Conspiracies Fuel Climate Change Denial and Belief in Chemtrails

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

I recently wrote about geoengineering as a strategy to deal with climate change and carbon dioxide emissions. That drew comments from people who confuse this scientific process with the unscientific theory of “chemtrails”. Some also claimed the column supported geoengineering, which it didn’t.

The reaction got me wondering why some people believe in phenomena rejected by science, like chemtrails, but deny real problems demonstrated by massive amounts of scientific evidence, like climate change.

Chemtrails believers claim governments around the world are in cahoots with secret organizations to seed the atmosphere with chemicals and materials – aluminum salts, barium crystals, biological agents, polymer fibres, etc. – for a range of nefarious purposes. These include controlling weather for military purposes, poisoning people for population or mind control and supporting secret weapons programs based on the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP.

Scientists have tested and used cloud and atmospheric seeding for weather modification and considered them as ways to slow global warming. With so many unknowns and possible unintended consequences, these practices have the potential to cause harm. But the chemtrails conspiracy theory is much broader, positing that military and commercial airlines are involved in constant massive daily spraying that is harming the physical and mental health of citizens worldwide.

I don’t have space to get into the absurdities of belief in a plot that would require worldwide collusion between governments, scientists and airline company executives and pilots to amass and spray unimaginable amounts of chemicals from altitudes of 10,000 metres or more. I’m a scientist, so I look at credible science – and there is none for the existence of chemtrails. They’re condensation trails, formed when hot, humid air from jet exhaust mixes with colder low-vapour-pressure air. This, of course, comes with its own environmental problems.

But what interests me is the connection between climate change denial and belief in chemtrails. Why do so many people accept a theory for which there is no scientific evidence while rejecting a serious and potentially catastrophic phenomenon that can be easily observed and for which overwhelming evidence has been building for decades?

To begin, climate change denial and chemtrails theories are often conspiracy-based. A study by researchers at the University of Western Australia found “endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories … predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific findings.”

Many deniers see climate change as a massive plot or hoax perpetrated by the world’s scientists and scientific institutions, governments, the UN, environmentalists and sinister forces to create a socialist world government or something.

Not all go to such extremes. Some accept climate change is occurring but deny humans are responsible. Still, it doesn’t seem rational to deny something so undeniable! In a Bloomberg article, author and Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein points to three psychological barriers to accepting climate change that may also help explain why it’s easier for people to believe in chemtrails: People look to readily available examples when assessing danger, focus “on risks or hazards that have an identifiable perpetrator”, and pay more attention to immediate threats than long-term ones.

Researchers Ezra Markowitz and Azim Shariff of the University of Oregon Psychology and Environmental Studies departments add a few more, including that human-caused climate change “provokes self-defensive biases” and its politicization “fosters ideological polarization.”

People who subscribe to unbelievable conspiracy theories may feel helpless, so they see themselves as victims of powerful forces – or as heroes standing up to those forces. Whether it’s to deny real problems or promulgate imaginary ones, it helps reinforce a worldview that is distrustful of governments, media, scientists and shadowy cabals variously referred to as banksters, global elites, the Illuminati or the New World Order.

The problem is that science denial is, in the case of chemtrails, a wacky distraction and, in the case of climate change denial, a barrier to addressing an urgent, critical problem. Science is rarely 100 per cent certain, but it’s the best tool we have for coming to terms with our actions and their consequences, and for finding solutions to problems. The science is clear: human-caused climate change is the most pressing threat to humanity, and we must work to resolve it. We don’t have time for debunked conspiracy theories.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington.

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Since chemstrails have never been scientifically studied, they can't be said to be a wacky conspiracy theory. And as we know, conspiracies don't need massive collusion involving widespread instituitional participation, they just need compartmentalization of unaware workers.

Chemtrails may indeed turn out to be nothing, but when you see aircraft flying back and forth over a wide area in parallel or criss-crossing lines leaving trails that do not dissipate in a normal amount of time, then instead of ignoring this anomaly, one should at least remain curious about it. That would be more scientific than closed-minded dismissal I would think.

The idea that there is some conspiracy starts with the belief that;

A) big institutions are smart enough to do it, and,

B) they can keep a secret.

… and you haven't even cracked the nut of motivation.

Peter, we have Chemtrails in Calgary.  The insurance companies keep a bevy of planes on call to seed clouds and prevent hail storms.

The answer to both 1 and 2 is yes.

