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Chemtrails: analyzing claims

Chemtrails: conspiracy theory

“Chemtrail” Fail: Are contrails really toxic chemicals sprayed by a secret conspiracy? By Donald Prothero

For the past few years, my Facebook page kept flagging strange websites that claimed that ordinary contrails formed by high-flying aircraft are “chemtrails,” a special kind of chemical sprayed on the unwitting population for reasons too bizarre and illogical to take seriously. For a long time, I’ve ignored such wild Internet bafflegab, but in recent years it has gotten more and more pervasive, and I’ve encountered people who believe it.

There are whole shows about it on the once-scientific Discovery Channel, and the History Channel as well, both of whom seem to have sold their souls to commercialism. Now all they seem to broadcast is one pseudoscientific show after another. Soon there will be a low-budget Hollywood movie release, Poison Sky, that will further spread this idea.

The chemtrail conspiracy mongers circulate their photos and videos among themselves, post hundreds of videos on YouTube, and on their own sites and forums. But with the way the Internet works as a giant echo chamber for weird ideas with no peer review, fact checking, or quality control, it is becoming ever more difficult to ignore them, so it’s time to debunk it.

The first few times I heard about “chemtrails” my reaction was: “This can’t be serious.” But the people who spread this are serious. They are generally people who have already accepted the conspiracy theory mindset, where everything that they don’t like or don’t understand is immediate proof of some nefarious government conspiracy.

But there’s an even bigger factor at work here: gross science illiteracy. The first thing that pops in my mind reading their strange ideas is “Didn’t this person learn any science in school?” And my initial rebuttal is: “Do you even understand the first thing about our atmosphere? Do the math! Anything released at 30,000 feet will blow for miles away from where you see it, and has virtually no chance of settling straight down onto the people below. And it will be so diluted it would have no measurable amount of the chemical by the time it lands. That’s why crop-dusting planes fly barely 30 feet off the ground—so their dust won’t blow too far away from the crops!”

As skeptic Kyle Hill describes it:

If the chemtrail conspiracy were true, millions of pilots would be needed to crop dust the American population. A typical crop duster might use seven ounces of agent diluted in seven gallons of water to cover one acre of land. Chemtrail “people dusters” would use a similar concentration to cover the entire United States, just to be safe.

For 2.38 billion acres of land, the pilots would then need—for just one week of spraying—120 billion gallons of these cryptic chemicals. That’s around the same volume as is transported in all the world’s oil tankers in one year.

And such an incredible amount of agent would need an incredible number of planes. Considering that a large air freighter like a Boeing 747 can carry around 250,000 pounds of cargo, at the very least, the government would need to schedule four million 747 flights to spread their chemicals each week—eighteen times more flights per day than in the entire US.

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The entire chemtrail conspiracy idea is a relatively recent one, and an idea that would not have become so popular without the ability of the Internet to spread ideas, no matter how ludicrous.

As this site shows, it was an idea that was simmering among conspiracy theorists in the 1990s when one person in particular, William Thomas, made it popular back in 1996. By 1997–1999, he was trying to spread his ideas through interviews and media coverage and early conspiracy Internet sites, and managed to get many believers to buy in to his bizarre fantasy. Then in 1999, he was featured on Art Bell’s radio show Coast to Coast, which was conspiracy central at the time.

If you wanted a quick way to reach the mob of UFO fantasists, paranormal fanatics, and conspiracy theorists, Art Bell’s show was the place in the 1990s. (Today Alex Jones wears the mantle of conspiracy central). Soon the chemtrail meme exploded far beyond William Thomas or Art Bell, and became a widely accepted idea among the people who tune in to the paranormal or the conspiracy mindset.

What are “chemtrails”? Supposedly they are different from normal contrails produced by aircraft, and allegedly they contain some sort of evil chemical with which the government is trying to poison us.

