Submission in the European Parliament of written questions on “chemtrails” by Dutch Socialist deputy Erik Meijer will be seen as a positive development by some activists. Are we witnessing the beginnings of a new phase in the years-long saga of this aerosol-spraying activity, and of the stigmatized opposition to it?. (See the present writer’s: “Climate Change Jekylls and Hydes”). Meijer’s written questions, under the heading “Aircraft condensation trails which no longer only contain water but cause persistent milky veils, possibly due to the presence of barium and aluminium”, are not the first such submission to have been tabled in a European legislature: in 2005 the Democratic Left deputies Italo Sandi and Piero Ruzzante raised similar questions in the Italian Parliament. More recently their political associates Asimina Xirotiri and Fotis Kouvelis did the same in Greece . But faced with the stereotyped and uninformative responses such questions receive from official spokespersons, the reaction of parliamentarians is to become discouraged - or at any rate inactive and inaccessible - perhaps not perceiving what they should do next and for that reason reluctant to have too much contact with citizens still pressing them for action and/or answers, whom they are obliged to confront “with empty hands”.
Objectively Erik Meijer has greater margins for action. Working inside the uncompleted institutions of the European Union, a citizen of one of the two nations that delivered the death blow to the first attempt to impose a politically unacceptable “constitution” on the European peoples, leading member of an ex-Maoist political grouping now able to field twenty-five deputies in the Dutch parliament, with one foot in such would-be institutionally pioneering milieux as the Social Forums, Meijer could take advantage of the political abdication of the European Commission, and the European political class generally, on this terrible subject. He could turn it to the benefit not only of the European Parliament but also of the citizens’ movements seeking a voice inside and outside the Social Forums. Not to mention of European integration generally. He could be a hero.
So let’s look at his questions:
10 May 2007
WRITTEN QUESTION by Erik Meijer (GUE/NGL) to the Commission
Subject: Aircraft condensation trails which no longer only contain water but cause persistent milky veils, possibly due to the presence of barium, aluminium and iron
1. Is the Commission aware that, since 1999, members of the public in Canada and the USA have been complaining about the growing presence in the air of aircraft condensation trails of a new type, which sometimes persist for hours and which spread far more widely than in the past, creating milky veils which are dubbed ‘aerial obscuration’, and that the new type has particularly come to people’s attention because it is so different from the short, pencil-thin white contrails which have been a familiar sight ever since jet engines came into use and which remain visible for 20 minutes at most and can only be produced if steam condenses on dust particles due to low temperatures and high humidity?
2. Is the Commission aware that investigations by these complainants, observations by pilots and statements by government bodies increasingly suggest that what is happening is that aircraft are emitting into dry air small particles consisting of barium, aluminium and iron, a phenomenon which in public debate in America has come to be known as chemtrails?
3. Unlike contrails, chemtrails are not an inevitable by-product of modern aviation. Does the Commission know, therefore, what is the purpose of artificially emitting these Earth-derived substances into the Earth’s atmosphere? Does it help to cause rain, benefit telecommunications or combat climate change?
4. To what extent are aerial obscuration and chemtrails now also being employed in the air over Europe , bearing in mind that many people here too are now convinced that the phenomenon is becoming increasingly common and are becoming concerned about the fact that little is so far known about it and there is no public information on the subject? Who initiates this spraying and how is it funded?
5. Apart from the intended benefits of emitting substances into the air, is the Commission aware of any possible disadvantages it may have for the environment, public health, aviation and TV reception?
6. What is being done to prevent individual European states or businesses from taking measures unilaterally whose cross-border impact other States or citizens' organisations may regard as undesirable? Is coordination already taking place with regard to this? Is the EU playing a part in it, or does the Commission anticipate a future role, and what are the Commission's objectives in this connection?
Combating Climate Change
To start with the question of whether the spraying helps to combat climate change.. This subject of climate change is so central to public discussion today that one might imagine anything with a bearing on it would be given similar high-profile treatment. Not so with “chemtrails”. Extraordinary efforts are made to try to persuade the public, against all the dictates of common sense, that what are being seen in the sky all over the world are just the condensation trails we have been familiar with since the beginning of jet-propelled flight.
