Look up in the sky on a clear day. Among the things you’ll see passing overhead are the sun, clouds, birds, and airplanes. Often times, these planes leave their own trail of lingering clouds in their wake. While most pass this effect off as a simple byproduct of jet engine combustion, some worry the result has a dampening effect on global warming. Others subscribe to a conspiracy theory belief that these trails are the result of the government secretly and purposefully dumping harmful, chemical substances into the air and onto the land.
Contrail vs. Chemtrail
Before looking into the various theories regarding the negative effects of these clouds, it’s beneficial to first understand the scientific explanation behind them. Flying at altitudes above 30,000 feet where the air is very cold and dry, airplane jet engines emit extremely hot and humid fumes of exhaust. With temperatures reaching negative 40-degrees Fahrenheit with low vapor pressure, the hot air from the exhaust containing high vapor content results in condensation. As the vapor from the exhaust condenses into water droplets it quickly freezes in the cold atmosphere, leaving a trail of ice crystals. Thus, these resulting “condensation trails” are aptly known as contrails.
Granted, just like car engine and factory emissions, jet engines also emit other, potentially harmful byproducts other than water vapor. These include things like carbon dioxide, sulfate particles, nitrogen oxides, and other chemicals contained and burned off in engine fuel. Therefore, just like car engine and factory emissions, the subject of jet engine emissions falls into a hotly debatable and contested category that draws a lot of questions from skeptics. Conspiracy theorists redubbed these “naturally” occurring contrails as chemtrails, under the impression that the government is using this phenomenon, to which most people turn their cheek, to dump chemicals into the atmosphere.
Chemtrail Conspiracy Theory
The chemtrail conspiracy theory first became widespread in 1996, when the United States military was accused by a collective of concerned parties of spraying the American population with unknown substances from Air Force aircraft generating unusual contrail patterns. The accusation came in the aftermath of the release of an Air Force strategy paper (Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025), written in response to a military directive to outline the formation of a strategic weather modification system to help enhance US military dominance in 2025. The Air Force immediately dismissed the accusations as erroneous, claiming the paper was written as a fictional representation and assuring the public that the military was not conducting weather modification experiments, nor were they planning to do so in the future.
Theorists remain skeptical, claiming that modern planes leave thicker contrails that linger in the sky longer than planes of the past. They may accept that contrails are a natural emission of jet engines, but their suspicion is that the government and military have used this effect to add chemicals other than those naturally burned by the engine to create these long-lingering chemtrails. Today, the theories have taken on a few different varieties:
- Population control – Some believe the government is spraying the population with potentially harmful chemicals to experiment with their effects on the human body–or even to control the death rates of the sick and elderly. Such theories are often dismissed on the grounds that at altitudes of 40,000+ feet, atmospheric winds would shift the emissions around to unpredictable locations and serve no effective purpose for the government.
- Weather manipulation for defense – Some theorists maintain the original belief that the government is indeed experimenting with weather control for military reasons. They believe the government is seeding clouds with electrically-conductive chemicals to create a massive electromagnetic weapons program based upon the recently shut down, 20-year old High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HFAARP). The theory isn’t altogether unrealistic, seeing as the British were able to successfully seed clouds with salt, dry ice, and silver iodide to create rain in the early 1950s–a program that actually proved overly effective and resulted in uncontrollable flash floods across rural England.
- Combatting global warming – A more positive theory behind chemtrails has the government using them to combat the effects of global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer by pumping substances into the atmosphere designed to reflect the sun’s harmful radiation. This is contrary to the environmentalist stance that blames contrails for polluting the skies and negatively affecting the environment–the opposite of serving to protect Planet Earth.
Debunking the Myth
To this day, various US government agencies receive regular inquiries and complaints in regard to jet engine contrails. So to do governments around the world, including in Canada, Great Britain, and Sweden, where the issue of irregular contrails have been raised in Parliament. Time and time again these governments have shot down any accusations accusing them of involvement with the creation of harmful–or potentially beneficial–chemtrails, claiming the trails seen in the sky are nothing more than normal contrails. In 2000, the EPA, FAA, NASA, and NOAA released a joint fact sheet dispelling the rumors behind chemtrails.
Unfortunately, some conspiracy theorists have interpreted the government’s fact sheet response to the rumors as further evidence of their involvement, claiming they are simply playing bureaucratic games to cover up their tracks–the debate rages on.
As far back as the propeller-driven aircraft used in the dogfights of World War II, airplane engine exhaust has contributed to the formation of contrails. To this day, leading scientists and experts on the atmosphere and aviation are firm on their belief that chemtrails do not exist. They say the density and lingering nature associated with them are the result of contrails responding differently in different conditions (i.e. sunlight, temperature, wind shear, humidity levels). In the United States, Canada, and parts of Western Europe, air traffic has become so widespread that grid patterns often occur in the sky formed by the contrails of crisscrossing plane flight paths.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), persistent contrails pose no direct threat to public health. Therefore, you have no reason to believe that the government is trying to poison you or control your brain by dropping chemicals out of airplanes. If a historically reputable national authority tells you something isn’t true, what reason do you have not to believe them? However, the FAA does not deny the likelihood that contrail exhaust may contribute to the negative effects of climate change. So, even though chemtrails may not be anything ill contrived, the contents of contrails may be a lot worse then the rest of the clouds in the sky.