SUMMARY: In this program we talk with one of the world’s top experts on geoeningeering to cool the planet, Harvard’s Dr. David Keith. Then from the UK, Dr. Rose Cairns investigates the internet phenomenon of chemtrails, the belief that aircraft are already poisoning
the sky. Is it an expression of public fears about geoengineering? Radio Ecoshock 150318

I’m Alex Smith. Let’s go.

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When people talk about geoengineering, for or against, one name keeps coming up. For over 20 years, scientist David Keith has kept open the door for discussion and research on climate modification. At Harvard University, David is a Professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He’s also a Professor of Public Policy at the prestigious Harvard Kennedy School. Dr. Keith wins awards and criticism for talking about technology to stave off the worst of climate change.

Like most scientists, David Keith works hard to get a society with fewer greenhouse gas emissions. He also has a Calgary-based company trying to remove CO2 from the air. But today we pick David’s brain on technology to artificially cool the planet, by blocking out some of the sun’s rays. It’s called Solar Radiation Management, or SRM.

First David describes how spraying sulfur into the upper atmosphere would work. Essentially, if the particles are small, they stay up there for long periods of time, reflecting some of the sun’s rays back into space. The sulfur droplets would be sprayed from an airplane, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) high in the atmosphere.

Scientists in the Arctic Methane Emergency Group have already called for regional SRM in the Arctic. They hope to preserve what is left of Arctic Sea ice, to slow glacial melt, and to prevent large-scale releases of methane from the clathrates or thawing permafrost. I ask David what he thinks of this proposal.

David Keith says the concept of regional Solar Radiation Management is meaningless. The particles will spread down over at least most of the Northern Hemisphere, rather than staying over the Arctic. Due to the way this planet’s air mixes, the sulfur particles would not enter the Southern Hemisphere to any large degree. So trying to cool the Arctic means repeatedly recharging the sulfur spraying over the Arctic, and essentially cooling the whole Northern Hemisphere, with expected and unknown side effects for crops in Canada, the United States, Europe and Scandinavia, and Russia.

Not all scientists agree that regional cooling is impossible. Next week I’ll talk with Dr. Alan Robock. His group ran models looking at what would happen if someone dumped about 5 million tons of sulfur over the Arctic. We’ll find those results next week. U of Ottawa PHD student Paul Beckwith also thinks Arctic cooling could work. We just don’t know for sure.

That is one reason Dr. Keith says more research is needed into SRM, and he supports the recent call for that research by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. However the Academy support does not translate into real funding. That probably has to come from governments. That isn’t happening yet. David says there is a political and social taboo about even researching geoengineering. Some groups, like the ETC Group, worry if the public thinks there is a quick technical fix, then we won’t change away from burning fossil fuels.

One of the key unknowns is the impact of SRM on rainfall. It may reduce rainfall in some areas, but may also reduce extreme rainfall events. Again, we’ll hear more about that next week with Dr. Robock. But David Keith says the idea that SRM will cause drought is a “false claim”.

Don’t get the idea that David Keith is a total supporter of geoengineering. He worries about things like damage to the ozone layer, and many other affects. Really Keith is not sure SRM should ever be used. He is sure we should do more research to see what it can and can’t do.

We also discuss the possibility that the airborne sulfur might replace the cooling we currently experience by global dimming.
Scientists like Dr. James Hansen (and many others) say that industrial pollution is blocking enough sunlight to hide at least 1
degree C of the heating we really create with current carbon dioxide levels. Millions of people a year, especially in Asia, but in
all industrial countries, die every year because of this harmful pollution. If the public demands a clean up of the air, for health
reasons, then the planet will warm significantly, due to the hidden heat “in the pipeline”.

Dr. Keith thinks the relatively tiny amount of sulfur required to acheive the same global dimming would be far less harmful than
the low-level smog humans are breathing. It takes 1/50th or 1/100th of the amount of sulfur to acheive the same effect.

And don’t forget, we already put about 50 million tons of sulfur a year into the lower atmosphere, mostly from coal burning, but also from other industrial processes. The amount being suggested for the upper atmosphere might be 10 million tons a year. We don’t know yet.

Of course we may also get more acid rain as the sulfur comes to ground. And SRM does nothing to stop ocean acidification – but Keith says there are plenty of tools we use, even though they don’t solve everything.

David Keith claims SRM could reduce net effect of CO2 by about 100 gigatons, equivalent of US emissions over a century.


I ask David Keith specifically about chemtrails. He’s not only on the radar of the chemtrails crowd, but is often demonized as a
key figure in what they think is a world-wide conspiracy to hide the poisoning of the sky. Dr. Keith has received a few death threats, and gets hassled when he speaks at geoengineering forums and events. Anecdotally, some airline pilots have also become wary of chemtrails activists.

Keith notes in the earlier days of the chemtrails movement, say around the year 2000, a lot of internet posts thought the sky was
being sprayed for mind control. Now that has shifted to one of two “reasons”: either to control weather (as an economic or military weapon); or to cool off the planet. It is as though geoengineering for climate has been going on for a couple of decades (believers claim). We’ll have more about chemtrails and the relationship with geoengineering science in the next interview.

