A set of individuals, activists, filmmakers and members of groups like Hands Off Mother Earth, California Skywatch and Canada Skywatch say: Look up at the sky today and you will see a starkly different sight, a crisscross of persistent contrails. Visible jet exhaust can produce a white haze over the skies as the long thick trails spread out and join together as they hang in the sky for many hours.
Although the level of activity of jets leaving persistent contrails differs from location to location, according to activists, if you spend a week looking up at the sky in any city across the United States, you are bound to notice this phenomenon – one very different from the experience of the sky 25 years ago.
The World of Geoengineering
With Bill Gates’ cloud-whitening experiment recently in the news, alarm bells are sounding around the world. Gates provided a U.S.-based research body, Silver Lining, with $300,000 to develop machines which would convert seawater into microscopic particles that could be sprayed in clouds to increase the whiteness, or albedo. The clouds would reflect more sunlight back into space, thereby, theoretically cooling the planet.
What is so shocking about this research – the largest known attempt at engineering the climate – is that these scientists and engineers need no permission to go from research to execution. There are currently no laws prohibiting atmospheric geoengineering projects. A report by the UKs national academy of science, The Royal Society, warned that the side effects of cloud-whitening were unknown. And, in March, Britain’s Science and Technology Committee said that countries should not be allowed to engage in geoengineering without consulting the UN.
Geoengineering is not a new concept. It has been around as long ago as the 1830’s when J.P. Espy suggested lighting large fires to create updrafts that would change rain intensity. Since then, it has been thought of for everything from changing precipitation patterns to making polar latitudes habitable.
Today, geoengineers are primarily concerned with what they perceive as society’s all too slow response to stemming the rapid onset of global warming. Some of the latest geoengineering projects to cool the planet sound like something out of a sci-fi film. For example, erecting a huge lens between the earth and sun to deflect sunlight or dumping large amounts of iron dust into the ocean creating giant blooms of algae that will pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Another project geoengineers have already openly discussed is the idea of experimenting with stratospheric aerosol geoengineering (SAG.) SAG would deploy ultra-fine aluminum or sulfur particulates into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight and potentially cool the planet. And in his paper, “An overview of geoengineering of climate using stratospheric sulphate aerosols,” published by The Royal Society of Britain, Phillip J. Rasch discusses using aircraft as a delivery system for the aerosols. Critics around the world are concerned this idea is not just in the research stage but, as they watch the persistent contrails draw patterns across the sky, that it has already been deployed.
The idea of SAG first came about in the mid-1970s when Mikhail Budyko, a Russian climatologist, proposed that global warming could be countered with planes burning sulfur in the stratosphere. This strategy mimics the natural phenomenon of high concentrations of sulfur in the atmosphere from volcanic eruptions that cause temporary cooling of the Earth, an effect which disappears as the aerosol dissipates.
While many of the geoengineering proposals may sound far-fetched to some, they are now regularly being debated as real solutions around the globe. But while scientists at events such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science discuss how they may implement these strategies in the future, critics argue that some geoengineering is already in progress.
Geoengineering is here, but how “here” is it?
California Skywatch founder Rosalind Peterson, who is also the president and founder of the Agricultural Defense Coalition, has appeared on local news stations across the country arguing that our skies are clearly crisscrossed with manmade clouds. In the 2008 NBC LA news report “Toxic Sky?” she said, “We have jets going in every direction – x’s, north, south, east, west, circles.” Peterson also maintains that chemicals in these clouds are winding up in drinking water. She says health department records show a sharp increase in both aluminum and barium in the water supply of northern California, dating from the time the huge contrails first appeared over Mendocino County. Peterson explains, “All these things in the same test would be up, way over state and federal standards. This had to be airborne because how could it get to such diverse regions of our county.”
NBC LA was prompted to investigate the issue of persistent contrails in their report “Toxic Sky?” when a community in the San Bernardino Mountains was hit with a huge “dust” cloud that left a sticky yellow slime. This “dust” cloud coincided with a “tremendous upsurge” in the amount of children not going to school. A pharmacist in the area, Ed Burrows, said over the past 22 years it was the most mysterious illness he had seen which included eye infections, upper respiratory problems, and nose bleeds. Some claimed that it was a pollen cloud, but the department of health tested a sample and concluded that, “There was no sign of any biological form,” so it could not have been pollen.