The cloud seeding program in Calgary doesn't operate on clear days, whereas chemtrails do often appear on clear days. I don't notice them as much in Calgary as I did when I lived on Vancouver Island.

Most people are cheerfully blind to the fact that trees are dying prematurely all over the world at a staggering rate.  Sometimes the latest environmental disaster du jour is blamed - the Gulf Oil Spill was popular, so is Fukushima, even though the trend of forest decline preceded those events.  By far most people attribute the death of trees to insects, disease, and fungus…but those are opportunistic biotic attacks on trees that are already weakened from absorbing air pollution.  Tropospheric ozone is invisible but the background level is inexorably rising as emissions of precursors increase.  More chemtrailers might be interested in this enormous threat to the biosphere - and so might more climate scientists, except that stopping the ominous pattern would require massive sacrifice and nobody wants to admit that.  See

“Since chemstrails have never been scientifically studied, they can't be said to be a wacky conspiracy theory.”

Persistent contrails have been studied, and found to be normal phenomena which happen when air temp is -40 or colder and relative humidity is at or above saturation.  Aluminum in water has been studied and found to be in proportion to its presence in the earth's crust.  You can't study “chemtrails” without any evidence that they exist.

Nope. That's not what people are seeing. You postulate they don't exist without understanding what people mean when they say 'chemtrail'. Try do some reading on the topic. Failing that…look up.

Those “kooky web pages” contain claims which can be discussed and analyzed. But I guess it's just easier to dismiss a phenomenon out of hand than engage in a little scientific curiosity.

And a short Wikipedia (that bastion of all things true and accurate) article that uses the phrase “conspiracy theory” no less than 18 times constitutes a “credible” source in your mind?

I tend to be pretty selective about the kinds of sites I'm willing to trust as a source.  The first requirement is references to credible sources and\or scientific journals.  The second requirement is the ability for me to verify the claims being made. Third, and often more telling, is language being used. Fourth I need to understand the source, how it works, and what its methods are.

While debunking a lot of entertaining claims about climate science being false, I concluded that two websites had also come to the same conclusions I had; Desmogblog, and skepticalscience.  I now trust these two sites, and I'm aware that there is some political rhetoric that comes from them.

Instead of pointing out that you think I'm wrong why don't you point out a credible source?  I have better things to do with my time, than guess what your concerns are.

Skimming sites is entertaining, but hardly productive.   UFOs filmed with this one!  Wow… (My guess is bugs near the camera.)

I tend to dump such information in the 'Kooky Web Pages' department.

I've already said that I understand that we put chemicals in the atmostphere.  I see no real concerns.

without understanding what people mean when they say 'chemtrail'.

Actually, that is exactly how most advocates define chemtrail–an exhaust trail that does not quickly dissipate–although there are rare variants such as trails that appear to come from the wingtips or fuselage. 

That's not what people mean by chemtrail and you know it. You just made that up. Persistance of a contrail is one characteristic of chemtrails which people report, not its defining quality.

“without understanding what people mean when they say 'chemtrail'.”

Actually, that is exactly how most advocates define chemtrail–an exhaust trail that does not quickly dissipate–although there are rare variants such as trails that appear to come from the wingtips or fuselage.  Why don't you come over to Metabunk and discuss your ideas.  It is one of the few open and uncensored forums on this topic. 

No website is uncensored, especially the ones that claim to be. (I've learned this through experience, and being naive enough to take people at their word). Here's an example from Mick West at Metabunk: “If you don't address this question, I am going to assume you are just trolling and ban you for a week.”

Thanks for the invitation though.



I'm a long-in-the-tooth, respectful student of yours who has followed your work from my childhood.  You're one of our “gurus” in Canada.

I honestly want to know why you've dismissed the spraying that's occurring in our skies - for me as a relatively recent occurrence in Canada and the US (2007-2009 +on) - and why you find it threatening to the cause of combating fossil fuels and global warming?

Strip away the extreme aspects and to others who have commented - I agree - the websites addressing Geoengineering and Chemtrails don't do themselves any service with their ranting and dramatic presentations - the situation is still rather obvious.

For over 40 years, I've lived in cities with healthy airports, lots of plane traffic, and I've never experienced day-in-day out coverage of the sky like we experience today – by whatever residue is being dropped.  We had clean air - pure / simple.  Before we even question what they may be spraying - just the ability to turn sunny days to cloud and storms day after day has to make any eco-friendly human being question - what IS this airplane pollution?!?  It's new.  It may be decades new as others report - but as a generic everyday occurrence in every city in North America, Europe, worldwide now - it's NEW

David - you're the scientist - what is it?

