The Origins of the Chemtrail Conspiracy

Katie Heaney_90pxBy Katie Heaney via Pacific Standard: The Science of Society

A couple of months ago, a video titled “Busted: Pilot Forgets to Turn Off CHEMTRAILS Before Landing” was uploaded to YouTube. (The version seen here is not the original upload, which was later removed with copyright claims.) Because the original was taken down, the exact view count isn’t known, but it accumulated enough interest to be given the (admittedly nebulous) label “viral video” by Discovery News. Certainly, for a short and low-quality YouTube video about chemtrails, it was unusually popular.

The video is 40 seconds long, the first five of which are unintelligible. It quickly becomes clear (well, hazily clear) that we’re seeing footage of an airplane coming in low for a landing at night. Trailing behind it are several stripes of aircraft exhaust. The plane passes a few lampposts, and by the 25-second mark, it’s safely on the ground. At that point, the camera’s operator zooms out and shifts left and up, panning over a stream of condensation left in the sky.

To most, this condensation would seem to be a pretty standard byproduct of flying in what look to be fairly foggy conditions. Hot airplane exhaust mixes with the lower-temperature atmosphere around it, and in the process, creates water vapor.

(I should add that I did not know exactly how to describe that process off the top of my head. I read about it on the Internet, and it made sense to me, so I’m repeating it here.)

But to the person who posted it, these 40 seconds show something much more sinister. It’s not that he or she does not believe that the meeting of hot and cold air produces moisture, or that (though I wouldn’t want to take words out of his or her mouth) every airplane that emits exhaust is up to no good. No, it’s that real condensation shouldn’t hang around so long, and that some airplanes are releasing a lot more than hot air.

Why would the American government be interested in poisoning its population by spraying vapor out of an airplane? That remains unclear.

Why would the American government be interested in poisoning its population by spraying vapor out of an airplane?

THE BIRTH OF THE chemtrail conspiracy (the word “chemtrail” being a combination of chemical and contrail, and the word “contrail” a combination of condensation and trail) is generally pinpointed to a few-year window surrounding 1996. It was that year when the U.S. Air Force was first accused of using military aircraft to “spray” American citizens with mysterious substances, evidenced by the unusual contrail patterns left in the sky.

Probably not coincidentally, 1996 was also the year that a report called “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025” was presented (and made public) by students of the Air University. As an assignment, the Air Force chief of staff asked the study’s authors to “examine the concepts, capabilities, and technologies the United States will require to remain the dominant air and space force in the future.”

Though the paper’s introduction clearly specifies that it does not reflect official government policy, and that the weather modification and control scenarios described within it are “fictional representations of future situations/scenarios,” some took it as evidence that the government was actively working to control and manipulate the Earth’s climate.

Unfortunately for the Air Force, the third-best way to fan the flames of a conspiracy is to  .  .  .

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One response

  1. Re: “Hot airplane exhaust mixes with the lower-temperature atmosphere around it, and in the process, creates water vapor. (I should add that I did not know exactly how to describe that process off the top of my head. I read about it on the Internet, and it made sense to me, so I’m repeating it here.)”

    Uh, no. Water vapor is invisible. Clouds/fog are actually condensed liquid water droplets (and/or flecks of ice, if the air is cold enough).

    The airplane’s hot exhaust contains a lot of water vapor, because water vapor and CO2 are the main products of hydrocarbon combustion. Hot air can contain a lot more water vapor then cold air can, so as the moist air/exhaust cools some of the water condenses into water droplets, which are visible as fog/cloud. If the surrounding air is already near saturation with moisture (so that it can’t hold any additional water vapor), that increases the percentage of the water vapor which condenses into visible fog/cloud.

    It’s the same effect that enables you to see your breath on a cold day:

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