Meanwhile, David Keith says geoengineering, encompassing many technologies (from sucking carbon out of the atmosphere, maybe seeding plankton, and solar radation management) – is the only way to significantly reduce global warming within a single lifetime. Maybe, given our current failure to reduce emissions, we will experience multiple climate-driven emergencies so serious, we will need this tool? David Keith says we should at least do the research to find out if SRM could work, and what the expected side effects might be. Then people and their governments could decide – although I’m not sure the public would be consulted if any government decided to go ahead and spray the sky.

Some SRM research is going on in the UK, in Germany, and likely in Russia. Like the American military, the Russian military has long had an interest in climate weapons. Most started with cloud seeding, but it may have gone much further. In that case, the chemtrails people may have actually seen real life secret experiments by the military. Who knows?

I ask David Keith if such experiments were taking place, would we know? Would he know? He replies that if the experiments were large enough to actually cool anything, various satellites and other tracking would pick it up. David Keith was approached by a CIA agency, asking many of the same questions I asked him. He says as a kind of “lefty” Canadian, he find it “pretty disturbing” that secret agencies were looking into this. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is also interested.

On the other hand, the military looks at a huge range of options, and their interest doesn’t mean they are actually doing anything
at this time. Plus Keith feels so plugged into the few geoengineering research projects around the world, he thinks he would
probably know if large-scale experiments are happening. He says they are not, at this time.


It’s not just the military. A few billionaires are aware of the climate risks to their wealth. Richard Branson comes to mind, and
some geoengineering research scientists hope to win Branson’s $25 million prize to suck significant amounts of CO2 out of the air. Maybe then Branson’s aircraft fleet could keep flying?

David Keith acknowledges he and his study group have received several million dollars from one of the world’s richest men, Bill Gates. The Gates money is being used to set up scientific conferences on geoengineering to exchange research and data. That is all public knowledge, not a conspiracy.

David Keith’s landmark book “A Case for Climate Engineering” is available from MIT press and the usual book sellers.

If you would like more, here is a good BBC “Hardtalk” interview with David Keith on You tube (24 minutes long)

This 2012 David Keith lecture on solar radiation management at Stanford University is very informative.

Note that many David Keith video clips are posted by his adversaries in the chemtrails movement, so beware of selective editing. I suggest you stick with complete presentations, from reliable sources.

Download or listen to this 24 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with David Keith in CD Quality or the faster-downloading but lower quality Lo-Fi version.

On most computers, you right click with your mouse to save an interview file. Just note where the computer stores it!


A group of people, perhaps even some of my listeners, believe there is a world-wide conspiracy to control the weather and maybe your mind and health – by dumping chemicals out of aircraft at high altitudes. They call these persistent high clouds “Chemtrails”.

Now the internet phenomenon of the chemtrails movement sets itself up to fight off geoengineering, like solar radiation management, which it sees as more of the same. A sub-set of chemtrails believers also want to stop climate negotiations. They don’t believe in human-induced climate change.

We are going to explore the meaning of the chemtrails meme. Our guest has written a sociological analysis of the chemtrails
phenomenon. We will not argue whether or not the chemtrails conspiracy is true or false. Instead, Rose Cairns investigated the methods and possible meaning of this underground movement.

Dr. Rose Cairns is a research fellow at the Science and Technology Policy Research unit at the University of Sussex, in England. She’s also been an environmental campaigner.

We talk about her paper titled “Climates of suspicion: ‘chemtrail’ conspiracy narratives and the international politics of
“. It was published online in April 2014 by the Climate Geoengineering Governance project. Read the full paper
as an online .pdf for free here. It’s a great read!

Just for the record, Rose Cairns made plain in that interview that she doesn’t believe in the chemtrails conspiracy. And just for the record, neither do I, although I keep an open mind about such things.

I don’t doubt that the military in the United States, Russia, and probably now China, are working on experiments to develop weather weapons, like huge storms to strike an opposing army or navy. That’s probably been going on since the 1960’s. Here is a web site where you can find a lot of documents on this.

The video talk by Rosalind Peterson to go with this site is here. Rosalind believes experiments are going on to modify the
weather, but stops short of saying there is a world-wide conspiracy to poison us from the sky. In this video at least, she sticks to
statements that can be backed up to some degree by the documents she has collected. Peterson also links widespread tree death to common ground level air pollution. In this video, she declares against the widespead conspiracy theory. By all means, check out the many government and other documents she has collected. It’s an education.

There are plenty of real conspiracies. Major banks admitted they fixed everything from interest rates to the price of gold. The George Bush Administration conspired to start a war in Iraq. So it is not irrational to believe in a conspiracy.

