Main Feature Story - Friday, January 20, 2012

Feature: Sprayed and confused
Chemtrails—insidious corporate plot to slowly poison population?! (Or, merely evaporated water...)
by Jacob Shafer

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It's a sight so common you've probably stopped noticing: a plane cutting across the sky and behind it a thin, pale wisp of vapor. Sometimes it disappears quickly; sometimes it lingers, dissolving into the blue like an Alka-Seltzer tablet in a giant glass of water.

To most people, this phenomenon is no more remarkable than smoke billowing from a chimney or foggy breath on a cold day. But for the burgeoning chemtrail movement it's something else entirely: part of a secret, relentless effort to blanket the atmosphere with toxic chemicals. Depending upon whom you ask, the conspiracy and coverup involve a dizzying array of international players both public and private. What are they after? That's even more complicated.

Maybe you've already dismissed the chemtrail crowd—whose exhortations have graced the Pacific Sun's letters-to-the-editor page on more than one occasion—as a flock of Chicken Littles in tinfoil hats. Maybe you're a fervent believer. Or maybe you've never heard of chemtrails, in which case you've almost certainly got a lot of questions.

Our search for answers begins, not surprisingly, in Fairfax where a pending resolution could make the town an official "chemtrail-free zone." It's the brainchild of Peter Kirby, a 40-year-old San Rafael resident who's made chemtrails his personal cause celebre.

"The first time I heard about it I thought, what a bunch of garbage," said Kirby. Then, about a year-and-a-half ago while "trolling around the Internet for conspiracy theories" he stumbled on a YouTube video that appears to show a plane spraying an unknown substance. (Kirby sent us a link to the clip, which is taken from an aerial perspective and heavily edited; go to YouTube and search for "Plane spraying chemicals"; click on the one posted by ConspiracyTVwithMr.X) According to Kirby, he's "been treating it as a real, serious issue ever since."

Serious enough that he authored Resolution No. 12-07, which declares, in part: "The people of Fairfax recognize that geoengineers are spraying particulate matter from jet airplanes; an activity which produces what are commonly referred to as 'chemtrails.'"

Who does Kirby think is behind the spraying? "The government is letting it happen, but I think it's banks and hedge funds. It's a big insurance-fraud scam."

Asked to elaborate, Kirby points to an article he wrote for titled "The Chemtrail Business." The first four paragraphs read as follows:

The spraying itself is carried out by the U.S. military; probably the Air Force. The orders mostly come from Wall Street. The military man or men in charge of the operation take orders from an intelligence agency.

The people giving orders from the intelligence agency's headquarters are taking orders from Wall Street. To make a buck, energy companies, insurance companies, big banks and other catastrophe reinsurance and weather derivatives market players direct the military in their chemtrail spraying activities.

Ultimately, the taxpayer pays for it all through bailouts. Geoengineers serve as consultants to both intelligence agencies and the military.

"This is the theory I am entertaining. Do you care to join me?"

• • • •

JET TRAILS, COMMONLY referred to as "contrails," have been around since the dawn of air travel. According to multiple atmospheric scientists we contacted for this story, they're perfectly normal and quite harmless.

But, chemtrail proponents claim, some time around the mid-'90s those formerly benign streaks of effluvium became bigger, more prevalent and suddenly dangerous.

"When I was a kid, you see a plane flying over and there's this tiny little tail on it," said Kirby. "Now there's all these lines and squiggles and all this [stuff] in the sky. It's totally wrong."

We asked Kirby about a series of Life magazine photographs, some from the 1940s, re-published on the site . They show large, diffuse contrails that look an awful lot like contemporary chemtrails.

"I think it's professionally produced high-tech propaganda," Kirby replied. Who's producing it? "Western intelligence agencies, working in collusion with corporations."

For all the groups he implicates, Kirby doesn't think commercial airlines are involved, as some contend. "People have said it's in the jet fuel, but that doesn't make sense to me. I think it's fleets of jets, and I think they're military jets. I think they're controlled remotely at NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command]."

Still, we reached out to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates all civilian air travel. "Contrails are formed by engine water vapor that crystallizes at high altitudes. They can remain in the sky for a long time when the air is humid and tend to dissipate more quickly when the air is dry," said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. "'Chemtrails' [are] a myth."

As with all conspiracy theories, official denials only harden believers' resolve. Kirby says he's "100 percent certain" chemtrails are real. And he rejects the term "conspiracy theory."

"It's a label people can put on something so they don't have to think about it anymore," he said.

Kirby first pushed his resolution in his hometown of San Rafael, but says he was rebuffed. So he turned to Fairfax, with better results (the Council tabled the matter at its January meeting but is slated to take it up next month).

Mayor Pam Hartwell-Herrero, who sponsored the resolution, says it's being rewritten. "I took this issue up because [former Fairfax councilmember] Lew Tremaine had promised a citizen that he would and wasn't able to get to it before he retired from the Council," Hartwell-Herrero wrote in an e-mail. "We have had concerns voiced from a number of citizens regarding this issue and as a representative I felt it was reasonable to go on record that our community does not want to be subject to geoengineering experiments without our consent or knowledge."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but not an outright rejection either.