Critics have dubbed contrails “chemtrails,” due to the perceived chemical component of the permanent contrails. In a 2007 news report, after being made aware of these persistent contrails and the concern of residents that they were chemical in nature, Louisiana news station KSLA 12 conducted a lab analysis of rainwater to see if the heavy contrail activity had changed the normal chemical levels. The test results showed a level of barium three times the toxic level set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Correspondent Jeff Ferrel reported that KSLA discussed the results with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, who agreed that the levels were very unusual, but they added that proving the source of the chemicals was not an easy task.
Opponents of the “chemtrails” characterization believe that these persistent contrails are not a geoengineering project but rather just harmless jet contrails that linger in the sky because they have formed into ice crystals. They also say that the crisscrossed skies are not proof of some new phenomenon but that the contrails are just more noticeable now because there has been a massive increase in jet traffic since the 1980’s. They say chemtrail believers are conspiracy theorists.
Professor Gregory Benford of UC Irvine, who works with the Department of Energy on weather research, said that the DOE did not know of any jets spraying chemicals to affect the weather but added that we will probably see it in the near future. He suggested that barium oxide or aluminum would effectively create fluffy white cloud cover that would allow for management of the climate – two of the chemicals that activists say they are finding in their water and soil in excess amounts.
Meteorologists have their own take. These persistent contrails often show up on weather radar systems around the world. They don’t behave like ordinary clouds and meteorologists often explain them as the result of military activity. Kevin Lollis of Oregon’s KTVL News 10 team said on a broadcast, “These bands of very distinct cloud cover moving into the region – that is not rain… that is not snow.” He explained that the cloud cover was the result of military aircraft flying through the region expelling particles of aluminum or tiny pieces of plastic. “Obviously they’re up there practicing. Now, they won’t confirm that, but I was in the Marine Corp for many years and I’ll tell you right now, that’s what it is,” Lollis said.
However, in the “Toxic Sky?” broadcast, Paul Moyer reported that, in response to concern that the government was creating clouds to combat global warming, the Air Force says, “There is no such thing as a chemtrail – the actual contrails are a safe and natural phenomenon.”
Independent journalist Michael J. Murphy is the producer of the new film, “What in the World are they Spraying?” a documentary which explores whether aluminum, barium and other substances from Stratospheric Aerosol Geoengineering could be destroying eco-systems around the world. Murray attended the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Diego in February 2010 where geoengineers gathered to discuss implementing SAG and other geoengineering projects throughout the world. Scientists attending the meeting denied that any SAG programs are already under way.
Outside the conference, however, Murray described a scene where many protesters were claiming quite the opposite. These protesters have witnessed the same persistent contrails and many from the group claim to have tested their soil, rainwater, and snow and found high levels of aluminum, barium, and other substances geoengineers are discussing for use in SAG. The protesters argue that, like other geoengineering programs such as Bill Gate’s cloud whitening experiment, SAG programs are not prohibited by law and, therefore, could currently be operating without our knowledge.
Regulating the Skies
A formal recommendation for a moratorium on climate geoengineering will go to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Japan this October. The scientific subcommittee of the UN Convention requested that “no climate-related geo-engineering activities take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts.”
On May 18, 2010, the Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration (ETC) quoted Silvia Ribero, a member of their international civil society organization, as saying: “The geoengineers are going to be furious with this moratorium… The last thing they want is for the United Nations to step in. They argue that a handful of governments and corporations should be free to move ahead on geoengineering experimentation without independent, international oversight. In March, geoengineers held a by invitation-only conference in Asilomar, California, to discuss a ‘voluntary code of conduct’ that would let them self-regulate their experiments. Governments here in Nairobi have just told them they have no right to control the planet’s thermostat.”
Suspecting the geoengineers will be preparing a massive lobbying offensive to prevent the moratorium from being enacted in October, ETC and over 100 other organizations have joined together to try to stop geoengineering experiments.
Naomi Klein, a Canadian author and member of grassroots organization Hands Off Mother Earth, or HOME, echoed the sentiments of many of those opposed to unregulated geoengineering when she said, “How dare they claim the right to block the sun? To color the clouds? To change the chemistry of the ocean?”
SAG or Contrail?
Are there any chemicals lingering in those persistent contrails that melt across our skies, or is it just harmless water vapor? The worrisome truth is that without some kind of regulation on geoengineering, all we can do is speculate. Without regulation, we have no way of requiring an investigation into the phenomenon to see if anything is being sprayed, who is spraying it, and what they are spraying. With the world now debating geoengineering and its possible side effects, future discussions are bound to be very intriguing.