The Case of Artificial Rain-Making

Considerable publicity and fan-fare was accorded to the recent experiments in artificial rain-making undertaken in the vicinity of Madras by an American firm. Atmospherics Incorporated of California, at the behest of the Tamil Nadu Government. The firm was employed by the Tamil Nadu Government to artificially induce rainfall in catchment areas of the reservoirs feeding. Madras city in order to tide over the acute water shortage faced by the city—the whole project believed to be costing around Rs. 60 laths. Side-by-side with the great interest shown by the entire government machinery and the wide publicity provided by the news-media, the event also evoked a certain amount of controversy and criticism. While being doubtless insignificant in comparison with other projects involving foreign technology like Atomic Energy, Oil Exploration, Thermal Power Plant etc., the current rain-making experiment is of interest in as much as it serves almost like a text-book example of just where the problem" lies in the Third-World's attempts to solve its problems using modern S and T borrowed from the West. It brings out the nature and ideology of modern S and T, the manner in which modern S and T develop in and the role that it plays in the Third World. The present, article deals with these aspects of modern S and T taking the artificial rain-making "experiment, merely as an illustration.

Modern S and T in the West:

Like much else of modern- S and T, the theory and practice of artificial rain-making was born in the laboratories of a giant multi-national corporation: it began with the work of Schaefer of General Electric Company, USA. In 1946, on the process of nucleation and condensation of liquid droplets from vapor-phase. Influential scientists like the Nobel laureate Langmuir enthusiastically supported and promoted the work which was seen to have many promising applications like enhancing rainfall in areas where natural precipitation was scanty, * inhibiting the formation of tornados and hurricanes or altering their courses, clearing fog over airport runways, etc. Ready availability of aircraft, radar and communication equipment, then gave birth to the technology of 'seeding' from the air. Soon there were a number of Universities, Government agencies and private companies engaged in research and development work on weather- modification projects. The Department of Defense was not far behind in seeing distinct possibilities, and started its own classified investigations— a new form of war-fare, the 'weather-war' was being born. Undoubtedly, the developments also resulted in a lot of pure-science, like thermodynamics of nucleation and crystal-growth etc. AH these activities soon combined to produce a reasonably well-defined technology of precipitation enhancement that started claiming a success of about 15-20% increased average rainfall due to cloud seeding using aircraft.

Side-by-side with these developments, a certain voice, though feeble, of questioning, criticism and protest also began to be heard mostly from politically conscious groups, environmental activists, etc. They were worried about the consequences and implications of this technology which had been poorly investigated and understood. Apprehensions were voiced "about the large-scale and long-term implications of tampering with natural processes at such scales, particularly when there existed only a fragmentary understanding of such processes.* Legal and ethical issues had hardly been attended to. Serious charges were leveled in public that the technology was being used for war-fare and that the USA had already employed it in Southeast Asia to cause drought and flood. .The debate at times led to litigations, demonstrations and protests against artificial weather-modification activities. Some States in the USA passed laws putting a blanket ban on all attempts at artificial weather modification, even in the U. S. Congress a bill was moved asking for a nationwide ban on all such activities.

None of these however had any serious impact on those who were responsible for taking 'decisions regarding the use of this technology. The very fact that a technology had been fully developed and ready for use itself becomes a force. The strongest argument in favor of its use now becomes that its alleged ill-effects have not been clearly demonstrated. And given a process as complex as weather-modification, 'the arguments can go on indefinitely. And remembering that one is pitted against powerful financial lobbies like private enterprises, armed forces and the government, and almost the whole of scientific and technological community, the position appears hopeless. The way modern societies function, the public becomes aware of a technology only when it has been developed and has already been backed by powerful interests (particularly the war-machinery).'

As for the S and T Community, which is involved with its development, it has hardly any concern beyond that 'doing a good job of it', no matter what it’s broader implications be. Much worse, it even comes up with philosophical justifications such as 'quest for knowledge', 'mastery over' nature' etc.

Modern S and T in the Third World

As in other areas like Nuclear Energy or Space attempts had begun in India quite early to master the new Technology of artificial rain-making: Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology at Poona started experimenting with the various techniques.

Perhaps due to paucity of the required technological back up, all efforts were not concentrated tm air-borne cloud-seeding using Silver Iodide (as was mostly the case in the west) ground based seeding; and seeding using different materials etc., were investigated. Like in other areas of S and T activity, our scientists were sent abroad to learn the latest developments, papers were presented in national and international conferences, evaluation reports were prepared, Universities joined in, and soon, the whole thing began to' look like what was going on in Western countries. .

But when it came to applying this technology for a- practical purpose, the decision (by the Tamil Nadu Government this time) automatically was to get it from abroad — in 1975 as well as in 1983. The decision surely invited criticisms of various kinds: Corruption at some levels was suspected because the contract was given in 1983 to the same American firm that had done these experiments unsuccessfully in 1975. Some of our own meteorologists have come out openly against the recent experiments by the American firm on grounds that the technique, they are using is not the suitable one and that our meteorologists have not been consulted before making the decision. (It is evident that many more of them would have come out openly against it-but for the rules and regulations governing their service). Then there was the view that the personnel, know-how and facilities available in our country are adequate to do these experiments and that there was no need to import foreign technology. These charges and criticisms are by now quite familiar because they occur almost routinely every time a technology is imported from abroad. And given the relatively small amount of funding involved in this whole project, it has not even created a minor stir this time. But even where a stir did develop, as in some other major controversies of similar nature, it has been the case that nothing much more than exposing some corruption there, some bungling here etc, has been achieved. Surely, downright corruption and bungling can perhaps be exposed and even checked by a vigilant public opinion. But it is almost certain that votaries of indigenous modern S and T may still lose at the end and this time, on the basis of 'scientific' considerations themselves, like 'efficiency', 'reliability', etc. It is a situation where, going by the norms that both sides have agreed upon namely that the best or the only solution to all our problems lies, in the wholesale application of the latest modern Western S & T, that 'Catching up with the West' is the objective of’ all our scientific, technological and developmental activities, etc—the votaries of the indigenous modern S & T are invariably bound to lose.

