Fact check: ‘Chemtrails’ aren’t real, aren’t related to climate change – USA TODAY
The claim: Chemtrails are intended to ‘protect us from climate change’
An April 3 Instagram post (direct link, archive link) shows a video of a blue sky with a white contrail streaking across it.
“Blocking the sun…AGAIN to protect us from ‘climate change,'” reads the post’s caption. “Thanks to the US🇺🇸 Air Force and Navy for keeping us safe from the sun.”
It also contains the hashtags “#chemtrails” and “#geoengineering.”
The post was liked over 100 times in one week. Similar claims have received hundreds of additional likes and shares.
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Our rating: False
Chemtrails do not exist. The white streak in the sky shown in the video is an airplane contrail. An expert told USA TODAY that airplane contrails would not be effective at mitigating climate change.
Contrails are not used for geoengineering
Airplane contrails, or the white streaks of water vapor left in the sky from planes, have been the subject of conspiracy theories for decades.
Some believe they are made up of chemicals purposefully sprayed on the public by nefarious actors, but this concept is baseless and has been repeatedly debunked.
“Contrails are simply water clouds resulting from jet exhaust,” Alan Robock, a climate science professor at Rutgers University who studies geoengineering, said in an email to USA TODAY.
Dave Fahey, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s chemical sciences laboratory, said they would be a poor choice for climate intervention.
“Contrails are short-lived cloud effects – less than a few days,” Fahey said in an email to USA TODAY. “They would be a very inefficient method.”
Contrails can reflect sunlight under specific conditions, like when there is a large amount of moisture at a low temperature, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
However, they are known to warm the climate system, not cool it, said Fahey, who contributed to a research paper on aviation and climate variation.
Solar geoengineering has never been implemented
Solar geoengineering is an area of study meant to combat rising global temperatures by reflecting sunlight away from the Earth.
“The idea is that dispersing aerosols – tiny particles – at high altitude would reflect a small fraction of incoming sunlight back to space and cool the planet, offsetting some global warming,” Joshua Horton, a geoengineering research director at Harvard University, said in an email to USA TODAY.
Fact check:Mexico is banning solar geoengineering, not ‘chemtrails’
This has not yet been developed, though, Horton and Robock said.
“The technology does not exist,” Robock said. “There is no mechanism to get sulfur gases into the stratosphere. People have created designs for such airplanes, but they have not been built.”
Rather than white streaks across the sky, Robock said solar geoengineering would most likely cause bright yellow and red sunrises and sunsets.
“It would not look at all like contrails,” he said.
USA TODAY has previously debunked an array of false claims about chemtrails, including the erroneous belief that they increase respiratory illnesses and the incorrect assertion that Mexico has banned them.
The social media user who shared the post was unable to be reached for comment.
Our fact-check sources:
- Alan Robock, April 10, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Joshua Horton, April 11, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- David Fahey, April 10-13, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Federal Aviation Administration, June 18, 2021, Contrails 101
- USA TODAY, August 16, 2016, Scientists disprove airplane ‘chemtrail’ theory
- BBC, July 23, 2022, Chemtrails: What’s the truth behind the conspiracy theory?
- Harvard, accessed April 10-13, Chemtrails Conspiracy Theory
- National Library of Medicine, Sept. 3, 2020, The contribution of global aviation to anthropogenic climate forcing for 2000 to 2018
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