The Dry Sky: Futures for Humanity’s Modification of the Atmospheric Water Cycle

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Patrick W Keys , Lan Wang-Erlandsson, Michele-Lee Moore, Agnes Pranindita, Fabian Stenzel, Olli Varis, Rekha Warrier, R. Bin Wong, Paolo D'Odorico, Carl Folke


Humanity is modifying the atmospheric water cycle, via land use, climate change, air pollution, and weather modification. Given the implications of this, we present a theoretical framing of atmospheric water as an economic good. Historically, atmospheric water was tacitly considered a ‘public good’ since it was neither actively consumed (rival) nor controlled (exclusive). However, given anthropogenic changes, atmospheric water is becoming 'common-pool’ (rival, non-excludable) or 'club’ (non-rival, excludable). Moreover, advancements in weather modification presage water becoming a 'private’ good (i.e. rival, excludable). In this research, we explore the implications of different economic goods framings using story-based scenarios of human modifications of the atmospheric water cycle. We blend computational text analysis with expert perspectives to create science fiction prototypes of the future. The economic goods framing highlights that social choices play an enormous role in how the future will unfold with regard to human interaction with the atmospheric water cycle. The narrative scenarios serve two purposes. First, they provide creative artifacts for the investigation of future interactions with the atmospheric water cycle, that are rooted in a scientific evidence base. Second, they articulate trajectories of our coupled social-hydrological world that require deeper interrogation and anticipation in the present.



Atmospheric Sciences, Climate, Fresh Water Studies, Hydrology, Meteorology, Natural Resource Economics, Natural Resources Management and Policy, Nature and Society Relations, Sustainability, Water Resource Management


atmosphere, Water, economic good, moisture recycling, weather modification, scenarios, fiction, storytelling


Published: 2022-12-22 08:37


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Data will be made publicly available upon publication of the article.