There are many more aspects of this episode that are so typical of the way in which the third world utilizes Western S and T. Typical is the way in which the issue is projected before the public. The enthusiasm shown by the entire government machinery starting from the Chief-Minister downwards and the publicity provided by the news-media, almost elevated the American technicians to the level of mythological 'rainmakers' capable of creating rain by the magic of their technology. An impression was created that the Government is seriously interested in solving the water-problem faced by the people and that it is doing everything humanly possible in that direction after all, has it not arranged for the ultimate American technology handled by Americans themselves to work for the good of our people? If even this does not solve our problems, the government surely cannot be blamed for it!

What was not explained .clearly is that the technology of precipitation enhancement has no such magical effects, that it cannot cause rainfall unless conditions for natural rainfall are ripe, that it is still at an experimental stage with poor reliability and reproducibility, that even the 10-20% increased rainfall claimed is some sort of .average taken over a large number of trials conducted over a period of years, that any given experiment may even lead to decrease in rainfall, that the particular technique employed by the American firm is only one of the many that could be attempted, and so' on. Also hidden from the public were the facts that nothing much is known about the consequences of such experiments in the neighboring regions as t well as in the' long-term, that tampering with natural processes at such scales could have unforeseen and grave consequences, that the issues are controversial and are being debated in the West itself,' and so on. Also forgotten quietly was the fact that drought conditions exist throughout Tamil Nadu, that the solution being attempted for Madras cannot possibly be extended over other regions, and that the problem of an integrated water management for the whole region has to be addressed to in fundamentally different ways. Instead of all this, have we had the spectacle of the Chief Secretary who takes a ride in the seeding aircraft and on return promptly declares that the seeding has been successful, when it is well known in the scientific community that one of the most difficult aspects of artificial rain-making is to decide just when the experiment has been successful!

Modern S and T has become the latest gimmick in the hands of the Third World Governments. The technology of Atmospherics Incorporated, California with its modern aircraft, microwave radar, electronically ignited Silver-Iodide candles burning brightly etc., is intended to keep the people dazed and spell bound! In the hands' of the Third World Governments, modern S & T takes on the form of a magic a magical cure for all the problems of the people. Its philosophy and approach perfectly suits the needs of the Third World Governments which are only interested in looking for dramatic and short term methods of tiding over a given crisis cloud-seeding for rain making chemical fertilizers for land, protein capsules and vitamin- pills for malnutrition, atomic energy for power-generation, and so on-only to land themselves in a I multiplicity of new crises.

The Ideology of Modern sand T

What was the crisis which called for cloud-seeding? The people of Madras were not getting as much water as they wanted a circumstance arising out of a Whole sequence of events and developments involving complex and connected human and natural processes and phenomena. When modern S and T is confronted with such a crisis, it identifies the problem as being one of the clouds not yielding enough rain, and comes up with cloud-seeding as the solution. The cloud (Nature) becomes the villain of the piece—it is trying to deny us adequate water. Now surely, when one interferes in and tampers with a phenomenon as complex and connected and poorly understood as weather (on which is dependent all life on earth), there are likely to be consequences quite unforeseen, and we may be triggering of a Whole series of newer problems and crises. But having once identified the air-borne cloud-seeding as the solution, there is no looking back on it, and all subsequent attempts are only directed at 'perfecting' this 'solution' and trying to deal with the newer problems that this 'solution' is throwing up. The power and potency of modern S and T lies in the fact that it is able to come up with a solution immediately, a solution that certainly works as far as that part of the phenomenon it is dealing with is concerned—analgesics certainly reverie the headache immediately, chemical fertilizers certainly boost the yield from the land immediately, and so on. Much of its success is traceable to the way in which modern S and T is blind to the essential connectedness of all phenomena, and deals with isolated parts as thought they were the whole.

Another aspect of modern S and T is that it can work, if at all it does, only over a limited area. Tamil Nadu Government could be fascinated by cloud-seeding because it could 'see' the 'problem' as one getting more water to Madras City. Even if this technique worked and the Government wanted to employ it for the whole of Tamil Nadu, the resources required are clearly beyond its reach — modern S and T is tailor-made to suit concentrated, urban needs. Even apart from the desirability of it, it is evidently unfeasible that these urban-oriented technologies could be duplicated to serve the needs of the Third world people. That modern S and T has been employed on a large scale in the West for meeting its needs, has undoubtedly lots to do with the wide margin with which the West is operating, thanks to its having colonized the entire world and monopolized all their resources. Evidently what the Third World needs is not such an exploitative S and T—an S and T that only multiplies our problems indefinitely and calls their subsequent solutions as progress. What we need is a new S and T. That this new S and T should be just and equitable though it may be less 'glamorous' and 'powerful' (because it does not provide instant solutions that work immediately), is a situation that only a new value-system and world-outlook can accommodate.

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