Man Made Skies: Geoengineering for Climate Change?
By:   //  Investigative Reports, Tech

Coming soon to a blue sky near you: plume after plume of jet contrails, spreading out in a swath so wide the local weather report calls them a “weather front.” But the barometer hasn’t changed, and there’s no rain in sight, just a dimming of the sun and a rise in the humidity. You’ve just been geoengineered.

Those jet contrails have been the subject of conspiracy theory speculations for years, But all fringe speculation aside, the effects of jet exhaust plumes on the atmosphere and the earth below are among the most visible evidence of geoengineering – the deliberate manipulation of the atmosphere and the earth below for purposes that are (pardon the pun) hazy.

That’s the point made by Rosalind Peterson, former agriculture inspector and chair of the Agriculture Defense Coalition and California Skywatch. Back in 2007, Peterson made her keynote speech to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on jet contrails and the dangers they pose to agriculture.

That speech was dismissed as nothing more than a product of the conspiracy theories surrounding “chemtrails” – the purported use of jet contrails to spread mysterious chemicals over populated areas. But her words have made a reappearance in recent weeks thanks to new concerns about the speed and scope of global climate change.

Peterson, whose watchdog groups have amassed data from sources including the FAA, the National Weather Service, and NASA in the quest for answers to the increasing and persistent presence of jet contrails, warned that efforts to geoengineer weather and conditions in the upper atmosphere pose dangers not just to agriculture, but also to life on planet Earth as a whole. And as weather gets stranger and less predictable, others are joining the quest to learn whether weather is being geoengineered for unknown ends.

Geoengineering in various forms has been around a long time. The creation of microclimates —artificially created and controlled climate zones – ranges from the simple greenhouse for raising tropical plants in a desert to the humid moist air that rises from a newly fertilized field. But more recent efforts to manipulate climate for human needs has the potential for more wide-ranging, and possibly dangerous, effects.

Cloud seeding took environmental manipulation to new levels. As early as 1946, researchers discovered that dropping silver iodide into clouds could affect the precipitation yield – and the race was on to expand the applications of that discovery. Commercial agriculture began to seed clouds aggressively in order to increase rainfall in desired areas and stimulate crop growth.

Silver iodide went to work for the government in the 1960s with Operation Stormfury, a plan to weaken hurricanes and mitigate severe storms by targeted cloud seeding. Results were mixed, but after Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security got into the act with the Hurricane Modification Workshop.

That ultimately led to the creation of the US Department of Defense’s HAMP – the Hurricane Aerosol and Microphysics Program, which in 2009 aimed to investigate the use of small aerosols in changing the composition of hurricane clouds and alter the paths of severe storms.

But the possibility of geoengineering on the grand scale of changing the climate of the whole planet has been nothing more than speculation – or has it? The United Nations’ IPCC panel floated a number of far ranging plans to alter the weather in response to the escalating indicators of what’s popularly called “global warming” – massive climate change caused by human endeavors.

The IPCC’s proposals range from the silly – pumping cabin dioxide back into the earth – to the terrifying – attempting to dim the sun. But they bring the whole notion of large-scale environmental manipulation, until recently dismissed as part of the world of conspiracy theorists, ufologists, and believers in the “fake science” of the New Age, into the mainstream.

Rosalind Peterson’s main concern, the growing presence of jet contrails, is one example. Long discussed on the fringes as “chemtrails,” the long trails of airplane exhaust that criss cross urban skies have been largely ignored by mainstream environmentalists who didn’t want to give credence to the chemtrail theorists.

But as Peterson told the UN, it’s the presence of the contrails themselves, not necessarily what they contain, that’s sparking concern. So many of them fill the sky and take so long to dissipate that they create an artificial cloud cover, so heavy at times that local weather reports call them “fronts” even though there’s no storm behind them. And those plumes come from a variety of sources, both commercial and military.

In this and in other endeavors, private companies and government entities alike are pursuing geoengineering efforts for a variety of reasons, both commercial and defense-oriented. Sometimes the two work hand in hand. Take the recently decommissioned HAARP program in the wilds of Alaska. HAARP (High Frequency Active Aurora Research Program) was implemented by the Department of Defense in conjunction with the University of Alaska and a variety of subcontractors to study the effects of radio signals in the ionosphere, a region of the earth’s upper atmosphere.

HAARP’s stated goal was to investigate the behavior of radio signals in the ionosphere. But given the program’s creators, that’s been questioned by a variety of environmentalists, meteorologists, and just plain concerned citizens who fear that bouncing radio waves off the ionosphere could be, well, a little dangerous. Now, HAARP is being abandoned by the DoD, which claims it has no further interest in the program – but the project is expected to be acquired by a private corporate entity with its own agendas for furthering the research.

How many other goengineering efforts are going on around the world? That isn’t really known. And because most of these projects haven’t been attempted before, the actual outcomes aren’t known either. But concerns about the effects of wholesale climate tinkering have gone mainstream – and the mainstream is paying attention, thanks to efforts by Rosalind Peterson’s California Skywatch and other groups such as Climate Access to answer one simple question: can we live and thrive under these man made skies? Story by CJ McKinney (Image: Flickr | EllieEsq)


Climage Access. “Geoengineering and The Science Communication Environment: A Cross-Cultural Experiment.” 25 may 2014

Duren, Riley, et al. “Geoenginerering and Climate Intervention: What We Need To Know.” Von Karman Lecture Series 2013. Jet Propulsion Laboratory via NASA. 24 May 2014.

“Geoengineering Current Actions.” The Agriculture Defense Coalition. 325 May 2014.

Golden, J., W. Woodley et al. “The Rise and Fall of The Hurricane Aerosol and Microphysics Program (HAMP).” Weather Modification. 2009. 24 May 2014.

Pappas, Stephanie. “Secret Weapon? Conspiracy Theories bound as US Military Closes HAARP.” Live Science. 22 May 2014.

Peterson, Rosalind. “UN Keynote Presentation.” United nations Webcast. 24 May 2014.

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