Moviegoers won’t know until October whether or not Geostorm is a “good” movie, but from the looks of the new trailer, it definitely will be a busy movie. It’s got everything: a trip to Congress, to space, to a trailer park, back to space, and finally, to a natural disaster-plagued car chase that involves a self-driving cab and a U.S. president. This is a world where a category level for a storm is, literally, geostorm.
All the drama comes back to a world-wide weather modification program that’s somehow been compromised. While it sounds crazy, the program is pretty similar to the weather modification systems proposed by actual scientists today.
“Thanks to a system of satellites, natural disasters have become a thing of the past,” says Andy Garcia as President Andrew (Andy?) Palma at the trailer’s start. “We can control our weather.”
We quickly learn that that President Palma’s citizens cannot, in fact, control the weather, but, like us, they certainly have tried — and using similar technology. Geostorm’s satellite weather system, winkingly called the Dutch Boy Program, seems to have been useful at one point, but now that it’s been tampered with, can only plug up the hole of impending natural disasters for so long. Dutch Boy is described as a “world wide net of satellites, surrounding the planet, that are armed with geoengineering technologies designed to stave off the natural disasters.” As the trailer shows, these technologies mostly include lasers and the mass release of some sort of zooming bullet.
The lasers are, to those out there fact-checking, key: According to a team of international researchers in a 2016 paper in Science Advances, a Dutch Boy-scale hypothetical weather modification system would probably include powerful laser blasts. They know this because they created the lab version of cirrus clouds, which naturally form in cold, high-atmosphere conditions, and then hit those clouds with lasers. Hot plasma formed in the cloud’s center, which broke up the ice particles in the cloud — thus providing proof of concept that lasers could modify the weather.
The scientists acknowledged that, for now, using lasers for this type of geoengineering is purely theoretical — and could cause unintended consequences — but they also noted that the technology could potentially alleviate some effects of climate change.
That’s not to say we can’t modify the weather now: Around the world, people use a technological process invented in the late 1940s known as cloud seeding. This involves shooting silver iodide into clouds, which triggers the formation of ice crystals. According to the World Meteorological Organization, cloud seeding is used in more than 50 countries worldwide to “disperse fog, enhance rain and snowfall, and suppress hail.” The key to this technology is, again, clouds: those with more precipitation in them work best, especially the ones that form over mountains.
Will we ever be in danger of a Dutch Boy-style meltdown? Probably not anytime soon — we’ve been debating whether to move forward with weather modification technology since the advent of cloud seeding. In 1953, there was an actual President’s Advisory Committee on Weather Control, and in 1978, after the American military used cloud seeding to try to create muddier conditions in the Vietnam war, scientists argued for the use of meteorological satellites in weather modification. In 1996, ranking members of the United States Air Force published a research paper on the advancement of weather technology and its potential as a weapon of war.
“A high-risk, high-reward endeavor, weather-modification offers a dilemma not unlike the splitting of the atom,” they wrote. “While some segments of society will always be reluctant to examine controversial issues such as weather-modification, the tremendous military capabilities that could result from this field are ignored at our own peril.”
Some segments of society, but not Geostorm. Also a free prequel idea: Geonado. In 2006 American physicist B.J. Eastlund proposed blasting tornado-causing storms with microwave energy from satellites, a type of technology that he said could be, “as important for weather modification research as accelerators have been for particle physics.”