David Suzuki: Conspiracies fuel climate change denial and belief in chemtrails

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      I recently wrote about geoengineering as a strategy to deal with climate change and carbon dioxide emissions. That drew comments from people who confuse this scientific process with the unscientific theory of “chemtrails”. Some also claimed the column supported geoengineering, which it didn’t.

      The reaction got me wondering why some people believe in phenomena rejected by science, like chemtrails, but deny real problems demonstrated by massive amounts of scientific evidence, like climate change.

      Chemtrails believers claim governments around the world are in cahoots with secret organizations to seed the atmosphere with chemicals and materialsaluminum salts, barium crystals, biological agents, polymer fibres, etc.for a range of nefarious purposes. These include controlling weather for military purposes, poisoning people for population, or mind control and supporting secret weapons programs based on the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP.

      Scientists have tested and used cloud and atmospheric seeding for weather modification and considered them as ways to slow global warming. With so many unknowns and possible unintended consequences, these practices have the potential to cause harm. But the chemtrails conspiracy theory is much broader, positing that military and commercial airlines are involved in constant massive daily spraying that is harming the physical and mental health of citizens worldwide.

      I don’t have space to get into the absurdities of belief in a plot that would require worldwide collusion between governments, scientists and airline company executives and pilots to amass and spray unimaginable amounts of chemicals from altitudes of 10,000 metres or more. I’m a scientist, so I look at credible science—and there is none for the existence of chemtrails. They’re condensation trails, formed when hot, humid air from jet exhaust mixes with colder low-vapour-pressure air. This, of course, comes with its own environmental problems.

      But what interests me is the connection between climate change denial and belief in chemtrails. Why do so many people accept a theory for which there is no scientific evidence while rejecting a serious and potentially catastrophic phenomenon that can be easily observed and for which overwhelming evidence has been building for decades?

      To begin, climate change denial and chemtrails theories are often conspiracy-based. A study by researchers at the University of Western Australia found “endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories…predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific findings.”

      Many deniers see climate change as a massive plot or hoax perpetrated by the world’s scientists and scientific institutions, governments, the UN, environmentalists, and sinister forces to create a socialist world government or something.

      Not all go to such extremes. Some accept climate change is occurring but deny humans are responsible. Still, it doesn’t seem rational to deny something so undeniable! In a Bloomberg article, author and Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein points to three psychological barriers to accepting climate change that may also help explain why it’s easier for people to believe in chemtrails: People look to readily available examples when assessing danger, focus “on risks or hazards that have an identifiable perpetrator”, and pay more attention to immediate threats than long-term ones.

      Researchers Ezra Markowitz and Azim Shariff of the University of Oregon Psychology and Environmental Studies departments add a few more, including that human-caused climate change “provokes self-defensive biases” and its politicization “fosters ideological polarization.”

      People who subscribe to unbelievable conspiracy theories may feel helpless, so they see themselves as victims of powerful forces—or as heroes standing up to those forces. Whether it’s to deny real problems or promulgate imaginary ones, it helps reinforce a worldview that is distrustful of governments, media, scientists and shadowy cabals variously referred to as banksters, global elites, the Illuminati or the New World Order.

      The problem is that science denial is, in the case of chemtrails, a wacky distraction and, in the case of climate change denial, a barrier to addressing an urgent, critical problem. Science is rarely 100 per cent certain, but it’s the best tool we have for coming to terms with our actions and their consequences, and for finding solutions to problems. The science is clear: human-caused climate change is the most pressing threat to humanity, and we must work to resolve it. We don’t have time for debunked conspiracy theories.



      Conspiracy Theorist

      Sep 3, 2013 at 5:22pm

      A conspiracy theorist is not necessarily wrong because he (or she) is a conspiracy theorist. I do agree that most of the time conspiracy theorists read far too much into coincidence. I also agree that skeptics see coincidence when in fact there may be conspiracy. Disentangling what is what is an almost impossible task for the average joe.


      Sep 3, 2013 at 5:47pm

      Excellent post with rational arguments to dispel myths and deliberate falsehoods while providing a cogent defense of real science. Unfortunately there are no votes and no money for politicians who try to do whats right rather than pander to self serving yet self destructive voters.

      But at least these wing nuts vote and donate to the parties that pander to them. You can't blame politicians for doing what is in their nature. Those voters, and us along with them, are the proverbial fox with the scorpion being the sycophant politicians.


      Sep 3, 2013 at 7:23pm

      I don't believe in conspiracies by scientists, but politicians are a whole different ballgame.


      Sep 3, 2013 at 10:20pm

      I agree with the thrust of this column, but a lot of people have been able to keep the NSA's snooping of the Internet secret, with help from lots of big companies, and the weight of the US government after Edward Snowden to keep it that way.

      Chemical Bill

      Sep 4, 2013 at 1:44am

      Hey, where's all the crazies who went after David Jones when he refuted chemtrails in the Vander Zalm article from last week? Come on crazy chemtrail people, I want to see some more insane rants!

      Citizen Wooly Sheared Slumber

      Sep 4, 2013 at 7:05am

      The best thing for people to do is just have complete trust in scientists and government and just go back to sleep.

      The very idea of a conspiracy is just absurd. A conspiracy has probably never taken place in all of human history because I believe humans are basically very nice.

      Homer Dimwitz

      Sep 4, 2013 at 11:04am

      Organized crime does not exist because it would require conspiratorial activity and everyone knows that conspiracies are impossible except for Arab hijackers and domestic patriot groupies.

      Emmanuel Goldstien.

      Sep 4, 2013 at 1:26pm

      Oh david, your old and out of touch with reality but he did not write this per say. READ the disclaimer at the bottom

      " Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington."

      Your telling me that planes dumping tons of heavy metal particles on us daily is good for us and the environment???

      EPIC FAIL dave.

      Ben Sili

      Sep 4, 2013 at 4:14pm

      Lovely strawman...