Why I Write About (and Debunk) the Chemtrail Conspiracy Theory

There is a strong argument in the weather community that we should ignore the growing number of people who sincerely believe that there is a worldwide governmental conspiracy to control the weather through, among other means, “chemtrails.” Bringing attention to their cause, one may argue, only helps to attract more attention and thereby more adherents to this particular brand of anti-science. In Political discourse and public dialogue, any attempts to suppress information about something usually backfire and lead to even more publicity for the supposedly secret thing…

While that is probably true for a small number of people, ignoring the conspiracy theorists only makes them scream louder for attention through the Streisand Effect. The best way to remedy a situation isn’t to bottle it up and pretend that it isn’t happening, but rather to shine light on it and expose the silliness for what it really is.


Why I Write About (and Debunk) the Chemtrail Conspiracy Theory

If you’re not familiar with the chemtrail conspiracy theory, let me fill you in real quick. The thin, wispy clouds left behind by high-flying aircraft are known as contrails, short for condensation trails. These clouds are left behind as a result of the warm, moist exhaust of the plane’s engines meeting the extremely cold temperatures of the upper atmosphere. It’s a similar principle behind why you can see your breath on cold mornings.

Contrails appear and disappear based on the moisture content of the air through which the plane is passing. If the upper atmospheric air is moist, the plane will leave a contrail that could last hours and spread out into a deck of cirrus. If the air is extremely dry, it might not leave a contrail at all.

Since about the mid-1990s, there’s a subset of people who believe that these contrails are really chemtrails, or trails of vaporized chemicals being sprayed into the atmosphere by aircraft that are really flying around with with tanks full of chemicals rather than passengers. These alleged chemtrails are the work of any number of groups: governments, companies, Jews, you name it. The ultimate goal differs depending on whom you ask, but the two biggest strains of thought are that the chemtrails exist to control the weather or make the populace sick.

For most people with a basic level of science education, the idea is absurd, but the conspiracy theorists truly believe that these chemicals are being sprayed to control the weather, make the population sick, or partake in other “geoengineering” activities.

But let us go back to the theorists themselves. Take last week’s post on chemtrails, for example

“Chemtrails” Don’t Exist and Idiots Are Really Easy to Fool

attracted a good bit of attention in the conspiracy circles, and quite a bit of ire directed towards me. Most of it is innocuous, with the typical name calling and impassioned cries of “you’re a shill and you’re wrong, we have the real truth!”

Underneath the vitriol, you can sense that there’s something…wrong, for lack of a better way to put it. For the most part these are not the rantings of people who have mental health issues or who are angry or have an agenda, but rather they are scared. They truly, deeply believe that there are people spraying us from above, and they are scared.

When you’re scared, you only accept what you want to hear from people. When the nurse tells you that the needle won’t hurt, you smile because that’s what you want to hear even though you know it’s going to hurt anyway. The conspiracy theorists don’t want to hear that their fears are irrational. They want a noble soothsayer to tell them that they’re not buying into a bunch of manure and that somehow, someway, it’s going to be all right because they have the truth.


Education isn’t the United States’ strong suit right now. Kids are given a passing grade based on their ability to more accurately guess the correct answer on a multiple-choice exam than their classmates. Given the things I’ve heard even college students say, I am not at all surprised that people fall for anti-science. It’s human nature to want to be informational hipsters — we’ve got to know exclusive information to which nobody else is privy. Look at Jenny McCarthy and her ridiculous anti-vaccine campaign. “Vaccines gave my kid autism!” No it didn’t, but your Reign of Stupid is bringing us back to the early 1900s with the resurgence of completely preventable diseases.

The fact that people would risk their child’s life because a Hollywood personality told them vaccines are bad is mind-boggling, so it’s not too much of a shock that people would fall for the hucksters telling you that Delta Flight 840 direct to Mobile is spraying the skies with toxic, weather-controlling, mind-altering, immune-system-killing chemicals.


While we’re on the topic of education, it would serve my point well to address and debunk some of the more popular myths and misconceptions surrounding contrails.

Criss-Cross Applesauce

Why I Write About (and Debunk) the Chemtrail Conspiracy TheoryExpand

THEORY: The abundance of high-flying aircraft producing contrails in patterns over major cities proves the existence of chemtrails.

FACT: Major cities have major airports that serve as major navigational checkpoints on flight paths, especially large aviation centers such as New York City or Atlanta or Amsterdam.

Airplanes follow predetermined flight routes that help air traffic controllers guide the planes to their destination safely. When airplanes are flying at high altitude in lines that frequently cross or parallel one another (see eastern North Carolina or St. Louis on the map above), they’re going to leave a pattern of contrails in the sky if conditions are right for them to form.

More today than ever before!

THEORY: The sky has more contrails in it today than ever before!

FACT: That’s true. As more airlines take flight and more flights take off, there will be more opportunities for contrails to form. There are definitely more flights today than there were in, say, 1972, so the opportunity for aircraft to produce contrails is much higher now than it was a few decades ago.

They’re NEW!

Why I Write About (and Debunk) the Chemtrail Conspiracy TheoryExpand

THEORY: Contrails didn’t exist when I was a kid. This is a new phenomenon!

FACT: Unless you’re 100 years old, you were just an unobservant little kid. Contrails were there, just not as many as there are now. It’s a simple case of not noticing something until you’re suddenly aware of it. Case in point: you didn’t think about how much you blink until I wrote this sentence. Now try not to think about it.

They fill the sky!

THEORY: Contrails can take a blue sky and fill it with a thin deck of upper-level cirrus by the evening.

FACT: That can be true in certain circumstances, too. One of the big arguments of chemtrail theorists is that there never used to be “persistent” contrails like there are today. On days with high upper-level humidity, condensation trails can stick around for quite a while, and depending on the winds, they can spread out into a deck of cirrus.

That’s always been the case.

It’s nothing new.




The chemtrail conspiracy theory is a strong profit machine for the theory’s leaders, and it will continue to be as long as they manage to trick people into believing anti-science.

No matter how much you try to argue with the chemtrail believers, it won’t work. A child will steadfastly believe in Santa Claus until he realizes that Santa’s handwriting is the same as his mom’s.