near-future of deadly over-crowding, pollution, and almost non-existent resources. I must go back and read them again, I think: things that are happening now keep reminding me of him. Here's an example which is especially poignant to me, in this country on the knife-edge between barely enough water, and drought. (The latest Union Budget includes a big seawater-desalination project for Chennai, but when and whether it will actually materialise is a very open question.):

Cities fall out over cloud

Chinese meteorologists are accusing each other of what could prove to be one of the defining crimes of the 21st century: rain theft.

The use of cloud-seeding guns, rockets and planes to induce rainfall has created tensions between drought-plagued regions, which are competing to squeeze more drops out of the sky than their equally arid neighbours.


"The practice has caused considerable controversy in recent days, with some saying that one area's success with rain has meant taking moisture meant for one place and giving it to another," China Daily reported yesterday.

The paper cited the case of central Henan province, where five arid cities are racing each other to induce precipitation. When clouds passed over the area last Saturday, Pingdingshan enjoyed a downpour of more than 100mm, but Zhoukou had to make do with less than 30mm. Meteorological officials in Zhoukou accused their counterparts in Pingdingshan of intercepting and overusing clouds.

Legal experts are now calling for the government to draft laws on cloud-farming, but scientists say the technology's effect is not yet clear enough to measure and regulate.(more)

(There have been some attempts at cloud-seeding in Tamil Nadu, but I don't know if they've ever succeeded. For one thing, you have to have clouds to seed; and they can't be blowing so quickly out to sea that they've passed over the land before the seeding takes effect; and so on.)

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