It can be demonstrated that they are not but it is also worth pointing out that all such demonstrations are countered not only by the official denials but also by the arguments of single-minded and often fanatical internet “debunkers” of varying levels of expertise. Though less known to the general public, these “chemtrails debunkers” are no less relentless than their “climate change sceptic” big brothers.. But their contrails vs chemtrails argument (an argument probably best avoided) is conducted against a backdrop of undeniable official proposals for the use of aircraft to “mitigate” the effects of climate change, with documented corresponding existence of the relevant patents. “Geoengineering” schemes of this kind were proposed in a major study of the American Academy of Sciences in 1992. They are the subject of matter-of-fact references in reports of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change. The panel’s 2001 report informs us that geoengineering: ‘includes the possibility of engineering the earth’s climate system by large-scale manipulation of the global energy balance. It has been estimated, for example, that the mean effect on the earth surface energy balance from a doubling of carbon dioxide could be offset by an increase of 1.5% to 2% in the earth’s albedo, i.e. by reflecting additional incoming solar radiation back into space ….Teller et al. (1997) found that ~10 billion tons of dielectric aerosols of ~100 nm diameter would be sufficient to increase the albedo of the earth by ~1%. They showed that the required mass of a system based on alumina particles would be similar to that of a system based on sulphuric acid aerosol.…(They) demonstrate that use of metallic or optically resonant scatterers can, in principle, greatly reduce the total mass of scattering particles required.”
All this “geoengineering” aspect of the climate change problem is systematically avoided by the climate change mass movement that has grown up in recent years. The denial extends through every level of the movement from former US vice-president Al Gore down to the demonstrators who recently held their Camp for Climate Action at Heathrow Airport near London . It appears to be a structural component of the movement as intrinsic to it as nuclear weapons danger-mongering was to the anti-nuclear movement of the Cold War period (which now has the appearance of an eclipsed predecessor).
There is a peculiar cohabitation of poker-faced denial among scientists and politicians with a neurotic media discussion of geoengineering in pseudo-light-hearted “science fiction” mode (just look at what these mad scientists are up to). Virtually all relevant scientists go along with the denial. To give just one recent example of the thousands that could be cited: in response to a request for information on geoengineering from Greek journalist Aliki Stefanou, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution said: “I used to work in a nuclear weapons lab and we were trying to get money to do geoengineering research. I think if money was available for this purpose, we would have been able to obtain some. The fact was that there was no money available.” When Aliki Stefanou asked Caldeira whether, if and when proposed aerosol spraying programmes came to be implemented, he thought they would, and/or should, be implemented secretly or publicly, he said: “I think that nearly all research should be public and certainly all geoengineering research should be public. Secrets corrode democracy.”
Not an inevitable by-product of modern aviation
In his parliamentary questions Meijer makes the good point that that chemtrails “are not an inevitable by-product of modern aviation”. In the mid-90s Dan Bodansky was one of the key writers discussing this from the perspective of international law. Bodansky wrote: “The fact that geoengineering is an intentional activity with global effects raises the issue of who should decide whether to proceed. Should all countries be able to participate in decision making since all will be affected and there will be both positive and negative impacts? Also, how should liability and compensation for damages be addressed?” Because no easy answers to these questions seem to have been forthcoming, and because, as Bodansky put it: “existing international legal norms are… unlikely to be a reliable guide to how the international community will react if geoengineering schemes are seriously proposed” what seems to have happened is that a decision was made to “play it by ear”, to proceed with implementation of large-scale aerosol spraying and sort out the legality problem “later”. Until such times as programmes can be legal, they “do not exist”.
Any political system embarking on this road is asking for trouble because the question arises of how the transition to this “later” legitimation or normalization will be handled. “The rule of law” is a powerful ideological component of present-day “advanced” societies. Is it possible to make a transition from government by deceit to government through laws?
One method that can be tried, and is evidently being tried, is to allow the passage of time, and generational change, to bring about the hoped-for normalization. There is much discussion on the Internet of this aspect of “chemtrails”: NASA enlists children in “Contrails Count-a-Thon” campaigns. Journalistic justifications, in “science-fiction” mode, proliferate. Children grow up habituated to such discussions, and to the phenomenon itself, in their real-life experience, in films, in advertising. Even in schoolbooks, such as the book mentioned by Will Thomas - published by Centre Point Learning Science and entitled “Solutions for Global Warming”, which informs schoolchildren that “Jet engines running on richer fuel would add particles to the atmosphere to create a sunscreen”. (“Could we deliberately add particles to the atmosphere?”)
There have been serious attempts at legalization of one form of geoengineering, namely weather modification, by politicians whose motives are anything but oppositional. In 2005 US Senator Kate Bailey Hutchinson proposed a “Weather Modification Research and Development Policy Authorization Act”. It did not eventuate finally because “the legal and liability issues pertaining to weather modification, and the potential adverse consequences on life, property, and water resource availability resulting from weather modification activities, must be considered fully before the U.S. Government could take responsibility” (for admitting that it is actually engaged in any such activities).
