Conspiracy Theories Fuel Climate Change Denial and Chemtrail Beliefs
I recently wrote about geoengineering as a strategy to deal with climate change and carbon dioxide emissions. That drew comments from people who confuse this scientific process with the unscientific theory of “chemtrails.” Some also claimed the column supported geoengineering, which it didn’t.
The reaction got me wondering why some people believe in phenomena rejected by science, like chemtrails, but deny real problems demonstrated by massive amounts of scientific evidence, like climate change.
Chemtrails believers claim governments around the world are in cahoots with secret organizations to seed the atmosphere with chemicals and materials—aluminum salts, barium crystals, biological agents, polymer fibres, etc.—for a range of nefarious purposes. These include controlling weather for military purposes, poisoning people for population or mind control and supporting secret weapons programs based on the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP).
Scientists have tested and used cloud and atmospheric seeding for weather modification and considered them as ways to slow global warming. With so many unknowns and possible unintended consequences, these practices have the potential to cause harm. But the chemtrails conspiracy theory is much broader, positing that military and commercial airlines are involved in constant massive daily spraying that is harming the physical and mental health of citizens worldwide.
I don’t have space to get into the absurdities of belief in a plot that would require worldwide collusion between governments, scientists and airline company executives and pilots to amass and spray unimaginable amounts of chemicals from altitudes of 10,000 meters or more. I’m a scientist, so I look at credible science—and there is none for the existence of chemtrails. They’re condensation trails, formed when hot, humid air from jet exhaust mixes with colder low-vapor-pressure air. This, of course, comes with its own environmental problems.
But what interests me is the connection between climate change denial and belief in chemtrails. Why do so many people accept a theory for which there is no scientific evidence while rejecting a serious and potentially catastrophic phenomenon that can be easily observed and for which overwhelming evidence has been building for decades?
To begin, climate change denial and chemtrails theories are often conspiracy-based. A study by researchers at the University of Western Australia found “endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories … predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific findings.
Many deniers see climate change as a massive plot or hoax perpetrated by the world’s scientists and scientific institutions, governments, the United Nations, environmentalists and sinister forces to create a socialist world government or something.
Not all go to such extremes. Some accept climate change is occurring but deny humans are responsible. Still, it doesn’t seem rational to deny something so undeniable! In a Bloomberg article, author and Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein points to three psychological barriers to accepting climate change that may also help explain why it’s easier for people to believe in chemtrails: people look to readily available examples when assessing danger, focus “on risks or hazards that have an identifiable perpetrator,” and pay more attention to immediate threats than long-term ones.
Researchers Ezra Markowitz and Azim Shariff of the University of Oregon Psychology and Environmental Studies departments add a few more, including that human-caused climate change “provokes self-defensive biases” and its politicization “fosters ideological polarization.”
People who subscribe to unbelievable conspiracy theories may feel helpless, so they see themselves as victims of powerful forces—or as heroes standing up to those forces. Whether it’s to deny real problems or promulgate imaginary ones, it helps reinforce a worldview that is distrustful of governments, media, scientists and shadowy cabals variously referred to as banksters, global elites, the Illuminati or the New World Order.
The problem is that science denial is, in the case of chemtrails, a wacky distraction and, in the case of climate change denial, a barrier to addressing an urgent, critical problem. Science is rarely 100 percent certain, but it’s the best tool we have for coming to terms with our actions and their consequences, and for finding solutions to problems. The science is clear: human-caused climate change is the most pressing threat to humanity, and we must work to resolve it. We don’t have time for debunked conspiracy theories.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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