Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson had some seriously weird thoughts on hurricanes in an interview on Sunday, telling Sunday TODAY he believes man should harness the power of hurricanes for good rather than run from them, as one tends to do when 250km/h winds and catastrophic storm surges are heading towards one’s beach house.
Image: Screengrab via Sunday Today
While discussing the very real need for humans to find ways to proactively adapt to a changing climate rather than running around like chickens with their heads lopped off, Tyson suggested instead of evacuating people should be inventing a way to convert hurricanes into electricity.
“I’m tired of looking at photos of countless thousands of cars exiting a city, because a hurricane is coming,” Tyson said. “Where are the engineers and scientists saying, you know, instead of running away from the city that’s about to be destroyed by this hurricane, let me figure out a way to tap the cyclonic energy of this hurricane to drive the power needs of the city that it’s otherwise going to destroy?”
“Where are those people?” Tyson asked. “You need a culture where that becomes a natural state of how people think, rather than ‘Buy toilet paper! Buy water! Run!'”
“That’s our current natural state, and I don’t think that was the country I grew up in,” he added.
This is a very strange thought for a science-minded person to express, seeing as some phenomena such as weather patterns (wind and solar) and tidal currents are easily exploitable for power production, but hurricanes strike on an irregular time basis and, well, move. Also, trapping the energy of a hundreds-of-kilometres-wide and highly destructive tropical cyclone is only loosely theoretically possible and would require planetary engineering techniques that are fantastical by current technological standards.
Scientists are currently in the dark about how to even decrease the intensity of a hurricane, short of lowering global greenhouse gas emissions which are likely raising extreme storms’ intensity.
“We have no real idea how to control weather in the sense of a hurricane,” Beijing Normal University geoengineer John Moore told Space.com. “All that realistically can be done is changing the thermodynamics of the system, which largely means changing the sea-surface temperatures.”
Controlling a hurricane, as would be needed to “tap the cyclonic energy” on any meaningful scale, sounds pretty much impossible without the kind of sci-fi level technology which would likely negate the need to convert storms to power anyhow.
Tyson was probably just making a rhetorical point in service of a much better one. Aspiring engineers should probably evacuate like everyone else when the storms roll in, though.