Chemtrail conspiracy theory
The chemtrail conspiracy theory is the unproven belief that long-lasting trails, so-called "chemtrails", are left in the sky by high-flying aircraft and that they consist of chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed for sinister purposes undisclosed to the general public. Believers in the theory argue that normal contrails dissipate relatively quickly and that contrails that do not dissipate must contain additional substances. These arguments have been dismissed by the scientific community: such trails are normal water-based contrails (condensation trails) that are routinely left by high-flying aircraft under certain atmospheric conditions. Although proponents have attempted to prove that the claimed chemical spraying does take place, their analyses have been flawed or based on misconceptions.
Because of the widespread popularity of the conspiracy theory, official agencies have received many inquiries from people demanding an explanation. Scientists and government officials around the world have repeatedly needed to confirm that supposed chemtrails are in fact normal contrails.
The term chemtrail is a portmanteau of the words chemical and trail, as contrail is a contraction of condensation trail. Believers in the conspiracy theory speculate that the purpose of the claimed chemical release may be solar radiation management,psychological manipulation, human population control, weather modification, or biological or chemical warfare and that the trails are causing respiratory illnesses and other health problems. Contrails are formed at high altitudes (5–10 miles or 8–16 kilometers), and any chemicals released at such a height would disperse harmlessly and fall many hundreds of miles away, or degrade before touching the ground.
In the late 1990s, chemtrail conspiracy theories began to circulate when the United States Air Force (USAF) was accused of "spraying the U.S. population with mysterious substances" from aircraft "generating unusual contrail patterns." The theories were posted on Internet forums posted by people like Richard Finke and William Thomas; they were also discussed by late-night radio host Art Bell, starting in 1999. As the chemtrail conspiracy theory spread, federal officials were flooded with angry calls and letters.
A multi-agency response attempting to dispel the rumors was published in 2000 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Many chemtrail believers interpreted the fact sheet as further evidence of the existence of a government cover-up.
In the early 2000s the USAF said that the conspiracy theories were a hoax fueled in part by citations to a strategy paper drafted within their Air University titled Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025. The paper was presented in response to a military directive to outline a future strategic weather modification system for the purpose of maintaining the United States' military dominance in the year 2025, and identified as "fictional representations of future situations/scenarios." The USAF further clarified in 2005 that the paper "does not reflect current military policy, practice, or capability," and that it is "not conducting any weather modification experiments or programs and has no plans to do so in the future." Additionally, the USAF states that the "'Chemtrail' hoax has been investigated and refuted by many established and accredited universities, scientific organizations, and major media publications."
In 2003, in a response to a petition by concerned Canadian citizens regarding "chemicals used in aerial sprayings are adversely affecting the health of Canadians," the Government House Leader responded by stating, "There is no substantiated evidence, scientific or otherwise, to support the allegation that there is high altitude spraying conducted in Canadian airspace. The term 'chemtrails' is a popularised expression, and there is no scientific evidence to support their existence." The house leader went on to say that "it is our belief that the petitioners are seeing regular airplane condensation trails, or contrails."
In the United Kingdom, in 2005 Elliot Morley, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was asked "what research her Department has undertaken into the polluting effects of chemtrails for aircraft," and responded that "the Department is not researching into chemtrails from aircraft as they are not scientifically recognised phenomena," and that work was being conducted to understand "how contrails are formed and what effects they have on the atmosphere."
Proponents of the chemtrail conspiracy theory find support for their theories in their interpretations of sky phenomena, videos posted to the internet, and reports about government programs; they also have certain beliefs about the goals of the alleged conspiracy and the effects of its alleged efforts and generally take certain actions based on those beliefs.
Interpretation of evidence
Proponents of the chemtrail conspiracy theory say that chemtrails can be distinguished from contrails by their long duration, asserting that the chemtrails are those trails left by aircraft that persist for as much as a half day or transform into cirrus-like clouds. The proponents claim that after 1995 contrails had a different chemical composition and lasted a lot longer on the sky; proponents fail to acknowledge evidence of long-lasting contrails shown in World War II era photographs.
Proponents of the theory of the existence of chemtrails characterize contrails as streams that persist for hours and that, with their criss-cross, grid-like or parallel stripe patterns, eventually blend to form large clouds. Proponents view the presence of visible color spectra in the streams, unusual concentrations of sky tracks in a single area, or lingering tracks left by unmarked or military airplanes flying at atypical altitudes or locations as markers of chemtrails.
Photographs of barrels installed in the passenger space of an aircraft for flight test purposes have been claimed to show aerosol dispersion systems. The real purpose of the barrels is to simulate the weight of passengers or cargo. The barrels are filled with water, and the water can be pumped from barrel to barrel in order to test different centers of gravity while the aircraft is in flight.
