I get daily letters from strangers. Only a few come from our mid-Hudson region. My monthly page in Astronomy magazine and the 400,000 readers of my Old Farmer’s Almanac astronomy stuff generate lots of correspondence. This week, two letters stand out. They are such polar opposites, they created a strange juxtaposition.
One was from an acquaintance who for decades wrote a popular column in Sky & Telescope magazine, which is on the brink of vanishing, since its parent company has just gone bankrupt. He reminded me of another former writer, George Lovi, who knew the sky so well that a planetarium company hired him to study the dome projected by their equipment to assess if any little star might be absent or out of place.
Imagine that kind of knowledge! The letter-writer too knows the sky intimately, and was very aware that I do as well, though not to the astonishing extent of Lovi. “We are the last of our breed,” he wrote to me, “the final buffalo in a disappearing herd.”
The second letter was a ten-page screed displaying frank paranoia. The writer asked if I’m aware of the dangers posed by chemtrails: the spraying of mind-controlling or health-damaging chemicals supposedly perpetrated by the government.
Some quick research uncovered a disconcerting trend. A Public Policy Research survey in 2015 revealed that five percent of the US population was convinced that at least some of the white lines behind high-altitude planes are chemicals deliberately sprayed by the government. The same poll conducted last year now shows that 15 percent of Americans are “certain” that chemtrails are real, while another 20 percent believe it is “somewhat true.” Thus, a third of the population is at least partially convinced of an ongoing, health-threatening government spraying program that does not exist.
There’s very little pushback. One YouTube video by megabunk.org shows decades of books about clouds that consistently explain how water vapor released by jet engines freezes to produce contrails. Every cloud book going back 70 years explains that, depending on temperature and humidity, a contrail may evaporate within a few minutes or instead spread out to form a cloud sheet that can endure for hours. Thus, while chemtrailers insist that real contrails dissipate rapidly, all the lingering, spreading cloud sheets they say are chemical releases are actually a basic variety of normal contrails observed and photographed since World War II.
Obviously, any long-term spraying of these supposedly harmful metals would result in ground contamination, whereas countless soil analyses and ongoing water-monitoring show no such metal increases. Such logic is invariably met with paranoiac rebuttals that all these seemingly normal analyses have been faked.
Those of us who are longtime pilots and friends of career air-transport pilots find the whole idea ludicrous – not just because such a continuous operation could not possibly be performed clandestinely, but because how would you begin to find thousands of air traffic controllers, pilots and other participants willing to poison their own families on the ground below?
And for what purpose? The conspiracy folks cite either government mind control or else climate “geoengineering.” Believers in the conspiracy sometimes cite actual published “evidence” like the HAARP program in which high-altitude chemicals were released for scientific studies.
One citation listed as a “proof” on conspiracy websites was an announcement of a new aerosol measles vaccine. The fearmongers didn’t bother reporting that this aerosol wasn’t designed to be sprayed from planes, but rather administered individually via face masks.
The main takeaway is that we live in a country where a third of its citizens believe in imaginary chemtrails, while 42 percent support a president who is patently unqualified for the office. A country whose citizens keep scoring a D-minus on the National Science Foundation’s annual “Ten basic true/false science questions.”
We have identified less than one millionth of Earth’s estimated microbe species. Our planet’s changing climate demands that the public understand the simple mechanism behind greenhouse gases. We need people to grasp why, if the air’s carbon dioxide concentration has climbed from 280 parts per million to the current 406 PPM, this is a powerful, worrisome development – and fully see that it is unequivocally caused by human fossil fuel emissions.
With a universe screaming to be explored, we need the public to have a baseline grasp of logic and science. But hope for the fulfillment of that necessity keeps dissolving like those strange white lines in the sky.
And now – forgive me – you’ll understand my present mood, caused by the sobering reality that arrived with this week’s mail.
Want to know more? To read Bob’s previous columns, visit our Almanac Weekly website at HudsonValleyOne.com. Check out Bob’s podcast, Astounding Universe, co-hosted by Pulse of the Planet’s Jim Metzner.