Environmental Repercussions of Aircraft Emissions
So yes, chemtrails are not “an inevitable by-product of modern aviation”. If one plans to make use of aircraft emissions for geoengineering purposes, how then can one secure the support, or at least toleration, of the more militant sections of the community, those least likely to be persuadable that massive planetary-wide particle pollution to increase the “albedo” (reflectivity”) of the earth’s atmosphere and reduce levels of incoming sunlight, is a defensible option?
One answer might be to start a campaign on the environmental repercussions of aircraft emissions. As a participant in the mid-90s in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to establish a branch of Friends of the Earth in Greece, I can confirm that at more or less the same time that large-scale aerosol spraying operations appear to have got under way around the globe, Friends of the Earth, internationally, embarked on what then looked like an impossible campaign to fight commercial aviation.
Over a decade later the campaign has made more progress than seemed likely then. And the anti-aircraft campaigners have a very radical image. Take this quotation from a public speech by Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth in Britain : “Aviation is a rogue sector and its environmental impact is out of control. Climate change is the most urgent challenge facing humanity and yet aviation policy is doing the opposite of what is needed.” Or take this quotation from Guardian journalist George Monbiot: “The growth in aviation and the need to address climate change cannot be reconciled. In common with all other sectors, aviation’s contribution to global warming must be reduced in the UK by some 87% if we are to avoid a 2°C rise in global temperatures. Given that the likely possible efficiencies are small and tend to counteract each other, an 87% cut in emissions requires not only that growth stops, but that most of the aeroplanes flying today be grounded…
This means the end of distant foreign holidays, unless you are prepared to take a long time getting there. It means that business meetings must take place over the internet or by means of video conferences. It means that transcontinental journeys must be made by train or coach. It means that journeys around the world must be reserved for visiting the people you love, and that they will require both slow travel and the saving up of carbon rations. It means the end of shopping trips to New York, parties in Ibiza, second homes in Tuscany and, most painfully for me, political meetings in Porto Alegre - unless you believe that these activities are worth the sacrifice of the biosphere and the lives of the poor.”
The extreme radicalism of this rhetoric could easily lead one to lose sight of the fact that its subversive potential is much inferior to that of Erik Meijer’s politely framed questions in the European Parliament. Ignoring factors of intentionality versus non-intentionality of aircraft emissions, the militant anti-aviation declarations effectively deflect attention not only from the illegality of what may be surmised to be present governmental activities, but also from the whole logic of geoengineering and thus from its appropriateness or inappropriateness as a solution to climate change.
Sometimes the anti-aviation rhetoric can even look suspiciously like collusion in the manufacture of divide-and-rule scenarios, of incitement and provocation of global warming “sceptics” and contrarians through the articulation of extremely radical conclusions and proposals without correspondingly radical and comprehensive theoretical justification. One gets the contrarians foaming at the mouth, along with a ready-made mass constituency of frequent flyers to back them up, without oneself putting forward the clinching and unanswerable arguments (which certainly exist) that might silence the baying mob one has helped to create.
In a characteristic article by the Australian contrarian journalist Andrew Bolt, Monbiot is bracketed together with the Australian academic Tim Flannery as examples of “hairshirt warming cultists” who should, because of their views on climate change, be banned from travelling by air. But what does Tim Flannery say about aviation? “Transport accounts for around a third of global carbon dioxide emissions. Transport by land and sea can easily be powered in ways that emit less carbon dioxide and the technologies to achieve this either already exist or are on the horizon. Air transport, however, is fast growing and not likely to be fuelled by anything but fossil fuels. Thankfully, jet contrails contribute to global dimming, so it may be just as well that the jets keep flying long after wind-powered and solar-powered ships and compressed-air cars monopolize surface transport” (Tim Flannery: The Weather Makers, pp. 282-283)
Flannery, in other words, implicitly if not openly, a supporter of “chemtrails” and of geoengineering. It is not necessary to enter into a discussion of which of the two – Flannery or Monbiot - is more or less of a hypocrite or has more or less inadequate or one-sided views. Both of them present a powerful analysis of climate change and then subvert it by choosing to tell less than the whole story. By doing this they leave open a loophole for the debunkers and the “sceptics” to present them both as “Chicken Littles”. Flannery is bold or deluded enough to support geoengineering and/or “chemtrails” as a hypothetical future prospect. But he will not embrace it as a present reality to which he gives his informed consent.. Monbiot is in even deeper denial about the evident present reality of “chemtrails”. Both engage in sterile arguments with contrarians and debunkers instead of initiating the dialogue that SHOULD be being heard by the public: their dialogue with each other about the acceptability or unacceptability of geoengineering, and even more specifically about whether aircraft emissions have a warming (Monbiot) or a cooling (Flannery) effect. The Europarliamentarian Erik Meijer could be a catalyst for such a dialogue, but so far no-one gives any sign of knowing about his questions, or the European Commission’s “answer” to them.
