Who Owns the Weather by Manu Luksch & Mukul Patel is a process-driven video and print installation that uses participatory processes of discussion and reenactment to provoke questioning of the issues of weather management and modification. Research outcomes will be published online.
Weather is a highly localized phenomenon that is very difficult to predict precisely over timeframes longer than a few days, and almost impossible to control, except to a limited degree. Sophisticated instrumentation and modelling have made forecasting over limited regions and 2-3 day periods both quite precise and accurate, but predictive ability is poorer over 15-30 day periods, though over the longer term, some accuracy returns (because oceanic cycles become a stronger determining factor than the very complex atmospheric processes). Since antiquity humans have attempted to control the weather, and since the 1990s they have developed highly abstract financial instruments to reduce their exposure to its effects.
Control of the weather is a universal dream, as evidenced by mythologies and widespread rituals. The modification of weather by scientific methods began in the mid-20th century, with promises to control precipitation, disperse fog, suppress hail, redirect lightning strikes and divert storms. From 1967 to 1972, the US military used cloud seeding to boost monsoon rains over Laos, in an effort to make enemy supply routes impassable. Today, while weather modification operations are carried out extensively in many countries, they are generally limited to local fog dispersal and cloud seeding with silver iodide crystals to boost rain- or snowfall in specific regions. Despite the scale of some of these efforts (notably in China), there is controversy about efficacy, and little ongoing scientific research. Many questions in atmospheric physics remain open; there are ecological issues (both local, eg. caused by the seeding agents, and distant / long term effects) and serious legal and moral questions (eg., does cloud seeding entail theft of water from a downwind neighbour – in short, who owns the weather?). And while the use of weather modification as a weapon of war is prohibited by international conventions, the possibility of its use – assuming that it works – must be faced. On a more positive note, given sufficient research, weather modification has the potential to radically ameliorate the precarious situation of populations in drought- and flood-prone regions.
Managing Weather Risk
Utility companies, agribusiness, transportation systems, construction, the leisure industry (ski, golf) and retail (eg., clothing) all are exposed to weather-related risks. US Government economists estimate that up to one-third of the US economy is sensitive to the weather. While insurance covers catastrophic but low-probability events, it is only since the late 1990s that corporations have been managing the effects of moderate but more common events and trends, such as unseasonably cool summers or below-average snowfall. The financial instruments of weather derivatives can help corporations manage their exposure to weather conditions whose effects on demand cannot be adequately compensated for by pricing. And unlike insurance, weather derivatives pay out when the index (of rainfall, temperature, etc.) hits a threshold, without the buyer needing to prove damages through claims procedures. The weather derivatives market was born in 1997 after deregulation of the US energy industry, when energy resellers realised that they were exposed to dramatic volatility in demand related to weather. A hedge was needed against the weather events that drove energy demand, and the first instrument was structured in a transaction between Koch Industries Inc., and Enron Corp. based on a temperature index for Milwaukee in such a way that Enron would pay Koch each day the temperature fell below normal (per degree), while Koch would pay for every degree above normal on warmer days. Then in 1999, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange introduced exchange-traded weather futures and options on futures based on temperature indices. The market for providers of weather-related risk and information services is booming, and this growth will continue with the increasing volatility of local weather (widely agreed to be an effect of global climate change), and the reduced manoeuverability of corporations following the credit crunch.