Can artificial weather events mitigate the air pollution problem? | Experts’ Opinions

ByCatalina Russu

Can artificial weather events mitigate the air pollution problem? | Experts’ Opinions

Air pollution is one of the most dangerous environmental risk factors affecting people’s health, regardless of where they live. To combat this phenomenon, several strategies have been implemented and tested, but with no notable results and air quality continuing to remain poor. However, a new potential solution has recently sparked curiosity: can artificial weather events dissipate toxins in the air? This theory became even more attractive after India began to use artificial solutions to combat extreme weather events. As a result, the quality of air has improved in the northern part of the country. If you are curious to find out what DevelopmentAid environmental experts think about this, check out the article below.

Key Takeaways:

  • The first attempt to modify natural clouds by “seeding” them occurred on November 13, 1946.
  • At the end of 2023, artificial rain was used for the first time in Pakistan as a way to combat high levels of pollution in the megacity of Lahore.
  • Experts debate the phenomenon in terms of the pros (temporary air purification, vegetation benefits, and emergency relief in severe pollution situations) and the cons (short-term impact, failure to address root causes, potential unintended consequences in ecosystems and weather patterns, etc.)
  • Some researchers warn that viewing artificial weather events as a silver bullet could also have ethical implications in the mother-nature.

DevelopmentAid:  Are artificial weather events a successful solution to air pollution? Please share your pros and cons in this regard.

Alexander Belyakov, PhD, Sustainability Excellence Professional, Consultant
Alexander Belyakov, PhD, Sustainability Excellence Professional, Consultant

“Artificial rain can help to dissipate toxins in the air to some extent. This process is achieved through cloud seeding. Silver iodide or potassium iodide is introduced into clouds to induce rain. When this induced rain falls, it can physically “wash” the air. There are some pros: cloud seeding can be used in emergencies or for temporary relief. Countries have already had this experience, and the technology is relatively inexpensive. However, there are many cons: a temporary improvement in air quality by reducing the concentration of airborne toxins is not a sustainable long-term solution. The chemicals used in the process can pose environmental and health risks. Therefore, cloud seeding should be part of a broader strategy that includes reducing emissions at the source and implementing strict environmental regulations, especially in view of climate change. Examples: artificial rain has been used in various contexts, including during emergencies such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Cloud seeding was reportedly deployed to prevent a radioactive cloud from reaching Moscow. Aircrafts released silver iodide into the clouds to accelerate rain formation, causing the radioactive cloud to precipitate its toxic contents earlier. However, this resulted in heavier radioactive deposition in Ukraine and Belarus, raising concerns about the Soviet Union’s ecocide politics and the long-term health impacts.”

Eduardo Pérez, International Project Director of Environmental and Natural Risks Assessment studies
Eduardo Pérez, International Project Director of Environmental and Natural Risks Assessment studies

“Since the topic is not well-studied and discussed, I have conducted brief research to shed at least some light on the matter. Among different references, I think that Haleem et al. (2023) provides a good overall view on the topic and the different artificial rain generation methods applied in countries such as the USA, China, India, and South Korea. Although I was surprised to read that artificial rain generation is a process that has been developed in those countries with a higher success rate than I had ever thought as possible, the conclusion transmitted in this paper is the “significant uncertainties regarding its effectiveness, predictability, and controllability” compared to natural rain effectiveness regarding air pollution reduction and drought alleviation. Consequently, my opinion is that artificial rain generation can never be understood as a sustainable way to reduce urban air quality problems, as adopting this strategy could result in putting aside the implementation of real long-term strategies that should always be focused on reducing the emission of polluting gases and dust particles from the source by implementing sustainable and resilient urban development in all its aspects.”

Vivian Meleka & Ruby Ranoa, International development experts
Vivian Meleka, International development expert
Ruby Ranoa, Sustainability Writer

“Cloud seeding has the theoretical potential to be helpful as a supplemental, cost-effective action during intense times of air quality distress such as Diwali, but poses many complications for its use as a long-term solution. For example, in early December last year, the cloud seeding event in Lahore, Pakistan did indeed suppress air pollutant levels, but they returned to their previous levels within a couple of days. Additionally, cloud seeding is only successful when there is ample cloud cover with enough moisture in the air already, thus making it an ineffective air pollution control measure year-round. The practice also poses significant weather-related dangers and has been linked to increases in urban flooding in the UAE, a deadly blizzard in China, and extreme flooding in the UK. Additionally, climate specialists have warned that the long-term effects of cloud seeding could include very dry conditions, deepening the effects of smog. Silver iodide, the most commonly used cloud seeding chemical, has been found to pose acute toxicity risks to organisms in soil and freshwater and has been linked to ozone layer depletion.”

Susana Serra, environmental engineer
Susana Serra, International Environmental Expert

“Cloud seeding, or inducing artificial rain, can indeed be a tool in the arsenal against air pollution, but I don’t believe it to be a silver bullet. The pros of this solution are easily spotted as in: air purification since it can help in settling dust and particulate matter leading to a temporary improvement in air quality; vegetation benefits, since it can positively impact vegetation, promoting plant growth and contributing to overall environmental health and even emergency measures in severe pollution situations to mitigate immediate risks. Nevertheless, the cons can surpass the pros since these solutions have a short-term impact (they don’t address the root causes of air pollution such as industrial emissions or vehicular pollution) and may have unintended consequences in ecosystems, water resources, and weather patterns. Moreover, these solutions tend to be cost and energy-intensive and raise ethical questions about playing with nature (who decides when and where to induce rain, and who bears the consequences?) While artificial weather events like cloud seeding can offer immediate relief, from my point of view, they should be seen as short-term emergency measures. Addressing the root causes of air pollution through sustainable, systemic changes remains the most effective long-term solution.”

See also: The significance of sustainable cities in advancing global development | Experts’ Opinions

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