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Weather Wizards: Inside the Ongoing Effort to Master Mother Nature

Can science fight climate change by tinkering with the weather?

Last month, Cynthia Barnett, an unostentatious workhorse of an environmental journalist with an incredible track record for nailing issues of water security, released a new book that’s a bit of a departure from her previous works. Entitled Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, the tome is a curious exploration, not just of the science of rain, but what it means to us as a species on an emotive and anthropological level. A meditative and engrossing work of ranging non-fiction, peppered with fascinating anecdotes and solid insights, one of the most interesting sections of the book is on the little-known phenomenon of weather manipulation. Throughout history, people have sought to control their environment, and attempts to change the weather have come along with many of our breakthroughs in science and technology. And while the pursuit can claim a couple of partial successes, weather alteration is mostly characterized by a string of crazy failures and dangerous, unworkable ideas.

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A Plan to Save the Earth That Might Kill Us All

All it requires is billions of sunlight-reflecting particles, a time commitment of centuries, and not taking the phrase ‘moral hazard’ too seriously.

Photo by Max Lopez via DeviantArt

Two weeks ago, the US National Academies of Sciences (NAS) released a two-volume tome on geoengineering, a set of high-tech ideas that aim to alter the climate and thereby soften the brunt of climate change's blow. In the report, the 16 scientists who authored the project (which was partially financially backed by the CIA) conspicuously rebranded these controversial geoengineering activities as “climate intervention.” The name change to “intervention” from “engineering” connotes that the technique employs all the unpredictability of jumping between two inebriated yahoos duking it out in a fistfight and none of an engineer’s precise know-how. Though the report argues for more research on certain geoengineering practices, critics warn of unintended consequences, pointing to the unexplored moral, ethical, and philosophical quandaries such globe-altering technologies might produce.

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Tiny Tubes Could Absorb More Carbon Dioxide Than Trees

What if the best way to clean up the atmosphere isn't natural at all?


At Scotland's University of Edinburgh, researchers are developing a minuscule tube that can suck carbon dioxide out of the air. Each tube measures just 1 micrometer long by 1 nanometer in diameter, and a square meter of them could soak up as much carbon as 10 trees.

Eleanor Campbell, the professor leading the research, says the nanotube technology can replicate nature's work: “In some ways,” she said in a press release, “the unit would work like an artificial tree.” In fact, it has some advantages over trees: Nanotubes don’t die, they don’t require particular soil chemistries, they’re not sensitive to cold snaps, they don’t get confused and start blooming in November if the thermometer rises above 60 degrees. Campbell suggests one “key advantage” of the nanotubes is that they can be used in urban areas, “where tree planting is not possible.”

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