Controlling hurricanes could save lots of lives and dollars. According to a study published in by climate physicist Daniel Rosenfeld, adding dust to Hurricane Katrina's base could have weakened the storm and sent it spinning away from New Orleans.

However, few scientists believe these new ideas will be tried outside the computer lab anytime soon. The problem isn't the science. It's the lawyers. A manipulated storm could destroy towns that otherwise might not have been hit - leading to legal liability issues regardless whether the storm was weakened, or pushed away from a major city. Even if 'Hurricane Control' technology would be robust, who decides where to direct a storm?

'Hurricane Control' perfectly illustrates how the cultivation of old nature leads to unexpected new menace: The natural disaster ceases to exist, but it is replaced by a political threat.

Now that the scientific papers are published, conspiracy theories are expected to follow soon. Let's face it: the idea that Hurricane Katrina was secretly guided away from Florida towards New Orleans is rather tempting if you look at the pictures of its path.

I want to emphasize that I do not believe this theory holds; scientist just aren't far enough. However this newspaper story (pdf), in which one of the hurricane scientists describes how in one early experiment, lawyers advised them to keep silent about their cloud-seeding activities after a storm with which they had been tinkering swerved and battered South Carolina, is rather disturbing to say the least.

Will 'natural disasters' soon be exclusively for the poor and powerless?

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  • The tragic events caused by the weekend Cyclone in Myanmar made me re-look at this story. Death toll has risen over 22.000 people, but politics goes on. President Bush joined a chorus of international leaders urging Myanmar's reclusive military government to allow the flow of aid. "We are prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who have lost their lives, to help find the missing, and help stabilize the situation." "But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country," Bush said.

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  • I think it was Ghandi who said that "with everything you do, you have to consider the least privileged". Let that be our motto for hurricane control.

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  • Might be worthwhile to do some research on the historical distribution of 'natural' disasters in correlation with the financial wealth and political power for various regions of the world?

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  • American courts have been ruling on weather modification since at least the late 1800s, when a judge decided that a preacher who ad prayed for rain wasn’t liable for the thunderbolt that razed his neighbor’s barn in the ensuing storm. (The preacher had rayed only for rain, said the court, not for lightning.)

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