Jim Marrs has cited a 2007 Louisiana television station report as evidence for chemtrails. In the report the air underneath a crosshatch of supposed chemtrails was measured and apparently found to contain unsafe levels of barium: at 6.8 parts per million, three times the US nationally recommended limit. A subsequent analysis of the footage showed, however, that the equipment had been misused, and the reading exaggerated by a factor of 100—the true level of barium measured was both usual and safe.
In May 2014 a video that went viral showed a commercial passenger airplane landing on a foggy night, which was described as emitting chemtrails. Discovery News pointed out that passengers sitting behind the wings would clearly see anything being sprayed, which would defeat any intent to be secretive, and that the purported chemical emission was normal air disruption caused by the wings, visible due to the fog. In October 2014, Englishman Chris Bovey filmed a video of a plane jettisoning fuel on a flight from Buenos Aires to London, which had to dump fuel to lighten its load for an emergency landing in São Paulo. The clip went viral on Facebook, with nearly 3 million views and over 47,000 shares, cited as evidence of chemtrails.
Various versions of the chemtrail conspiracy theory have been propagated via the Internet and radio programs. There are websites dedicated to the conspiracy theory, and it is particularly favored by right-wing groups because it fits well with deep suspicion of government.
A 2014 paper presented results of reviewing 20 chemtrial websites found that believers appeal to science in some of their arguments, but don't believe what academic or government-employed scientists say; scientists and federal agencies have consistently denied that chemtrails exist, explaining the sky tracks are simply persistent contrails.
The 2014 paper also found that chemtrail believers generally hold that chemtrails are evidence of a global conspiracy; people who believe in the conspiracy allege various goals which include profit (for example, manipulating futures prices or making people sick to benefit drug companies), population control, or weapons testing (use of weather as a weapon, or testing bioweapons). One of these ideas, is that clouds are being seeded with electrically conductive materials as part of a massive electromagnetic superweapons program based around the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP).
Those who believe in the conspiracy say the chemtrails are toxic; the 2014 review found that chemtrail believers generally hold that every person is under attack and found that believers often express fear, anxiety, sadness and anger about this.
Chemtrial conspiracy theorists often narrate an experience akin to a religious conversion experience when they first "woke up" and became aware of chemtrails, an experience that motivates them to advocacy of various forms. For example, they often attend events and conferences on geoengineering, and have sent threats to academics working in the geoengineering field.
In 2001 in response to requests from constituents, US Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced (but did not author) H.R. 2977 (107th), the Space Preservation Act of 2001 that would have permanently prohibited the basing of weapons in space, listing chemtrails as one of a number of "exotic weapons" that would be banned." Proponents have interpreted this explicit reference to chemtrails as official government acknowledgment of their existence. Skeptics note that the bill in question also mentions "extraterrestrial weapons" and "environmental, climate, or tectonic weapons." The bill received an unfavorable evaluation from the United States Department of Defense and died in committee, with no mention of chemtrails appearing in the text of any of the three subsequent failed attempts by Kucinich to enact a Space Preservation Act.
Some chemtrail believers adopt the notions of William Reich (1897 – 1957) who devised a "cloudbuster" device from pipework filled with crystals and metal filings: such devices are pointed at the the sky in an attempt to clear it of chemtrails.
Contrails, or condensation trails, are "streaks of condensed water vapor created in the air by an airplane or rocket at high altitudes." They are the result of normal emissions of water vapor from piston and jet engines at high altitudes in which the water vapor condenses into visible clouds. They are formed when hot humid air from the engines mixes with the colder surrounding air. The rate at which contrails dissipate is entirely dependent on weather conditions and altitude. If the atmosphere is near saturation, the contrail may exist for some time. Conversely, if the atmosphere is dry, the contrail will dissipate quickly.
It is well established by atmospheric scientists that contrails can persist for hours, and that it is a perfectly normal characteristic for them to spread out into cirrus sheets. The different-sized ice crystals in contrails descend at different rates, which spreads the contrail vertically. Then the differential in wind speeds between altitudes (wind shear) results in the spreading of the contrail across many miles/kilometers in the sky. This mechanism is similar to the formation of cirrus uncinus clouds. Contrails between 25,000 and 40,000 feet (7,600 and 12,200 m) can often merge into an "almost solid" interlaced sheet. Contrails can have a lateral spread of several kilometers, and given sufficient air traffic, it is possible for contrails to create an entirely overcast sky that increases the ice budget of individual contrails and persists for hours.