Then, I've studied the results.  Aluminum, Barium, Lithium, Strontium.  All that stuff David that you told us we had to worry about in our water.  All that stuff that was killing our Sockeye salmon in the 1970s and 80s from polluting factories.  The sulfuric acid, the potassium chloride that you started us fighting against - Acid Rain - and then we joined and marched, campaigned and supported you. 

David the chemical soil samples don't lie.  The land is being poisoned.  The tree canopy is being destroyed.  Where is that coming from?

Can we start a discussion and get down to the facts - together? 

Catherine Baird, Ph.D.

Here are some links that may be more helpful for those that are interested:

And actual pilots/aerospace engineers and others provide whistleblower evidence:

At the bottom of the last link are reports from NASA, USAF weather observers.  2 weeks ago, the US Airforce openly admitted on the news that the foul cloud over Philadelphia was created by their geoengineering weather modification mock warfare trials…

The evidence is pretty darn powerful….


Thank you so much for commenting, “SteveFunk”.

I'm assuming you're not speaking for David Suzuki or his spokesman?  I just wanted to check before I do my follow-ups with him directly at his website and company / organization in Canada.

What's interesting is you only addressed the websites I referenced at the end trying to give readers some alternative sites that were not quite as florid as the initial ones I found when first trying to research the phenomenon…  I appreciate the feedback and am glad you added it.  I'll carry that forward.  Thank you!

What you didn't address was the point of the letter:

1. What has changed with aircraft that they are now emitting this horrendous effluent that immediately covers the skies over our major cities – or even in the countryside - creating abnormal cloud cover within the space of 1 shiny bright perfectly blue sky day?

- I understand you doubt the credibility of the sites I listed, but can you please confirm you don't doubt the reality that planes are crisscrossing the sky trailing *something* that persists, covers, and then generates clouds?  I want to know because if necessary I can dig out and post my own photos taken day after day.  And remind us all to take space and time to look up… now and again.

- What is the scientific explanation for this?

- How do we combat it and get the EPA (in the US) and the other air pollution agencies in other countries to take the necessary measures to stop such horrific air pollution from continuing?

2. What is the cause of the spike in Aluminum and heavy metal concentration in our soil and the destruction of the tree crowns by nearest you can define it “chemical burn”?

- I can think of many possible alternative causes for the soil and water pollution, but would appreciate your insight.

- I can't explain the destruction of only the tree crowns except through acid rain or other precipitants falling on it.  Again - what is your understanding of the scientific explanation for this?

3. Why does this conflict with the cause of “Global Warming” or any environmental concerns?  Isn't it just one more pollution source we need to raise awareness about and take action on along with all the other Carbon, etc. pollutants that we've been working to improve on for the past 30+ years?

I hear your very concerned critique that Chemtrails or Geoengineering hype is somehow inimical to environmentalism, but I don't see an explanation for WHY

I know that many advocates concerned about Geoengineering say governments are using Global Warming as an excuse to justify the spraying (even though weather modification is clearly classified as illegal in our laws here in the US and I believe most internationally… despite cloud seeding still being performed and publically reported in many cases)   - but you, I think (?), are saying that there's no such thing as Geoengineering or deliberate spraying from airplanes. 

Is that correct? Or am I misunderstanding your statements?

And if this is correct, in that case - 1. it should be irrelevant to your advocacy against causes of Global Warming and 2. the readers here (and I :-)) would need to hear:

  • Some clear explanation about what the *cover* / effluent out of these planes IS and why it has become so pervasive on an increasingly frequent basis to the point where it's reached a daily scourge of our skies AND
  • Clear steps forward we can take to have our environmental protection agencies and pollution watchdogs stop it

Until we can enjoy blue, clear skies again (and breathe clean air - I'm with you 100%, I believe, on all the negative pollutants causing Global Warming) – then clearly it remains a serious issue we all must be concerned about; just as serious as global warming, the melting of the ice caps, and overall environmental destruction of the Earth's ecosystem.

Thank you,


You are much more polite than most chemtrail believers.  I will try to elaborate as well as I can.  I'm just speaking for myself.  I live in a community with a lot of chemtrail believers, and after four years of politely agreeing to disagree, I finally decided to actively debunk this myth. 

What has changed with aircraft that they are now emitting this horrific effluent . ..?

