Standing on the sidewalk, you look up in the sky and see a curious crosshatching of straight white streaks. These are airplane contrails — clouds formed when water vapor condenses and freezes around small particles that exist in aircraft exhaust, according to NASA.
But to some in Eugene, these streaks are ominous signs of government engineering, and they call them “chemtrails.” Lane Community College Dean of Science Paul Ruscher, who has a doctorate in atmospheric sciences from Oregon State University, will debunk the chemtrail conspiracy in an Oct. 26 talk, “Chemtrails, Climate Science and Clickbait: A Meteorologist’s View of Pseudoscience,” as part of Earth Science Week at LCC.
The idea for his talk started when he was teaching climate change and atmospheric sciences courses at LCC, Ruscher says. He would take students outside and they showed a “tremendous interest in contrails,” with a number of them expressing the idea that they thought they were geoengineered to modify the climate.
A number of recent letters to the editor in EW have expressed similar ideas and related theories.
Ruscher will use science to move the discussion away from chemtrails and into contrails, he says. When it comes to global warming, he says, these airplane emissions “work like greenhouse gases; they do warm the atmosphere.”
People are indeed seeing more contrails these days, Ruscher says, as jets are able to fly higher into the atmosphere and air traffic has increased. Also, he says, you can predict when contrails will persist, depending on how much water vapor there is in the atmosphere.
He refers those interested in participating in studying this phenomenon to citizen-science projects such as the GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) program, in which citizens can document clouds and contrails in the interest of science.
Some chemtrail believers are concerned for the environment, he says, while others are on the conspiracy side, believing government poisoning is going on. But Ruscher says he sees “very little appreciation for how human activities can change what happens in the atmosphere.” And Ruscher says that while cloud seeding to create rain happens in other areas of North America, it doesn’t happen in the rainy Pacific Northwest.
Ruscher adds that he also wants to discuss the idea of “climatoblivia,” a concept he is working on that encompasses those who are oblivious to understanding climate change because they think it doesn’t directly affect them and those who want to wear blinders to ignore it.
He points out that his talk and its focus on climate change is particularly timely as Hurricane Matthew hits the Caribbean and the European Parliament voted Oct. 4 to back the Paris accord to fight climate change. The Paris agreement enters into force when at least 55 countries, representing 55 percent of global emissions, have joined.
European Union approval pushes it over that threshold. The U.S. and China already signed on. The accord seeks to limit greenhouse gas emissions and keep global temperature increases “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).
Ruscher says he hopes his talk will clear up some climate change misconceptions.
“Climate Science, Chemtrails and Clickbait: A Meteorologist’s View of Pseudoscience” is 7 pm Wednesday, Oct. 26, rescheduled from Oct. 13, at the Lane Community College Downtown Campus, Room 112. The talk will be followed by a Q&A. The event is free and open to the public. For more on GLOBE, go to observer.globe.gov. Meanwhile, Eugene Citizens Against Geoengineering/Chemtrails is holding a forum of its own to discuss “possible health hazards” 6 pm Oct. 20 at the Eugene Garden Club, 1645 High Street, also free and open to the public.