Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Chemtrails": The Silliest Conspiracy Theory?

The "Chemtrails" conspiracy theory began to appear in the 1990's.  The theory is that "The Government" is conducting some kind of mind control experiments or procedures by mounting spraying equipment on jets and then spraying chemicals of some kind at high altitudes.  The reasons why this is silly (at least) are myriad and the actual explanation is simple and mundane.  Sadly, people that believe are not easily convinced by evidence, science, or common sense, instead they believe in something fantastically convoluted and impossible to pull off because it fits their paranoid belief system.  The basis for this paranoia is not illogical, however when this paranoia is extended to occurences that are easily explained by basic laws of nature it enters into a realm that distracts a person from actual scandals that are actually occurring.  So, let's look at why this particular conspiracy is fantasy and impossible and hopefully keep the paranoid from continuing to waste their energy and time on something that is so obviously imaginary.

There are more than these three reasons that the notion of jets spraying something on the world is silly but you can find all these reasons in massive amounts with dozens of links to dozens of independent scientific sources at this one site but I only feel like venting about these three:
  1.   There would need to be a fleet of aircraft operating day in and day out flying long routes with the sole purpose of spraying some kind of chemical drug or something. 
  2.   There would be tens of thousands of people covering up the operation to the point where noone infiltrated long enough to take pictures or provide any concrete proof this was happening.
  3.   There would be no other explanation for those trails in the sky.

The reasons ordinary commercial aircraft cannot be performing these clandestine activities are pretty simple:  commercial jets fly prescheduled routes from one big airport to another and everything to do with their maintenance and preparation between landing and the next take-off is readily observable by the public and is performed by a large group of employees.  For commercial jets to spray chemicals continuously as they fly thousands of miles they would have to have tanks for the chemicals and the lines and nozzles to spray them.  As anyone that has dealt with spray equipment can tell you nozzles need to be cleaned and replaced regularly.  Also these tanks would have to be filled.  But most importantly these tanks would eliminate large amounts of cargo space in the hold and would drastically increase the fuel requirements for each flight.  There would have to be some secret crew handling the chemicals, maintaining the spray equipment and the extra fuel, etc. would have to be paid for by someone.  Ask any pilot, they know how much weight is on their plane before they taxi to the runway.  They have to know because it tells them the take off speed of the aircraft, how long of a run they'll need to reach that speed, and how rapidly they will consume fuel in flight.  Airplanes do not carry large reserves of fuel because every pound of weight decreases the efficiency of the flight.  But more importantly, for commercial flights to be used for this purpose it would mean that hundreds of thousands of mechanics, baggage handlers, in flight suppliers, and other ground crew would all be keeping this operation secret.  I don't know about you but do you really think every single person that works at an airport can be kept in the dark about an operation of this magnitude?  Someone would have taken pictures of this unusual extra gear on jets.  All mechanics and maintenance personnel would have to be keeping secret that the aircraft they take care of have this additional machinery and storage tanks.  On top of all that, simply using a telescope to look at aircraft producing contrails at high altitude will show you the airline and then tail number of these craft.  Believe it or not you can track any aircraft anywhere in the world with these identifiers.  You'll know where it took off from and where it lands.  Surely someone would have observed something out of the ordinary while these planes were on the ground and they haven't because there is nothing out of the ordinary going on.