Qualitatively, nothing has changed.  The visible part of the exhaust is water vapor, which condenses and turns to ice crystals whenever the temperature is -40 or below, and relative humidity (RH) is above 60%.  If RH is between 60 and 99%, the contrails are short and dissipate quickly.  When RH is at or above saturation, the contrails are persistent, forming artificial cirrus clouds.  The contrail “seeds” the adjacent areas of high RH, so the artificial cirrus becomes bigger than the original contrail.  These conditions occur app 16% of the time, and usually between elevations of 29,000 and 36,000 feet, which is also the optimum altitude for jet aircraft to cruise.  At night, it was occasionally a hazard for bombers in WWII flying at 25,000 feet, as you can see in the 1943 video, Memphis Belle.  (It's on YouTube, but I can't make the links work on this blog.) 

You can read this explanation in any meteorology book that discusses contrails.  One example would be the Peterson Field Guide to the Atmosphere, written in 1981.

The term chemtrails was first coined between 1995 and 1997.  Forty three years ago, the Journal of Atmospheric Science  published a paper titled, Airborne Observations of Contrail Effects on the Thermal Radiation Limit.” It stated:

One aspect of weather pollution in the atmosphere is the generation of contrails.  The spreading out of jet contrails into extensive cirrus sheets is a familiar sight.  Often, when persistent conditions exist from 25,000 to 40,000 ft, several long contrails increase in number and gradually merge into an almost solid interlaced sheet.

Does that sound like what you see currently?  I know some chemmies say that just proves they have been doing it longer, but the idea of geoengineering to reduce solar radiation was first mentioned by a Russian scientist named Budykin in the late 1970's.  A true concensus that global warming was a problem needing remediation didn't emerge until about the 1990's and the second IPCC report.  When I was a kid in the 1950's I looked up a lot, because I made model airplanes and was interested in what was in the sky.  I saw persistent contrails, short contrails and flights with no contrails. 

Planes also emit CO2, a greenhouse gas, as well as nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and soot.  In this respect, they are no worse than surface transportation.  These gases and aerosols are not visible from the ground.

There is always a gap between the engine and the contrail.  This gap occurs because the water vapor takes a few milliseconds to freeze.  If the emissions were aluminum or sulfuric acid, there would not be a gap. 

Quantitatively, what has changed is that aire traffic has increased by a factor of 10 since 1970.  And more people are looking up, because they are told there is a problem.  Mick West did a survey, and a significant number of respondents gave answers such as: “When did you first hear about chemtrails?”  “2008.”  “When did you first notice persistent trails in the sky?”  “2008.”

What can we do about contrails?  Take the train.  Other than flying less, there is not much.  Planes could be directed to fly above or below the contrail zone, but that would be less efficient, requiring more fuel, and producing more CO2 and water vapor.  Gaseous water vapor is a simple greenhouse gas.  Frozen water droplets in clouds have a mixed effect, definitely being greenhous insulators at night, but also reflecting some sunlight during the day.  There is a photo somewhere on the web of an old Boing 707 flying side by side with a new Airbus A340.  The newer plane was less polluting, but produced more contrail because a bigger proportion of its emissions was water vapor. 

The really heavy contrails, to put the problem into perspective, usually occur as a front is coming in, so there are typically only a few hours before the sky becomes overcast anyway.  In California, we seldom see persistent contrails during the summer because of the prevailing high pressure systems and concomitant low humidity.  Of course, if there were a geoengineering program, summer would be the most efficient season. 

There may be a word limit on comments here.  I will write more later. 

What is the cause of … the destruction of tree crowns?   …I can't explain the destruction of only the tree crowns except through acid rain or other precipitants falling on it.

As a licensed forester, I can usually figure out what is killing or defoliating trees in areas I know, where I have personally looked at the trees.  But I wouldn't pretend to be able to diagnose from thousands of miles awa.  You need to ask someone with a background in the subject and local knowledge.  Otherwise, you would be using a technique called argument from ignorance;  i.e. “We don't know what is killing the trees; therefore, it must be chemtrails. 

There are many causes of tree mortality and morbidity.  They include insects, fungal diseases, suppression by competition, stress from heat, drought or cold, animal damage and chemical pollution.  The last has been around for a while.  I remeber a paper presented by a fellow student in 1974 on the serious impact of trophospheric ozone and peroxyacetylnitrate, components of photochemical smog, on forests in Southern California.  And spikes in mortality usually come in cycles, at 15-30 year intervals.  So the bottom line is I don't know what is causing the forest decline in your area (Ontario?)  But if it is related to acid rain, not that David Keith pointed out on Colbert's show the other night that our civilization emits 50 million tons/year of sulfuric acid from ordinary pollution.  I haven't been able to track down that exact number, but Wikipedia says the world production is 100 million tons/yr.

