What Is The Legal Status Of The Weather?

People often laughingly ask why the English are so preoccupied with the weather.  Elaine Stritch once famously said, “If you don’t like the weather in England, wait a minute.”  If you lived somewhere where it’s been raining for the last nine months or so, you’d have an interest in it.  Also, of course, once every five or six years, it rains for a whole year, and then things get difficult.

This question occurred to me on the way to Under Tomorrow’s Sky in Eindhoven.  Being English, and given the above, the sky is therefore of some interest to me. So much so that it was right at the top of my list.

Yes, my handwriting is terrible.  Also, I was writing that in the back of a car.  Shut up.

In the early Nineties, I had family in Cornwall, and would take the coach to visit them.  Two things to note about the coach ride to Cornwall.  One, there was always a cheer when the coach crossed the county border into Cornwall.  Two, it was a sarcastic cheer, because the rain always started when the coach crossed the county border into Cornwall.  My family lived in a large Cornish town. And I recall once arriving to some chaos, because the rain had been so steady, for so long, that it had finally invaded the telephone network, and killed every phone in a twenty mile radius.  And there were neighbours relying on their phones – this is before the days of the ubiquitous mobile phone, remember – for things like emergency medical services.

We’re not even talking about major Katrina-like events here.  We’re talking about your basic constant shitty weather killing people by subtracted urban support services.

The city can be seen as a machine for living in, and one of its mechanisms is this: if I live in the city, an ambulance is fifteen minutes away, but if I live in the country, it’s fifty minutes away.  Corrections to those numbers, like traffic density and stresses on the health provider, apply to both, but the simple fact is that the hospitals are in the big towns and cities, and the closer you are to the hospitals the better your chances are.

Until the weather drowns the comms system or the land you’re on starts to slip due to a year’s worth of saturation or your town just ends up underwater.

I paraphrased Bruce Sterling’s bit, while I was on my feet at the gig: the cities will be filled with old people who are afraid of the sky.

But I recalled something else.  Since the 1960s, Russia has been guaranteeing good weather for its Red Square parades and state holidays by controlling the weather.  Here in England, in fact, it’s long been held that the Russians have pushed their rain this way.  No-one ever called them on it, of course, because they were entirely capable of sending things larger and harder than rain through the air towards us instead.  Also, obviously, we’re paranoid about rain.

What is the international legality of that?  I mean, if you could exert serious control over weather. Is there a legal framework for saving your cities from destructive weather by pushing that weather somewhere else?  What’s the right of response if you find yourself suddenly deluged by the rainfall that nature had originally aimed at a city that couldn’t take it?  Saving Wales by chucking eight feet of water at Ireland?

What is the legal status of the weather?

Something Rachel Armstrong said at Under Tomorrow’s Sky: Nature wants to smash us.  Until we get out the bleach.  Which I love, but I don’t know whether it’s possible to uncreate weather, what the long-term results of that would be, and if the short-term results simply involve that weather happening to someone else.  Which brings up the big questions should a protocol be evolved to deal with the actual Katrina-level events, which would constitute batting an event with the payload of a small nuclear device over someone else’s fence, with some uncertainty as to whether or not it’s been defused.

Or, worse: knowing it hasn’t been defused.

I have a lot of questions.  They feel like questions that may need answering by a lot of people in the near future.


I’m on Twitter as @warrenellis. Rachel Armstrong is at @livingarchitect.  Bruce has a private account at @bruces.

Our Hopeless Future And Other Comedy

First off, this happened last Friday evening.

A CRACKED WISDOM TOOTH with a raging infection that resisted antibiotics so handily that it had to be removed on an emergency basis.  The dentist injected about a pint of drugs (including adrenaline) into my face and then said, “Nurse, give me the Cow Horns.”  At which point I decided it would be best to close my eyes.  Thirty minutes of hard manual labour later, the result is pictured.

And yes, I was getting on a plane the next day.  Which I did.

Also, yes, one of the bits does look a bit like a finger.

I have a lot of catching up to do, so I’m resorting to the daybook format for the rest of the week.

BEN HAMMERSLEY, presenting his new book, 64 Things You Need to Know Now for Then: How to Face the Digital Future without Fear.  The moustache is, in fact, embossed.  Much like Ben’s own.  We were on a panel together at the literary/philosophy festival How The Light Gets In a couple of weeks ago, along with the journalist/analyst Edie Lush and the radio journalist Paul Moss.  Ben and I had some fun messing with each other, but he always won the sympathy vote because of his dogs, which slept in his arms the whole time.  People thought this was cute, and did not realise they were merely biding their time until the perfect kill-strike opportunity presented itself.

(a crop of an original photo by Adam Greenfield)

HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN was a really, really interesting weekend for me.  I got to meet all kinds of brilliant people I’d never normally have access to.  And there’s some cognitive dissonance in sitting talking to Michael Nyman about Chingford.  I probably spent the most time talking to Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association (their sister org, the Rationalist Association, publishes The New Humanist, which I never get to read any more because Lili stole my copy so often that I eventually put the subscription in her name when she was 14 or so, making her possibly their youngest reader).

Also, this is the back garden of the place the festival put me up in:

That is in fact a giant iron, yes.

I was billeted at Great Brampton House, a fantastic and maybe a leeetle eccentric place run by some fantastic and maybe a leeetle eccentric people who were just incredibly welcoming to a tired old hack who really had no idea what he was walking into.   (Caitlin Moran was in the car that dropped me off there, and she expressed a curiosity as to whether I would be seen alive again.)  Have a little look inside:

You have no idea how grateful I am to Nancy at the festival, and to the wonderful Millers and their staff, and their drinks cabinet.  The drinks cabinet is where I met Andrew, plying Hilary Rose with martinis.  If it hadn’t been for him drawing everyone into conversation, I probably would have stayed at the table you can see above, hanging on to the whisper of wifi so I could finish writing a tv project outline.  Instead, I got to spend an evening talking with Hilary and Steven Rose.  Which is not an opportunity you get every day, and one that may never come again, just getting to drink and talk with and listen to two eminent and engaged scientists in their seventies.

Despite the horrendous weather, both the above-mentioned panel (about whether the internet was changing the way we think) and my one-on-one panel with the festival organiser, Vassili Christodoulou, was remarkably well attended, the latter fixture’s attendance being something commented on by another staffer.  Even though the rain almost washed me off the board: