Weather Control: Urbanism, Utopia, and Military Futures
Newcastle University, Newcastle, UK
Weather control is a familiar object of pre-modern ritual and magical practices, but it also appears in one of the earliest works of science-fiction, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Here, however, rather than being directed toward renewal, it has become turned toward habitat destruction. The relevant section tells of the airborne island of Laputa, which levitates free of the terrestrial surface. Part parody of Francis Bacon’s scientific utopia The New Atlantis, Laputa is populated by scientists who live by exactions received from the unfortunate peoples over whose lands the island floats. If these tributes are withheld, Laputa hovers above the offenders, withholding light and rain and thus plunging them into drought and famine. This paper will reflect on contemporary technologies of – and aspirations for – weather control in relation to this long history. It will focus on the ever-increasing militarization of weather foreshadowed in Swift’s tale, announced in the military project to “own the weather”, and the concomitant privatization and commodification of what had hitherto seemed the very emblem of freedom, the air itself.
Ideas of weather control have a close relation to the history of utopian speculation where they often assume a remedial character. It is almost as if weather – at least in the imagination of northern white males – is alienation, or at least a fundamental expression thereof – and that to get back together again, to break the ice in whatever way we mean (with one another, with nature, with ourselves), we need to get the climate right. The paper will conclude by reflecting on the transformation of this imaginary in the era of atmospheric anxiety and privatized air, whereby we shift from de-differentiation to an urbanism of heightened atmospheric relations that increasingly take on the character of a commodity-form in their own right.