Normal contrails are something we do understand, because there has been lots of research on them. Most aircraft engines leave a plume of hot gaseous exhaust from the hydrocarbons in the fuel they burn, and in the subfreezing conditions of the upper troposphere or stratosphere, those hot gases immediately condense to form long vapor clouds behind the plane as it flies. Sometimes just the disruption of the high atmospheric gases by the tips of wings will cause contrails, even without the benefit of engine fumes. If there are high-altitudes winds or the jet stream is active, they disperse quickly, but often they remain stable for many minutes in quiet air.

Contrails were observed almost as soon as aircraft were able to fly at that elevation, and they are well documented in videos and photos of World War II aircraft, long before any of the current governments that are allegedly conspiring to do this were even in power.

As RationalWiki describes it:

On days when cirrus cloud formation is occurring, there is more moisture in the upper atmosphere, and consequently, contrails may linger longer before evaporating. Since cirrus clouds often precede a general overcast or haze, the casual observer could easily assume that the contrails have caused the overcast, or become the overcast. The persistence of contrails varies with weather conditions: sometimes they dissipate almost immediately, but often they will persist for hours, with crossing trails sometimes forming gridlike patterns that stretch from horizon to horizon. The “chemtrails” label is usually applied to these longer contrails, with their very persistence put forward as “evidence” that they cannot be normal contrails.

Even Indy cars with their speeds exceeding 200 mph produce contrails, another thing which shatters the silly idea that they were first visible in the 1990s in the sky.

Once you delve into chemtrail fantasists’ bizarre websites, you get a wide spectrum of different kinds of misconceptions, misinterpretations, and outright falsehoods. The oddest is that people seem to think that contrails are some sort of new phenomenon, when as I just pointed out, we’ve been seeing them in the sky since planes have been flying at high altitudes.

People apparently don’t remember seeing contrails when they were young, but that just testifies to the fallibility of human memory, because the photographic record of ordinary contrails goes back to before the 1930s. People don’t remember seeing contrails coming from their jetliner when they fly, but then they can’t look behind the plane in any commercial flight, so they can’t see the contrails—but they are there just the same.

Another confusion is the squishy definition of chemtrails, and how you can tell one from a regular contrail. Each “definition” gets modified and redefined as soon as the last one is explained, thus shifting the goalposts. Supposedly, contrails dissipate in minutes, while chemtrails linger for a while.

Nope! The time a contrail lingers is dependent on what the upper-level winds are doing, not the chemical composition of the contrail. To prove this, we can find lots of films of contrails from World War II, and these contrails lingered for a very long time.

Other definitions claim that contrails run parallel to one another, while “chemtrails” form “X” patterns or “grid” patterns. Once again, people forget how busy the skies above us are. In an area with a lot of plane traffic going in many directions, you’ll get every possible pattern of lines crossing one another. On the other hand, if you live in coastal Oregon or central California, most of the flights are north-south, so they tend to be more parallel.

Another claim is that they are spraying barium, or aluminum, or any other number of chemicals supposedly toxic to us. As this site demonstrates, none of these claims are true. More to the point, spraying them from 30,000 feet would be useless, since they would dissipate over a huge area and when they finally landed, they would be diluted into non-detectable, non-toxic amounts—and with the high-level winds, the odds are they’ll blow far away from where they are sprayed in the first place.

Then there are the claims that the Germans admit to doing it! This claim is easily debunked when you realize that the video footage that is used to support this claim deliberately mistranslates the German word Düppel (meaning “chaff”) to mean “chemtrail”. As this site shows, there are numerous video hoaxes about “chemtrails” all over the Internet, along with the normal footage of contrails that is misinterpreted. Apparently, hoaxing chemtrails is almost as popular as hoaxing ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot.

There is also the claim that language about chemtrails got into a bill before Congress. The bill in question, HR2977, had a lot of UFO and chemtrail language originally inserted by a bunch of UFO enthusiasts, and then introduced in 2001 by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who repudiated their unauthorized changes in the bill, and the chemtrail language was dropped. (Bills introducing strange notions to Congress are not unusual for Kucinich).

