September 27, 2010

Toth-Fejel: The politics and ethics of the weather machine

A tiny portion of a Hall Weather Machine
at 90,000 ft. This density may be
able to ameliorate global warming/cooling,
but would not be able to control weather.
A number of years ago, nanotechnology theorist J. Storrs Hall concieved of what is now called the Hall Weather Machine. It's exactly what it sounds like, an advanced system for controlling the weather:
The Hall Weather Machine is a thin global cloud consisting of small transparent balloons that can be thought of as a programmable and reversible greenhouse gas because it shades or reflects the amount of sunlight that hits the upper stratosphere. These balloons are each between a millimeter and a centimeter in diameter, made of a few-nanometer thick diamondoid membrane. Each balloon is filled with hydrogen to enable it to float at an altitude of 60,000 to 100,000 feet, high above the clouds. It is bisected by an adjustable sheet, and also includes solar cells, a small computer, a GPS receiver to keep track of its location, and an actuator to occasionally (and relatively slowly) move the bisecting membrane between vertical and horizontal orientations. Just like with a regular high-altitude balloon, the heavier control and energy storage systems would be on the bottom of the balloon to automatically set the vertical axis without requiring any energy. The balloon would also have a water vapor/hydrogen generator system for altitude control, giving it the same directional navigation properties that an ordinary hot-air balloon has when it changes altitudes to take advantage of different wind directions at different altitudes.
What's particularly impressive about the weather machine is that controlling a tenth of one percent of solar radiation is enough to force global climate in any direction we want. One percent is enough to change regional climate, and ten percent is enough for serious weather control.

The implications to remedial ecology, geoengineering, and technogaianism in general are profound, to say the least.

But as research engineer, and friend to the transhumanists, Tihamer Toth-Fejel notes in his article, "The Politics and Ethics of the Hall Weather Machine," managing the social and environmental implications of such a control system could prove to be tricky, if not completely untenable.

The weather machine could prove to be a disaster, either through misuse, abuse, or just plain ignorance.

For example, the global coordination of the reflective weather machine would allow for the bouncing of concentrated solar energy around the globe, making it possible to set cities on fire—the type of fire caused by dropping a nuclear bomb per second for as long as desired. As Toth-Fejel notes, "the potential for abuse is rather large." The temptation to weaponize such a device may be overwhelming. The whole project could start various arms races, including efforts to bring the entire system down.

In the article, Toth-Fejel considers a number of other scenarios and possible implications, both good and bad. Having a weather machine in place introduces a slew of fascinating implications, ranging from the environmental to the political. Toth-Fejel offers no easy answers or trite solutions, and instead uses the article the raise awareness about this important possibility.

Read more.


Ken said...

The reason this is a bad idea is that it assumes knowledge of weather cycles that we simply don't have. If you input power into a complex system such as Earth's how do you know when enough is enough? knowing the weather tomorrow, next week, or even next year isn't enough (and we don't even know that yet).

The problem is that you can disrupt the equilibrium points of our Earth system without even realizing it, until it is too late. At which point you are like someone trying to balance a ball on a pointed stick. You over compensate one way, then another, and finally you just lose it.

That is the problem with all such geo-engineering proposals, but I fear there is too much arrogance involved for people ot admit it.


samantha said...

I see no capacity in this system to "concentrate solar". There are no curved mirrors and nothing in the design to suggest the single units can be packed tightly enough to produce one. Also check the math on the focal point and the effect of boring through that much atmosphere. Even if you designed a system only for this it is very unlikely it could be made to work. If you believe this can be done then please show details of your optical model. The system is also not accurate enough to station keep that number of tiny mirror systems that precisely. At the most you could change night day cycles to some small degree.

Tihamer said...

Ken -
The reasons the weather is so unpredictable is because we now have *no* control input.
If we take a car out to the Bonneville salt flats, tie a car's steering wheel absolutely straight, and then put a brick on the pedal, we cannot predict whether it will eventually circle left or right. It, like the weather, has no control input. But we allow cars on the road all the time precisely because we have such good feedback and control systems.

Tihamer said...

You do not need curved mirrors to concentrate solar. Most solar-powered steam facilities use flat mirrors (e.g. see the pictures at The single units do not have to be packed tightly- they just need to do the simple angle calculation need to alight the central membrane in the correct angle so that the light is reflected in the desired direction. You don't station keep the system from a central station; the units do it themselves, using GPS (and inertial guidance for when someone takes out your GPS).