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China is controlling its weather

A snow machine pumping out powder for the Beijing Winter Olympics. Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty

China is planning to control the weather during next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, says Steven Zeitchik in The Washington Post. It’s turning an estimated 49 million gallons of water into fake snow, which will create the “surreal spectacle” of snowy ski and snowboard runs snaking down brown hills. But its meteorological interventions may also “take on a more cosmic cast. The government could step in to try to create rain, disperse storms and even turn the sky blue.”

The Chinese Communist Party has form here. Departments like the Beijing Weather Modification Office have been known to use “cloud-seeding” – firing silver iodide-filled shells and rockets into clouds to trigger rainfall – to clear the air before important conferences. It did just that for the opening ceremony of the 2008 summer Games to stop clouds reaching the roofless Bird’s Nest stadium. On a far bigger scale is its “massive cloud-seeding operation over the Tibetan Plateau meant to irrigate China’s arid north”. No one yet knows what the environmental consequences of such an enormous programme might be. Then there’s the possibility of China using cloud-seeding as a geopolitical tool – preventing rain from falling on neighbouring countries, say. Turning weather into an exploitable resource could open a new, controversial front in global politics.

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