CON-trary to What You Have Heard, Chemtrails Aren’t Real

A jet plane in the sky with four contrails behind it.

By. Iliana Pliska-Bloch

So called “chemtrails” are the little white lines you see in the sky behind planes. They are more accurately referred to as condensation trails or contrails. Conspiracy theorists believe they contain all kinds of chemicals from the government designed to do anything from psychological manipulation to geoengineering. Many scientific and governmental organizations have produced evidence that chemtrails are simply water condensation. While contrails may not be an evil plot by some corrupt government, the American people have reason to be slightly wary of their government and the information it provides.

The history of chemtrails is relatively short due, in part, to the recentness of the trails themselves. Contrails usually form at altitudes higher than 8,000 feet. Above 5,000 feet, without pressurization and supplemental oxygen, people will begin to feel sick or lose consciousness. Cabin pressurization was invented in 1938 so before then, it was rare to go above 5,000 feet, let alone 8,000. Therefore, contrails weren’t common enough to create an entire conspiracy theory about until the late 1930s. Photographic evidence documents contrails as far back as World War II. But the popularization of airplane travel and advances in airplane manufacturing in postwar America put even more planes in the sky. In the twenty-first century, contrails are a daily sight in many parts of the world.

The infamous “chemtrail” conspiracy theory began in 1996 when the United States Air Force published a report about weather modification. Conspiracy theorists quickly accused them of spraying chemicals over the U.S. in contrails. This spraying supposedly had various reasons like population control or chemical warfare, but conspiracy theorists focused especially on controlling the weather. This conspiracy theory spread like wildfire via the internet and radio, which led believers to angrily confront some federal officials.

Even though they are wrong, conspiracy theorists have provided a significant amount of “evidence” of chemtrails. They argue that after 1995, the composition of contrails changed, which is why they last so long. They conveniently ignore the evidence of long-lasting contrails during World War II.

In 2000, U.S. government agencies did what anyone in their position would do: provide the evidence they were not secretly spraying chemicals using contrails. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a joint report that declared contrails safe and non-chemical. However, this only added fuel to the fire, and not without good reason. Considering that the conspiracy theorists believe that government agencies are changing the atmosphere through chemical spraying by planes, why should they trust the government agencies dealing with planes and the atmosphere to tell the truth? Obviously, there is no evidence that the government is lying. Therefore, it is understandable that this clarification from the government was ineffective, especially when you consider the overall decline in trust in the U.S. government in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

In fact, the American government has a history of not telling the truth. The Watergate scandal in the 1970s led to a sharp decline in government trust due to the clear evidence of government officials lying to the public. Likewise, following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, both Vice President Cheney and President Bush assured the U.S. Congress and population that Iraq was close to developing nuclear weapons by referencing reports and intelligence that simply never existed. There was so much misinformation that it’s not clear if President Bush was intentionally giving false information or if he himself was misinformed. Events such as these have led to a drop in overall trust. There has been a steady decline in trust in the government since the 1970s. In fact, from 2007 to 2019, trust in the government has almost never passed 30 percent. All of this distrust can be taken to an extreme, and even though it does demonstrate a history of lies and the attitudes of the American people, it is important to put these events into perspective.

The situations described above, and many others, have only involved a few specific people in a few specific places. Despite this, people have a tendency to distrust any government official. It is not the EPA’s fault that Nixon lied about his actions, but it certainly affected their credibility. There are a variety of possible reasons for this. Perhaps America sees its government as an interconnected organism where no one’s hands can truly be clean. Or perhaps these few individuals simply set a precedent that the government can, and will, lie.

In light of such massive deception, is it really paranoid to ask for confirmation from an outside source on contrails? Luckily, many non-governmental organizations have studied contrails and determined them to be safe, including top universities and scientific groups. In 2016, the University of California Irvine and the Carnegie Institute for Sciencefound that out of 77 of the top atmospheric and geochemical scientists all but one found zero evidence of contrails being secret chemical sprayings. The one dissenting scientist had found high levels of barium—but that alone does not support chemtrail arguments.

While top scientists might be considered part of the conspiracy, there is one government source who is unlikely to be protecting US officials: NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. He himself said that he scoured top CIA, NSA, and Military files and found absolutely nothing about chemtrails. All of the evidence strongly suggests that contrails are just contrails. If the government is spraying chemicals, it is certainly not happening through airplanes.