The list of additional weird claims and debunked hoaxes related to chemtrails goes on and on, and are addressed by this website.

But ultimately it boils down to this question:

* why would the government be secretly spraying us for years?

* How have they pulled it off without even one person coming forward?

Here’s where the fantasies of the conspiracy mongers take off. Supposedly, they are poisoning us to make us more docile, or to keep us compliant, or to weaken us; or the chemtrails are a secret program to combat climate change; or even weirder notions.

Conspiracy nuts never ask the tough questions: if the government really wanted to poison us, wouldn’t they just put it in the water? It’s actually a very real possibility, as terrorism and security experts well know. Spraying chemicals from 30,000 feet is worthless.

If such a huge conspiracy really existed, and every country in the world, every military and commercial aircraft in the world, and every atmospheric scientist in the world is part of the conspiracy, why has it not leaked by now?

Like every other outlandish claim of conspiracy theories, they envision a world where clandestine top-secret organizations are constantly pulling the strings, and not once has anything leaked about them doing it, or anyone who knows of it come forward.

This, despite the fact that we get constant revelations of actual secrets from the CIA and NSA and FBI and other organizations all the time; note that no chemtrails were exposed in the Wikileaks affair or by Edward Snowden. Nor has any other person come forward in an age where journalists are constantly digging for secret information.

For such a level of secrecy to exist, there would have to be an unprecedented ability for all these organizations to cover up their tracks, when in fact we have tons of evidence to show that every secret organization is only as secretive as its weakest link. And the bigger the conspiracy, the more likely it is to be exposed—yet the chemtrails conspiracy involves the entire planet, and many governments and organizations who are bitter enemies and would love to expose the wrongdoing of their opponents.

Again, from Kyle Hill:

The incognito infrastructure needed to conceal the chemtrail conspiracy would dwarf any other governmental agency. Millions of people—pilots, engineers, chemists, data analysts, and boots-on-the-ground hazmat teams—would need top-secret clearance for information that could never get out. If a chemtrail conspiracy were true, chances are you would run into a few involved in the cover up everyday. An effort to keep millions of mouths silent—to keep any information from pilots or participants out of the media—makes the NSA look like child’s play.

As well, in aviation weight is everything. Every last gram of weight in an aircraft beyond the essentials needed to fly comes with a big fuel penalty, so both manufacturers and also those who own and maintain commercial and military planes are extremely careful with adding any excess weight beyond what is needed to make the flight possible. For the airlines to agree to carry all these chemicals, there would be a huge dent on their razor-thin bottom lines to do so. This implies a huge amount of government funding to compensate, none of which has ever been documented. The military jealously guards their use of equipment and fuel, since every flight and aircraft is already phenomenally expensive, and they can’t afford to weigh down a military jet with unnecessary cargo.

In short, the chemtrail conspiracy thinking fails on the same grounds that the 9/11 Truther conspiracy fails: it assumes a level of competence and secret-keeping in a government that has never happened and never will happen. As Michael Shermer quips whenever a 9/11 Truther speaks, “You know how we know 9/11 was not orchestrated by the federal government? Because it worked.” END

About the author:  American paleontologist, geologist, and author who specializes in mammalian paleontology. His research has been in the field of magnetostratigraphy, a technique to date rock layers of the Cenozoic era and its use to date the climate changes which occurred 30-40 million years ago. He is currently the author or editor of more than 30 books and over 250 scientific papers, including five geology textbooks.
http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/14-10-15/

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Debunking “Contrails don’t Persist” with a Study of 70 Years of Books on Clouds

Discussion in ‘Contrails and Chemtrails’ started by Mick West, Feb 28, 2014.
https://www.metabunk.org/threads/debunking-contrails-dont-persist-with-a-study-of-70-years-of-books-on-clouds.3201/

One problem I have in telling people that contrails can actually persist, and can even spread out to cover the sky, is that people tend to be suspicious of random people on the internet. So I decided to simply let 70 years of books on clouds speak for themselves.