In my own exploration on the Net, I found a nexis of beliefs on the site called “Air Crap“, and a link to a site called “His Heavenly Armies” – a Jesus blog. Both contained screeds against vaccines, abortion, the American HAARP installation, and of course, geoengineering. Is this coming from the Left or Right spectrum of political belief? Rose says it’s a mixture of both. We have “left” ideas about evil corporations and protecting nature, along with “right” ideas about too much government control and the need for personal liberty.

Air Crap includes stories like: “UN Official Exposes The Intentional “Transformation Of The World Economy” As The True Purpose Of The Climate Change Lies”.

One chemtrail activist wants people to go to the Paris Climate talks this year. She thinks those talks will just legitimate the
spraying that is already happening, as geoengineering. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of climate change denial I found
rampant on many chemtrails sites
. We don’t need “chemtrails” they say, because there is no global warming. It’s all a hoax,
they say, repeating many of the climate denial talking points common on the Net.

Being opposed to dumping chemicals in the sky, the chemtrails folks are all over any proposal to do solar radiation management. They attend public talks and conferences, posing questions that scientists find strange and hard to answer. On the other hand, chemtrails activists do monitor the situation closely, and serve as a news source for anyone concerned about geoengineering. Just be careful to cross check what you find.

Just how the chemtrails movement will affect any public discussion about geoengineering is yet to be seen. Here is a quote from Rose’s paper:

While this belief is marginal, it is not insignificant: a Google search of the term ‘chemtrails’ returns over 2.6 million hits, and a study by Mercer et al. (2011) found that 2.6% of a sample of 3105 people in the US, Canada and the UK believed entirely in the existence of a conspiracy involving chemtrails (and around 14% believed in the conspiracy to some extent).

If we do run into a climatic emergency in the future, and scientists says they have a temporary way to cool things off, will the
public response be partly shaped by the chemtrails movement now? That’s where the research by Rose Cairns becomes so fascinating.

Some people encountering chemtrails go through an emotional and sometimes life-changing experience. I’ve heard the same from listeners who suddenly get the reality of climate change. Are they different?

Some of my Radio Ecoshock listeners are already deeply offended that we haven’t spent our time proving chemtrails are real. Others are wondering how to deal with the chemtrails crowd. Are there avenues of communication, or are most chemtrails folks insulated from further facts or arguments? It’s difficult, Rose says. She knows a few friends or even family members believe chemtrails are real. Once a person adopts that as their belief system, anyone questioning it becomes either (a) too blind to see the obvious record in the sky! or (b) obviously a dupe or an active part of the conspiracy. That doesn’t leave us much room, or much choice.

I think there is ample evidence that if the upper atmosphere is cold enough, the moisture in air-plane exhaust becomes visible
as a “contrail”. Science has already shown that if we have enough contrails, in the right conditions they can stimulate the
development of a layer of high cirrus-type clouds. There is more water vapor in the atmosphere of a warming planet (about 7% more since 1970, we’ve been told). And of course there are way more planes in the air. Aircraft traffic is traffic, just like cars.

All of that suggests to me that most impacts on the sky are not from a vast hidden conspiracy, but just the result of pollution from
aircraft. But as I said, I’m willing to believe, based on some documents available, that the military of various countries have run,
and may be still running, some very small scale experiments to modify the weather. These may generate “chemtrails”. But personally, I doubt that’s a very big impact.

Some chemtrails folks, like Dane Wigington, blame absolutely everything on this vast evil experiment to poison the sky. The
California drought? That’s not climate change – it’s chemtrails says Wigington. Tree die off? Not our pollution, but chemtrails.
Fukushima? Chemtrails. It’s a single theory to explain everything, and like all such single answers, it’s just not right.

That’s my opinion.

Here are a couple of chemtrails skeptic sites: Contrails Science and Metabunk.

Or check out this article: by Grant Petty, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison “Chemtrails:
Real threat or urban legend?

And here is Dane Wigington’s site, Good luck!

A well-known pro-chemtrails movie is WIWATS – “What in the World Are They Spraying?

Listen to or download this interview with Rose Cairns in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


We wrap up with a short piece about the endangered salamanders. It turns out North America, and not the tropics, has the most of these reclusive creatures. Japan and China have some over 5 feet long. Here’s a video of a giant Japanese salamander coming out.

Matt Ellerbeck, “the salamander man” gives us an update on this threatened species – who hold the miracle of how to regenerate lost limbs, or even missing eyes. If only we knew what they know…

On Radio Ecoshock you often hear me try to expand our view beyond humans to the many other marvellous creatures that live on Earth. It’s time to hear about one of them. Call them salamanders, or call them newts, but in too many parts of the world we have to call them endangered.

Our guest has dedicated his life to saving the salamanders. Matt Ellerbeck works through public education in schools and the media – and through his web site at

Download this short interview with Matt Ellerbeck (in CD Quality only).

Just like the planet, we are out of time this week for this program. My thanks to everyone who Tweets and spreads the word on
Facebook. Find all our past programs as free mp3 downloads at our web site,

Thank you for listening, and please join us again next week for more thrills and spills.