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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.

Published in daybook