What is the cause of the spike in aluminum and heavy metal concentraition in our soil?

There is not any credible evidence that metals in soil have spiked.  Aluminum constitutes 7% of the average soil, according to USGS Technical Paper 1270, Element Concentration in Soils and Other Surficial Materials of the United States, published in 1984.  There is less in sandy soils, and a little more in clay soils.  Aluminum silicate is the main constituent of clay particles.  The lab tests only show that the sample has some form of aluminum, not which molecules.  Some chemmies don't realize this, and think that the tests show free metallic aluminum.  This is highly unlikely.  There is hardly any free metallic aluminum in the earth's crust.  Even if there was a geoengineering program using metallic aluminum, the particles would be aluminum oxide at the end of their two years in the atmosphere, because aluminum reacts very strongly with oxygen. 

The only evidence I have seen that soil concentration of aluminum is increasing was a report by Francis Mangels, my former co-worker, that he got 1.3% aluminum from a single sample under his house, and 1.6% from a sample outside.  That could easily be sample variation.  At my place, I submitted two samples from the same bucket to the lab.  One had 3.1% aluminum and the other 3.5%.  If the difference in Mangels' two samples were from geoengineering, it would take 900 billion tons applied, if you assume that the material was evenly distributed over the surface of the earth, and evenly distributed in the top six inches of soil.  The world production of aluminum is about 50 million tons/year.  Incidentally, neither aluminum, barium nor strontium are heavy metals as the term is usually defined.

If your concern is aluminum in rain, a paper published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences in 1967 found a mean of 800 parts per billion of aluminum in rain, and 460 in snow, in southeast Ontario.  A paper published in 1976 in Atmospheric Environment found 350 parts per billion of aluminum in rain samples in Nebraska.  A paper published in 1986 in Arctic magazine found 760 parts per billion of aluminum in rain and snow in Frobisher Bay, Alaska.  The average of these older samples is about the same as recent web published samples. 

The amount of aluminum in rain depends on the amount of dust in the atmosphere.  The first rain after a long dry spell will have more, especially if the observer neglects to clean his collector before the storm.  The second day of a two day storm will have less.  Three samples I have taken in my back yard range from 6.6 to 123 parts per billion.  However, I got 3,670 by sloshing a bottle of tap water around in a bucked that I had left outside for six weeks collecting dust.  A bottle of tap water sent directly to the lab had none detectable.  Dane Wigington and others claiming a huge spike use a cherry picking technique, comparing one very low reading and one very high reading.  Wigington also suggests that pond and stream samples include some sediment from the bottom.  Usually, water samples are taken at midflow.  Lab slips from some of his samples define the medium tested as sludge, a mix of soil and water.  Consequently, he gets concentrations of aluminum that would be off the chart for water, but are way too low for soil. 

Testing for silicon as well as aluminum is a simple way to determine whether the aluminum is a natural material from the Earth's crust, or something else.  Silicon constitutes 28% of the earth's crust, and is the second most abundant element.  The silicon is all naturally occurring, since nobody has ever suggested using it for geoengineering or other nefarious purpose.  There is 3.4 times as much silicon as aluminum, the third most abundant element.  So, if the silicon/aluminum ratio in your samples is approximately 3.4/1, that indicates that the aluminum is also naturally occurring.  On the other hand, if you don't get any silicon, or the silicon ratio is very low, that would indicate an anthropogenic source of aluminum.  In four samples, I have gotten an average silicon/aluminum ratio of 3.8/1.

Why does this [chemtrails conspiracy theory] conflict with the cause of global warming  or any environmental concern?

According to a survey by Public Policy Polling early in 2013, about 5% of the US populations believes that the government is spreading chemtrails through airplane exhaust.  In my experience, about half of the chemtrail believers think global warming is a hoax.  The other half believes in it, but doesn't want the government to do anything about it (such as a carbon tax).  Of course, there are a few exceptions.  Most legislators base their voting solely on what is more likely to get them reelected.  A large bloc is already dead set against any meaningful action to reduce global warming, including 58% of Republicans and 23% of Democrats, according to the same poll.  Chemtrails believers add about 2.5% to the number believing that global warming is a hoax, and decrease by 2.5% the number of potential climate activists willing to sacrifice.  In many districts, this could be enough to turn the representative against meaningful action.