Conspiracy theories among climate change activists

2018-09-09

in Canada, Politics, Psychology, Rants, The environment

Climate change activists often (plausibly) assert that “the science is settled” and present themselves as the informed contrast to people whose lack of scientific understanding or manipulation by fossil fuel actors has left them with the false belief that climate change isn’t happening.

At Toronto’s smallish Rise for Climate march on Saturday, I saw at least four people who were trying to convince people that chemtrails from aircraft are actually secret nefarious geoengineering by governments. Along with a large banner with pictures of aircraft chemtrails and frightening claims, they were distributing a colour handout:

It’s a bizarre document. It claims that chemtrails (themselves a conspiracy theory that has been around for many years) are a secret “form of climate change mitigation” via solar radiation management (SRM). It also claims, however, that “SRM aerosol cloud canopies trap more heat than is deflected by SRM programs”, so the supposed chemtrail program actually makes climate change worse. It also claims that along with the chemtrails “associated microwave transmission atmospheric manipulation” is “decimating the ozone layer”. It’s a fever dream re-interpretation of contemporary environmental politics, marrying an old conspiracy theory with new concerns about the real potential technology of geoengineering by solar radiation management. They throw in that the geoengineering chemtrails cause autism, along with allergies and dementia, and claim that the program “was fully deployed immediately after WWII”.

It’s crazy from top to bottom, from the claim that the secret program is somehow “illegal” to the contradictory claims that the program is “officially denied” but also that there are “countless official documents which confirm” it. It’s also a bit ironic given how self-conscious the public conversation about geoengineering has been, including about whether any sort of testing could produce unwanted side-effects and how any geoengineering ought to be governed.

When you lose trust in formal sources of information like governments and scientific bodies, it becomes impossible to have an informed position on climate change. The internet is full of nonsense, as everyone expects, and the environmentalist movement includes many who are highly credulous when it comes to claims that they are inclined to believe, whether those are about health and nutrition or about government conspiracies.

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