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Conspiracy theorists claim: “Contrails used to dissipate in a few seconds, minutes at most.”

But they didn’t. There’s a huge amount of evidence (in addition to lots of people remembering persistent contrails). It dates back to 1918, and continues up to the present day.
http://contrailscience.com/how-to-debunk-chemtrails/

ontrail photos through history – Fifty photos of persisting and spreading contrails from 1950 to 1995. Taken from people’s old photo albums, and old books. Also links to other similar collections.

Life Magazine Contrail Photos – Eleven photos that appeared in Life Magazine from 1940 to 1998 show persisting and spreading contrails.

WWII Contrails – A large collection of photos showing persisting and spreading contrails from WWII in the 1940s.
Pre WWII Contrails – The History of contrails dating back to 1918, with the first persistent spreading contrail observed in 1921

Some more WWII Contrails – A WWII contrail photo I found in an old photo album uploaded to Flickr.
Thirty Contrails, Forty Years Ago – An impressive photo of a sky full of contrails from before 1967.
Clouds before Planes – Cloud Studies 1905 – A 100 year old book showing photos of clouds that some chemtrail enthusiasts think must be man-made.
Memphis Belle WWII Bomber Contrails – 1944 – A 1940s film that shows planes leaving contrails, including with gaps in them.
Fighter and Bomber Contails, 1940s – Video and photos of wartime contrails over London and the English countryside
Twilight Zone Contrails – Contrails show up in a 1959 episode of The Twilight Zone
Chemtrails were Contrails – A video of some old newspaper accounts of contrails.
Contrail Confusion is Nothing New – Accounts from the 1950s of people being confused by contrails – taking them to be something else.

Chemical Tests, Aluminum, Barium, Etc.

Conspiracy theorists claim: “Chemical tests reveal aluminum and barium have been sprayed.”

In reality the tests all show normal levels of chemicals. They were often very badly performed (testing soil instead of water, and confusing the level, or using the wrong units of measurements).

What In The World Are They Spraying? – An explanation of the mistakes in the popular chemtrail video.
Barium Chemtrails on KSLA – A very popular “chemtrail” news story where the reporter gets his figures entirely wrong.
Chemtrail Non-science Air analysis from Phoenix that shows levels so high we’d all be dead. They did it wrong.
Chemical Analysis of Contrails – Clifford Carnicom claims high levels of some chemicals, but they actually show lower than normal levels.

Photos and Video used by chemtrail theorists

Conspiracy theorists claim: “Photos and videos show spray planes.”

Reality: All the planes have been identified. Most have non-controversial uses, and the rest are demonstrable fakes.

“Chemtrail” Aircraft Photos – The inside and outside of variosu suppsed “Chemtrail” planes. Explained.
Fake, Hoax, Chemtrail Videos – Some of the more obvious hoax videos.
Germans Admit They Used Düppel!
– A German news story about chaff interfering with weather radar is deliberately mistranslated.
History Channel, That’s Impossible, Weather Warfare & Chemtrails – a look as some of the claims on the Discover channel show on chemtrails.
Contrails In the Movies – A look at a couple of contrails in some animated movies.
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A Million Poisoning Planes: Reductio ad Absurdum

Kyle Hill, August 14, 2013

The largest fleet of aircraft the world has ever seen was created to poison it. Millions of planes criss-cross the skies, dumbing down the populace with secret and powerful chemical agents. Every time you board a plane, you can’t look out a window without seeing one of these jet-powered poisoners. There is always danger overhead when chemtrails really do cover the sky.

