My friend, a young fisherman in coastal Maine, is convinced the government is seeding the skies with chemicals and microscopic particles of metal designed to promote cloud formation. His proof: common sense observations of the difference in the clouds above.
He insists that "chemtrails" are real, and my friend is not alone. Geo-engineering is a popular topic on chat boards, blogs and websites where anyone who puts quotation marks around chemtrails is objectively foolish.
I respect my friend's intelligence. He isn't "book smart", but he has even more company there, too. There are billions of people on the web who despite the lack of higher education nonetheless absorb freely available information.
Still, when I look up at the skies these days, I agree with my friend: on many days in New England the clouds are different from my childhood -- more than a half century ago.
Moreover I am sure our military and others' are experimenting with engineering the weather. They've said so. As a child, reports of aircraft "seeding" clouds to induce rainfall fascinated me. Expensive follies.
From reading peer-reviewed science papers published (freely available on the web!) I gather -- as a lay person and not a scientist -- that the study of cloud formation is extraordinarily complex. I also conclude that government interventions are no match for the power of nature. Period.
My friend believes that high altitude jets are criss-crossing the skies and spraying chemicals or metal particles, because -- to simplify his point of view -- he often sees on clear days how jet plane exhaust now forms clouds. I see something else.
This summer, around the world, the weather has been very hot. In some places, off the charts. This isn't hyperbole. The world is on fire, reinforcing warming feedback loops that climate computer models can barely track. I recently returned from Greenland where I hiked (covered with mosquito repellant) in a t-shirt and visited on a melting ice cap with rivers and lakes criss-crossing its surface. This is not conjecture.
In public opinion polls, environmental issues -- like species protection, habitat conservation, clean air and clean water -- rarely rise to a top tier of public concern. The ones that do have a close correlation to car wrecks; BP in the Gulf of Mexico, Exxon Valdez in Alaska, Bhopal, India, Flint Michigan, and Florida algae blooms. Great visuals, immediate impact.
Climate change is emotionally atmospheric. People roll up car windows, turn on the air conditioning and get on with business. Yet roiling beneath the surface of climate change denial, most people experience anxiety about climate change on a deep level. They don't know how global warming could wreck peace, stability, and prosperity. Zika! They see what is happening, but their preference is to block it out. They just don't know.
The Republican Party recently put its stamp on "the block-it-out" platform that refuses any acknowledgement of man-made global warming or actions government could take to head our economy to higher ground. Meanwhile, in red and blue states, extreme weather dominates the news.
My young fisherman friend sees patterns in the clouds. I do, too. I try to explain, thanks to industry and progress, the thin layer of atmosphere that protects the earth now contains more carbon dioxide and methane gas than it has for tens of millions of years.
The atmosphere looks different because, it is different. Atmospheric, terrestrial and oceanic changes are moving chaotically as a result of human combustion of fossil fuels. Now the arboreal forests are diseased and catching fire. Now the permafrost is melting.
Climatologists can predict these impacts. What they are discovering is that even the most conservative estimates on rate of change are being overtaken by reality. By how much? We can't be sure. If every aspect of the weather were in a steady state and subject to observation, as scientists do with ice core samples from the polar regions, we might be able to devise more accurate computer models. But nature is dynamic, and the feedback loops so difficult to model -- what is emerging is logarithmic, not linear, change.
From the dawn of civilization we calendared the year as a linear series of seasons; spring, summer, fall and winter. With global warming, the seasons are changing. Sea levels are rising. The skies are different. Not linear but logarithmic change.
This is hard to explain to my fisherman friend. I don't see jet aircraft trailing chemtrails in the sky that change in the space of minutes from narrow white stripes to wide smudges. The people who influence governments -- and especially the military -- know that global warming is a real and present danger. That is what I see, when I look in the clouds.