Another example of shriekingly radical climate change discussion on bogus foundations is provided by the 2005 BBC Horizon documentary on Global Dimming.. Focusing on the phenomenon of declining levels of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface in recent years, (between the 1950s and the early 1990s the level of solar energy reaching the earth's surface dropped 9% in Antarctica, 10% in the USA, almost 30% in Russia, 16% in parts of the British Isles) the programme again studiously avoids mention of geoengineering, attributing the rise in aerosol levels in the earth’s atmosphere, with subsequent global dimming, to some unspecified “air pollution” from industrial activity and the burning of fossil fuels, including in aviation.
“Perhaps the most alarming aspect of global dimming” says the programme script “is that it may have led scientists to underestimate the true power of the greenhouse effect….. it now appears the warming from greenhouse gases has been offset by a strong cooling effect from dimming - in effect two of our pollutants have been cancelling each other out. This means that the climate may in fact be more sensitive to the greenhouse effect than thought..”
The strongest warning in the programme on the implications of global dimming (including perhaps the clearest, though still veiled, hints on the factor of deliberate intervention, or “geoengineering”) comes from the climate scientist Peter Cox: “If we carry on pumping out particles it will have terrible impact on human health, I mean particles are involved in all sorts of respiratory diseases…. If you, if you fiddle with the, the balance of the planet, the radiative balance of the planet, you affect all sorts of circulation patterns like monsoons….. it will be extremely difficult, in fact impossible, to cancel out the greenhouse effect just by carrying on pumping out particles, even if it wasn't for the fact that particles are damaging for human health.”
The programme relies heavily for its effect on the proposition that “dimming was behind the droughts in sub-Saharan Africa which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the 1970s and 1980s. There are disturbing hints the same thing may be happening today in Asia , home to half the world's population.” “What came out of our exhaust pipes and power stations contributed to the deaths of a million people in Africa , and afflicted 50 million more. But this could be just of taste of what Global Dimming has in store.”
The climate modeller Gavin Schmidt, in no way a climate change “sceptic”, queried the plausibility of this thesis, saying that: “The argument that (global dimming) would lead to huge re-assessments of future global warming, that it was linked very clearly to the famines in Ethiopia, in the 1980s, with the implication that worse is to come, is horribly premature. The suggested ‘doubling’ of the rate of warming in the future compared to even the most extreme scenario developed by IPCC is highly exaggerated. Supposed consequences such as the drying up of the Amazon Basin , melting of Greenland, and a North African climate regime coming to the UK , are simply extrapolations built upon these exaggerations. Whether these conclusions are actually a fair summary of what the scientists quoted in the program wanted to say is unknown. However, while these extreme notions might make good television, they do a disservice to the science.”
Most of the scientists who appeared on the programme proved willing to discuss its style and content and most expressed similar, though more nuanced, objections. Beate Liepert said that “during the research process for the documentary I repeatedly raised my concerns about linking the indirect effect and the Sahel drought.” Graham Farquar said: “The program was not scripted in the way that I would have done. But I guess that you'd have to say that if I scripted it, only my mother would have watched it.” David Travis said: “I believe the Horizons show on global dimming was definitely over-produced and over-dramatized. However, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. Without such effects much of the younger audience would likely have lost interest half-way through and the sort of discussions that are going on now would probably not be happening. I did however find myself feeling uncomfortable in spots where statements seemed a bit too bold without sufficient evidence to back them up (even one of my own!). Leo Rotstayn said: I agree that some of the words in the Global Dimming documentary were alarmist. It screened in Australia a few weeks ago, with some changes to the voice over to make it a little less alarmist. It seems to have had a strong impact on many people who saw it, and I have mixed feelings about whether it is justified to be slightly ‘alarmist’ in order to get a strong message across. After all, if I had written the documentary, complete with caveats and qualifications, it would have put most of the viewers to sleep! On the other hand, as a professional scientist, I feel that it is important to be as accurate as possible.”
In a message to Gavin Schmidt, the programme’s producer David Sington said: “I want to refute the notion that Peter Cox, or any other scientist taking part in this or in any other of the films I have made, was "mugged" with trick questions and made to seem to say things he does not believe. …. Dr Schmidt's suggestion is a serious libel (tantamount to accusing a scientist of falsifying his or her data). “The Horizon film” he concluded “was seen by 3.5 million viewers (representing about 7% of the adult population of the UK ) and that copies were requested by the Prime Minister's office. The issues it discussed are being actively debated in Britain .”
From the communications of a number of individuals on both sides of the “climate change” debate it is clear that following the screening of the programme to such a large audience, David Sington was deluged with e-mails from British people concerned about “chemtrails” and/or geoengineering. It is equally clear that he was absolutely determined to keep his distance from the “conspiracy theorists”, even boasting about this to a climate change contrarian who wrote to him to complain about the Global Dimming programme’s sensationalism and “bias”. Having taken receipt of Sington’s ingratiating reply, the contrarian then leaked their private correspondence onto the Internet. Sington could not have been pleased about this. Could he have avoided all these problems by making a different documentary: less sensationalistic, more truthful, more adequate?
Erik Meijer’s questions in the European Parliament were answered on behalf of the Commission by Environmental Commissioner Stavros Dimas. A Greek conservative politician with a Wall Street and World Bank background, Dimas has nevertheless, in particular through his standing feud with Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, acquired a reputation of being relatively sympathetic to the objectives of the environmental movement. In one of his first speeches to the European Parliament as Environmental Commissioner he identified his policy priorities as climate change, biodiversity, public health and sustainability. The Greens and the left-wing GUE/NGL (Erik Meijer’s grouping) opposed his appointment, calling him “incompetent”, but the Greens later changed position and in recent years they have co-operated with Dimas on environmental issues.
In December 2004 at UN climate change talks in Buenos Aires Dimas attempted to negotiate a new system of mandatory emissions reductions to follow the expiration of the initial Kyoto targets in 2012. This brought him into head-on conflict with the U.S. government. Dimas is on record as saying “the fight against climate change is much more than a battle. It is a world war that will last many years.” In 2006 he launched a high-profile campaign for including aviation in the European Union emissions trading scheme.
Let us examine Commissioner Dimas’ answers to Erik Meijer:
To Meijer’s first question of whether the Commission is aware of the questions the public is asking, Dimas replied: “The Commission is aware of claims that such trends and phenomena exist. However, the Commission is not aware of any evidence substantiating such claims. The extent to which aircraft condensation trails form and the speed at which they disappear are in the first instance determined by pressure, temperature, and the relative humidity of a given flight level. Fuel and combustion properties and the overall propulsive efficiency may also have an impact. Any changes or trends in the extent to which contrails are reported to remain visible and develop into more widespread clouds may thus be due to factors such as changes in
- meteorological conditions
- traffic volumes
- jet-engine efficiency”
To the second question about the content of what were being called “chemtrails” , Dimas replied: “The Commission is aware of such claims but is not aware of any evidence that particles of barium, aluminium or iron are being emitted, deliberately or not, by aircraft.”
To the third question of whether the spraying helps to cause rain, benefit telecommunications or combat climate change, the reply was: “No. It cannot be precluded that the release of such particles might affect precipitation and climate change, but as indicated above the Commission is not aware of any evidence that such releases take place.”
To the fourth question on whether “chemtrails” are now being employed in Europe the reply was: “The Commission is not aware of any evidence that such methods are being employed in Europe .”
To the fifth question on possible disadvantages of the spraying, the Commissioner replied: “None of the substances referred to are hazardous per se, but some effects on environment and public health can not be ruled out if large scale releases to the air occurred.”
To the sixth question on whether the European Union is co-ordinating action to prevent unilateral actions with cross-border impact, Stavros Dimas said: “The Commission is not aware of any evidence suggesting that there is any reason to act.”
Rosalind Peterson’s comments
So far the only comments available on Dimas’ reply to Erik Meijer are those made by the Californian farm activist Rosalind Peterson. Arguably the most effective “realpolitiker” amongst the chemtrails opponents, Peterson has adopted a tactic of avoiding the term “chemtrail” and ignoring distinctions between “accidental” airline emissions and the “deliberate” use of aircraft emissions for geoengineering purposes. What this amounts to of course is ignoring the most likely reasons for the strategy of avoidance and deceit practised by governments. But it is a tactic that appears to have paid off, insofar as Rosalind Peterson has been invited to speak in September 2007 to a United Nations meeting of Non-Governmental Organizations in New York. This makes her the only chemtrails activist to have received anything approaching this degree of recognition.