Experts on atmospheric phenomena say chemtrails do not exist, and that the characteristics attributed to them are simply features of contrails responding differently in diverse conditions in terms of the sunlight, temperature, horizontal and vertical wind shear, and humidity levels present at the aircraft's altitude. In the US, the gridlike nature of the National Airspace System's flight lanes tends to cause crosshatched contrails, and in general it is hard to discern from the ground whether overlapping contrails are at similar altitudes or not. The jointly published fact sheet produced by NASA, the EPA, the FAA, and NOAA in 2000 in response to alarms over chemtrails details the science of contrail formation, and outlines both the known and potential impacts contrails have on temperature and climate. The USAF produced a fact sheet as well that described these contrail phenomena as observed and analyzed since at least 1953. It also rebutted chemtrail theories more directly by identifying the theories as a hoax and disproving the existence of chemtrails.
Patrick Minnis, an atmospheric scientist with NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, is quoted in USA Today as saying that logic does not dissuade most chemtrail proponents: "If you try to pin these people down and refute things, it's, 'Well, you're just part of the conspiracy'," he said.
Astronomer Bob Berman has characterized the chemtrail conspiracy theory as a classic example of failure to apply Occam's razor, writing in 2009 that instead of adopting the long-established "simple solution" that the trails consist of frozen water vapour, "the conspiracy web sites think the phenomenon started only a decade ago and involves an evil scheme in which 40,000 commercial pilots and air traffic controllers are in on the plot to poison their own children."
A 2016 study surveying 77 atmospheric scientists concluded that "76 out of 77 (98.7%) of scientists that took part in this study said there was no evidence of a [secret large-scale atmospheric program (SLAP)], and that the data cited as evidence could be explained through other factors, such as typical contrail formation and poor data sampling instructions presented on SLAP websites." 
- Fraser, Stephen (2009). "Phantom menace? Are conspirators using aircraft to pollute the sky?". Current Science. 94 (14): 8–9.
Some theorists speculate that the goal is population control; some say it's climate modification; others say it's military weapons testing.(subscription required)
- Watson, Traci (7 March 2001). "Conspiracy theorists read between lines in the sky". USA Today. p. A.04.
Exasperated by persistent questions, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration joined forces last fall to publish a fact sheet explaining the science of contrail formation. A few months earlier, the Air Force had put out its own fact sheet, which tries to refute its opponents' arguments point by point. "If you try to pin these people down and refute things, it's, 'Well, you're just part of the conspiracy,' " says atmospheric scientist Patrick Minnis of NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. "Logic is not exactly a real selling point for most of them."
- James, Nigel (2003). Knight, Peter, ed. Contrails. Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 197–199. ISBN 978-1-57607-812-9.
there are no books on the subject to date. Reports on contrails are carried by dedicated websites...Mainstream news agencies rarely report on concerns over contrails, and when they do it is in terms of anti-government “paranoia.” When USA Today ran a contrail story it likened the story to something out of The X-Files, arguing that it was only those who are suspicious of the government who believe that lines in the sky are evidence of malfeasance.Some suggested that they are trying to slow down global warming with compounds that reflect sun-light into the sky.
- "Contrails Facts" (PDF). US Air Force. 13 October 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 March 2013.
- Radford, Benjamin (March–April 2009). "Curious contrails: death from the sky?". Skeptical Inquirer. 33 (2): 25.
- Thomas, Dave (September 2008). "The 'Chemtrail Conspiracy'". Skeptical Inquirer. 18 (3).
- "chemtrail". Oxford English Dictionary (Third ed.). Oxford University Press. December 2011.(subscription required)
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- Paul Simons (27 September 2013). "Weather Eye: contrail conspiracy". The Times.
This conspiracy idea took hold in 1996 when the US Government was accused of trying to modify the weather for military means(subscription required)
- Reynolds, Jay (March 1, 1999). "Those Mysterious Lines in the Sky". Veritas. Archived from the original on August 17, 2000., cited in USAF Contrails page.
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Mr. John Herron (Fundy—Royal, PC): Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition on behalf of Mr. Brian Holmes of Ontario regarding aerial spraying. Mr. Holmes has collected signatures from across the country from concerned Canadians who believe that chemicals used in aerial sprayings are adversely affecting the health of Canadians. The petitioners call upon Parliament to stop this type of high altitude spraying. The petition has been duly certified by the clerk and I present it at this time.
- "Points to Ponder: Access to Information Act.". Chemtrails - spraying in our sky. Holmestead.ca/. Retrieved 13 April 2009.
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Mr. Morley: The Department is not researching into chemtrails from aircraft as they are not scientifically recognised phenomena.
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- Laakso, A.; Partanen, A. I.; Kokkola, H.; Laaksonen, A.; Lehtinen, K. E. J.; Korhonen, H. (2012). "Stratospheric passenger flights are likely an inefficient geoengineering strategy". Environmental Research Letters. 7 (3): 034021. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/7/3/034021.
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- 'Chemtrails' not real, say leading atmospheric science experts, Carnegie Institution for Science
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