• • • •

GEOENGINEERING, THE CENTRAL thread that ties the chemtrail quilt together, is real. Or at least, it's really being discussed.

Multiple government studies, all published and part of the public record, outline the pros and cons of releasing various compounds—including metals like aluminum, strontium and barium—into the atmosphere, often as a last-ditch salvo against climate change.

But every available study has one other thing in common: they all say geoengineering is stuck at the theoretical phase—no tests, no real-world spraying and certainly no widespread deployment.

For filmmaker Michael Murphy—whose movie What in the World Are They Spraying? may be the most definitive attempt to explain chemtrails—the fact that geoengineering is being talked about is worrying in itself. But, like Kirby (who credits Murphy with "leading the charge"), he's fully convinced it's gone far beyond the conceptual phase.

In fact, Murphy calls chemtrails "one of the greatest ecological and human health catastrophes that we have ever seen."

Also, like Kirby, Murphy believes the conspiracy is vast and far-reaching, involving "many different corporations and many different governments."

He compares the conspiracy to the Manhattan Project, with thousands of participants, some of whom may be unaware what they're truly doing.

"Do I think the people who are involved in, say, delivering the aluminum and other chemicals to the airplanes are aware of what the whole program is about?" Murphy asked rhetorically via phone while weaving through L.A. traffic. "The answer to that is no."

At the same time, Murphy said, "It always baffles [me] to see how people can be complicit in the coverup of these programs and believe they won't be affected by it."

Murphy is referring to people like Ronald Cohen, director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Science Center, who told us, "Airplanes burn fuel. Burning is the reaction of fuel with oxygen to produce water and CO2. The water is the source of contrails. No other ingredients are needed."

And people like Mark Jacobson, who heads up Stanford's atmosphere/energy program. He recently published a paper about airplane emissions and said, "We can calculate the formation and evolution of contrails quite precisely based on physical principles based simply on water vapor and particulate matter emissions at the correct temperature and relative humidity over ice."

Are they part of the conspiracy?

"They typically are looking at the science of contrails. We're looking at contamination," replied Murphy. "And the contamination that we're finding in the air matches geoengineers' plans and proposals to spray [toxins] into our air."

Murphy's next project is a film about weather control—his Empire Strikes Back follow-up to his first film's A New Hope. One of the experts Murphy consulted is former Idaho weatherman Scott Stevens who contends, among other things, that Hurricane Katrina was the work of Japanese scientists. According to Murphy, Stevens now says the weather has been "100 percent corporatized." Not only are they spraying things on us, they're controlling the five-day forecast. "I'm not sure about that," Murphy said. "I do believe nature plays a role."

"We question everything," Murphy told us when we asked how certain he is that chemtrails are real. "What I will say is thousands of dots connect."

• • • •

LET'S IMAGINE FOR a moment that the dots don't connect, that this is merely an elaborate fantasy. What would make people like Kirby and Murphy—who come across as relatively sane, even average—dive into the rabbit hole?

In his book, The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies, Michael Shermer writes, "Once beliefs are formed, the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which adds an emotional boost to further confidence in the beliefs and thereby accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive feedback loop of belief confirmation."

We are wired, in other words, to throw good mental money after bad, doubling down on our mistaken notions because, dang it, they're ours. Contradictory evidence is either dismissed or discredited, and facts, however desultory, are pieced together to form a whole, real or imagined.

This is how conspiracy theories work, and upon inspection chemtrails certainly fit the mold. Add the fact that airplanes have become especially sinister in our post-9/11 world and you have all the makings of a fringe obsession more focused on sensationalism than reality. Then again, by writing that, we've likely implicated ourselves in the coverup.

In fact, near the end of our interview, Murphy noted that "a lot of media sources have interest in corporations that benefit from weather control." He asked if we were looking to do a hit piece on him and we assured him we weren't. But, we asked, doesn't it frustrate you that so many have dismissed the theory or are unaware of it? "Millions of people have woken up to this," he replied, his voice suddenly upbeat again. "We have a worldwide movement going on right now. We have politicians now who are interested in this and addressing it. I couldn't be more happy."

Added Murphy: "I can tell you from the depth of my heart that we don't have a greater threat to our planet."

• • • •

GIVEN FAIRFAX'S PROPENSITY for symbolic gestures and the mayor's tepid support, Kirby's resolution has a decent chance of passing. And, you could argue, that's not a bad thing. Even if geoengineering remains in the planning phase, a little preemptive legislation couldn't hurt.

Then again, with the range of pressing problems facing the county, state, country and planet, is this where we want our officials to focus their attention?

Much like chemtrails themselves, those are open questions. And if the sky holds the answers, well, the sky isn't talking.

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