Those crossing the threshold of the cozy downstairs room of Junction watering hole Celts Pub are met with a lovingly assembled mobile consisting of photographs of the sky. Most depict Toronto's sky, and all seem to focus on long white clouds, the kind left by high-flying jets, called contrails (short for condensation trails). But the dozen or so people assembled here have come to mull over whether that's all they are.
This is one of the weekly Tuesday Boiling Frog video nights featuring activism-themed screenings. Tonight, it's Aerosol Crimes, a video by one Clifford Carnicom that seeks to educate its audience about the purported existence of contrails' sinister doppelgangers, "chemtrails."
The video begins with a grainy shot of a high-altitude jet. We're asked to note its contrail, which extends from the jet a short distance before dissolving. The next shot, accompanied by sinister techno-dystopian background music, shows a similar jet whose trail does not dissolve but spreads across the sky like a long tail.
The video goes on, but mostly reiterates that first point: some trails dissolve right away, while others don't, and isn't that creepy?
NASA, the EPA, Environment Canada and the DND don't think so. People in the U.S. and Canada have been contacting officials demanding action on what they believe is chemical spraying. It's not clear when these theories started dispersing over the Net, but they were bolstered by training exercises by the American and Canadian air forces that saw dozens of contrails leave gridlike patterns over rural Maine in 1998 and Victoria in 2000.
The government, for its part, started a campaign through NASA to convince worriers that the trails are water vapour that freezes in the subzero temperatures of the stratosphere and troposphere. Trail trackers denounced this as a cover-up.
To be fair, the U.S. government might not have to engage in these public education (or public relations, depending on your point of view) campaigns if there weren't many precedents of real government support of super-villain science. A declassified U.S. military report entitled Weather As A Force Multiplier: Owning The Weather In 2025 speaks of emergent techniques for inducing drought, controlling storms and clearing or creating fog.
It also theorizes about altering the ionosphere in order to increase or interfere with communications potential, the aim of many military experiments of this kind.
Trail trackers have also been buoyed by finding strands containing barium and aluminum gumming up home HEPA air filters in areas supposedly targeted for spraying. The presumed connection between what's in their filters and the grand plan is in U.S. Patent #5003186, a technique for seeding the atmosphere with aerosols of conductive metals such as aluminum oxide, ostensibly to stop climate change.
The Web site www.carnicom.com has become the clearinghouse of a vast array of Web documents devoted to the topic. A study I recently skimmed on Internet reading habits concluded that people prioritize aesthetics over factuality, so I resolved to keep an open mind while browsing these sites. Most of them seem to have been designed before the advent of computer monitors.
For conspiracy enthusiasts, they're genuinely entertaining. Most of the authors eschew rigorous proof. One features pictures documenting the formation of "fake clouds," where "barely perceptible mist coalesces." Coalescing mist? Making clouds? I knew my science teacher was in on something shady - "water cycle" my ass.
This leads to theorizing about what chemtrails might be for. Connections to weather modification are most popular, but the real gems are the ones that link with other conspiracies. In my favourite scenario, the trails are sprayed by holographic orbs that were also involved in the destruction of the World Trade Center.
Toronto's own chemtrails group, Air Apparent, is on the more skeptical end of the conspiracy spectrum. The group's Boo Watson attends the screening. Apparently disposed to distance her group from the more colourful theories, she's nonetheless convinced that something is going on right over our noses.
Before the video, a Boiling Frog organizer reads a short survey, asking audience members for a show of hands to indicate their support for different hypotheses on the origins of the gaseous plumes: frozen vapour, fuel additives (benign or otherwise), atmospheric changes, chemical spraying or a combination thereof. Votes are all over the board.
"We may be wrong about what they are," says Watson, "but they aren't normal contrails."
From the American Revolution to McCarthyism to globalization to WMDs, conspiracy theories both true and false drive American history - even more so under Bush's Pax Americana. The thing about conspiracies, though, is that they can distract you if you don't employ Occam's famous razor. William of Occam's principle of the simplest answer being the best doesn't preclude a stolen election or a war for oil, but theories that end up on the other side of the blade may, at best, end up wasting your time.
But that's no reason to stop watching the skies. One thing you may notice is how many clouds in the sky aren't, strictly speaking, natural. Studies have shown that more jet traffic is creating more cloud cover. Pick any cirrus cloud formation and there's an increasing chance that it started out as a jet's contrail.
This doesn't just obscure the blue in the sky - it literally waters it down. Recent studies in both the U.S. and the UK indicate that increased jet traffic is amplifying global warming.
And while finding barium and aluminum fibres in my HEPA filter isn't something I'd be comfortable with, it's possible these elements are simply being dispersed as jet fuel additives (although this is hard to establish, since many commercial additives are proprietary) or remnants of other commonplace uses: barium is used in a "mud" found in paint, bricks, tiles, rubber, glass and the lubricant employed in oil drilling.
Why would the government want to poison us if we're quite happy to poison ourselves? There were already plenty of reasons to be spooked by a culture addicted to technology. And while I wouldn't put chemtrails outside the realm of possibility (U.S. Senate hearings confirmed that chemicals were tested on military personnel in the 60s), if I worried about all the things the U.S. government could be doing, I wouldn't be able to get out of bed and deal with all the things they're probably doing.
Spend all your time hunting conspiracies and you'll end up like Sisyphus. You may get that boulder to the top every now and then, but as long as you're on a hill, anyone can keep rolling it back down. -