But it's the government doing it!  Right?  Well, that seems just as unlikely.  When the air conditions are right for contrails to form there are literally thousands of them in the skies over the world (that's right, it's not just over America that contrails form!) so that would mean there would have to be thousands of aircraft flying these missions.  So where are they and how are they being paid for?  A single new airliner costs around a quarter of a billion dollars and, if you use your telescope to look at the aircraft producing high altitude contrails you will see that they are newer craft (and you will also see that most of them are commercial aircraft and both they and military craft have wing and tail numbers you can trace).  More on that when I get to the real reason for contrails.  So, if "The Government" is making these planes and flying them all over the world (I guess it must be the Illuminati or the U.N. since contrails appear everywhere airline routes cross) how are they paying for it?  Where are they being produced?  Where are they taking off and landing from?  How many tens of thousands of people are involved in this conspiracy and are somehow keeping it secret?  Isn't it amazing that the strongest believers in this silliness are also the ones that will, without a hint of irony or hesitation, tell you that government can't do anything right.  Amazing.  They can't balance taxes and spending but they can keep an enormous conspiracy costing trillions of dollars per year secret.  They can't oversee the Pentagon budget with any kind of reason or sense but they can hide the production of thousands of large jet aircraft.  They can't agree on pretty much anything but they can maintain secret airbases all over the world and all the personnel to run them and all the other basic infrastructure that goes with keeping thousands of aircraft in the air day after day and somehow nobody has printed an anonymous account of this dastardly undertaking and there are no pictures of the bases or aircraft and they're so talented you can't even find any of them with satellites (though you can see what Area 51 looks like on Google Earth). 

I have never heard any conspiracy theorist address just what is being sprayed from these planes.  What is the "chem" in "chemtrails"?  How is an aerosol mist sprayed at 35,000 feet supposed to have any effect on the ground?  Do the Believers think that something sprayed at that altitude is going to fall straight down to the earth below where it is sprayed?  It's supposed to be some kind of mind control substance but I doubt that something as powerful as LSD would have any effect by the time it reached the ground from the cruising altitude of the jets producing contrails.  There is almost no UV or IR protection from the atmosphere at those heights and most complex chemicals break down rapidly from that combined with the extreme cold and low atmospheric pressure.  And in reality a fine mist sprayed at 35,000 feet above your town, if it did make it all the way to the ground, is probably going to do so on on the ocean somewhere or another continent.  There is a science to the way the air moves in the atmosphere and we know a great deal about it.  But if you ask a Believer to learn the basics of atmospheric science they won't because obviously scientists have been publishing lies for the last two centuries to cover up this conspiracy that started in 1995 or so.

So what is the real explanation for high altitude contrails that the Believers call "Chemtrails"?  Let's start with your car.  You may have noticed that new cars drip water out of their tailpipes.  On cold days there is a cloud of white vapor coming out of the tailpipe that hangs around.  Anyone older than 20 should remember when cars did not do this.  As a matter of a fact, up into the late 70's cars were more likely to blow out visible smoke rather than steam or dripping water.  What happened?  It's very simple.  Engines have become more and more efficient as they've been redesigned.  As engine design has progressed more and more of the hydrocarbons in fuel is burned through recirculation of exhaust, catalytic converters, and computer controlled fuel injection and ignition.  As a result most of what comes out of a modern tail pipe is water vapor and warm air.  The old suicide method of locking yourself in the garage and running the motor simply will not work anymore with a well tuned small car.  You will run out of gas and get a headache.  So what happened in the 1990's to spark the "Chemtrails" conspiracy you ask?  A new design of jet engine.  There ya go.  A simple, logical, and documentable explanation.  The efficiency of newer jet engines dramatically increased how efficiently fuel was combusted leading to more water vapor and less particulate pollution.  You can hear the difference between older an newer jet engines.  Newer engines are quieter and have a different tone to them.  Here's a picture of a 1991 Airbus A340 (introduced in 1991) flying next to a Boeing 707 (1957) at 33,000 feet.  Notice anything?

I should also point out that there are more jet aircraft flying at high altitude than there were 20 years ago.  The worldwide fleet of passenger and cargo jets is slightly lower than it was before the economic collapse of the late naughties but there are still hundreds of thousands of flights every day and fewer and fewer of the craft in service use the older engine designs (though it is kind of surprising to see how many still fly in and out of Louisville's airport).

So which explanation is more believable?  That there is some mind boggling worldwide conspiracy that is flying these mystery planes with their sinister payload around the world or that the contrails are just that produced by more efficient jet engines?  Occam's razor says that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and there is none.  There is a ton of basic science that would have to be disproven for the extraordinary proof to be believable so you decide.  You get to choose between imaginary and science. 

Most of this article was pulled from my memory but here is a staggering set of resources about this, the silliest of conspiracy theories: