Probably the most striking public opinion on engineering the climate is the chemtrail conspiracy theory. This is a belief that aeroplane condensation trails – contrails – are actually chemical trails – chemtrails – part of a secret government plan which believers say has negative impacts on humans and other life. Reasons given by the conspiracy theorists for the practice range from controlling population numbers to controlling minds.
‘Geoengineering’ is popularly considered in this theory to be an official name for chemtrail activities, due to the prominent mention of spraying aerosols in the atmosphere for purposes with global effect. Some websites claim to provide evidence of rainfall contamination or videos of geoengineering conferences, and the internet contains multitudes of photos of contrails in blue skies (Figure 5) presented as ‘proof’ of the theory.
Mercer et al. (2011) surveyed around 3000 adults in the USA, Canada and UK:
We found that 2.6% of the subjects believe that it is completely true that the government has a secret program that uses airplanes to put harmful chemicals into the air, and 14% of the sample believes that this is partly true.
Of course, it is not true but it does illustrate that, in a complex area of science like this, people can look for – and find – cherry-picked and distorted information that supports their views.
Clearly the potential for social upheaval under aerosol SRM is significant: there could be demonstrations, political shifts (e.g. voting for parties that promise to stop the ‘spraying’) and direct action against scientists and engineers.