5 year plans are synonymous with the command economies of the 20th century and although the Chinese economy bares little resemblance to what it did 30 years ago, the government still uses these plans as part of their oversight of a mostly market economy. Their latest “Weather Intervention” plan seeks to intervene in the economy on a grand scale, although not in the usual sense!
China has long experimented with trying to control the weather, and even have a government department devoted to it - the Beijing Weather Modification Office. The newly released 2011 - 2015 plan aims to increase rainfall across the country by 10%. This “weather intervention” would bring an extra 230 billion cubic meters of precipitation per year via “cloud seeding” - the injection of silver iodide particles into the atmosphere which can be done through rockets or planes.
The goal is to increase food production, particularly in drought prone regions. Although population growth in China is very low, incomes are rising fast and the demand for grains and other foodstuffs continues to increase. According to China Daily, they have already had some success - in 2010 a major drought in central and eastern China led to an artificial precipitation effort that was purported to increase rainfall by 17 percent.
If this intervention in nature is successful, the implications for world food production could be staggering. If the technology is able to be replicated in drought prone countries then causing rainfall to increase crop production would surely be more cost-effective than providing aid. Food prices would fall and many countries might be able to lift their living standards significantly.
However, chaos theory and the classic “butterfly effect” of a butterfly flapping its wings over a flower in China causing hurricanes in the USA means caution should be exercised. In 2009, cloud seeding was blamed for a crippling snowstorm over Beijing. While increased cloud seeding may bring benefits, there may also be high costs to be paid as well.
In any case, the whole topic should provoke an interesting discussion on the possible winners (and losers) of successful weather intervention. And as New Zealand currently sloshes through one of its wettest summers in memory, the only type of weather intervention most of us want is one that reduces rain!
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