If the chemtrail conspiracy were true, millions of pilots would be needed to crop dust the American population. A typical crop duster might use seven ounces of agent diluted in seven gallons of water to cover one acre of land. Chemtrail “people dusters” would use a similar concentration to cover the entire United States, just to be safe. For 2.38 billion acres of land, the pilots would then need—for just one week of spraying—120 billion gallons of these cryptic chemicals. That’s around the same volume as is transported in all the world’s oil tankers in one year.

And such an incredible amount of agent would need an incredible number of planes. Considering that a large air freighter like a Boeing 747 can carry around 250,000 pounds of cargo, at the very least, the government would need to schedule four million 747 flights to spread their chemicals each week—eighteen times more flights per day than in the entire US.

Unless a plane could make multiple runs per day, a true chemtrail conspiracy would need 2,700 times as many 747s as have ever been constructed.

An infrastructure large enough to cover the country in chemicals would make the skies look like Coruscant. Pilots—not the millions in on the scheme—never pick up on the increased traffic. It’s a mystery to them that they never report, and they never scan the communication channels to find out what is going on. They don’t question that they have to wait an hour while half a dozen unmarked planes make their descents. A world with a chemtrail conspiracy means the most skilled vehicle operators on the planet have no idea who is operating the other vehicles or why. Ever.

Property values across the country plummet, as the most populated areas are inundated with airplane traffic and the associated noise. The government thought about putting the planes higher up in the atmosphere, but the higher they go, the more agent they would need—and that only leads to more planes, pilots, and secrecy. At this point the government might not even need a secret, stupefying chemical—if hundreds of millions of Americans never catch on to the millions of passenger-less planes overhead everyday, who needs to spend all that money on devious research and development?

The incognito infrastructure needed to conceal the chemtrail conspiracy would dwarf any other governmental agency. Millions of people—pilots, engineers, chemists, data analysts, and boots-on-the-ground hazmat teams—would need top-secret clearance for information that could never get out. If a chemtrail conspiracy were true, chances are you would run into a few involved in the cover up everyday. An effort to keep millions of mouths silent—to keep any information from pilots or participants out of the media—makes the NSA look like child’s play.

A chemtrail conspiracy comes with collateral damage. Many mechanics that work on crop dusters around the world are routinely, acutely poisoned by the chemicals the pilots seek to spread. If any significant percentage of the legion of mechanics needed to keep the chemtrail fleet flying had the same risk, literally millions of workers would come home poisoned. Spouses and significant others rush them to hospitals across the US, and the cause of this nation-wide plague never raises any eyebrows. No doctors file reports or do studies on the mysterious poisonings, no journalists ever get wind of something awry, and no police officers think a serial contaminator is on the loose. Even though every American would have a consistent chemical profile from any blood test, no one is the wiser. Every single piece of paperwork finds its proper place, deep in a file drawer of some bureaucrat keeping the lid on the chemtrail conspiracy.

Unless the air was visibly thick with the government’s chemicals, everyone would have varying degrees of exposure to the aerosolized agent. The dose makes the poison, so one neighbor might be slightly more mind-controlled than another. Like a case of mass hysteria, family and friends and strangers begin to change. People notice the spread. One day at the office Bob is asking questions about the right to privacy and the next day he has a Rumsfeld bumper sticker. Thankfully, the conspiracy is so tightly woven that it is all played off as some unidentified epidemic. Would you like a Bush ’04 button?

Instead of having the world’s largest workforce constantly spraying chemicals above the clouds, this is simply a case of misidentified physics. The differences in temperature and pressure between plane engines, wingtips, and the surrounding air coax water to condense into trails that routinely spread out into cloud-like sheets. If these trails really were part of a conspiracy, it would require more planes than the world has on hand, more workers than could ever keep a secret, and more ignorance than can even be afforded to the American people. Can we reduce the chemtrail conspiracy to the absurd?

– Kyle Hill is a science writer who specializes in finding the secret science in your favorite fandom. He writes for the Scientific American Blog Network at his blog, But Not Simpler. Hill also contributes to Slate, Wired, Nature Education, Popular Science, and io9.

 

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