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State lawmakers pass bill surrounding experimental process in sky: 'This is not a fringe movement'

While it may seem harmless, the language of this legislation may prevent legitimate future scientific experiments that could help our planet.

While it may seem harmless, the language of this legislation may prevent legitimate future scientific experiments that could help our planet.

Photo Credit: iStock

Government officials have passed legislation encouraging misinformation about a common phenomenon in the sky — and its effect may stifle important scientific research.

What's happening?

Tennessee's state legislature has passed a bill that targets solar geoengineering in the sky, which some analysts believe is a subtle way of legislating against (and thus legitimizing) conspiracy theories about chemtrails while also denying a need for concern about our changing climate.

Solar geoengineering is a highly experimental — and, so far, not at all widespread — branch of scientific research that seeks to help combat the changing climate, perhaps by releasing sulfur particles into the Earth's atmosphere to partially reflect sunlight. 

The Washington Post reported that there is no widespread solar geoengineering experimentation taking place outdoors, which means no everyday passersby will witness such experiments taking place in the immediate future.

However, conspiracy theorists since the 1990s have hypothesized about "chemtrails," which are, in the conspiracy theorists' estimation, secret chemicals released via airplanes to somehow control the world's population or conduct experiments on people. 

Some of those conspiracy theorists have pointed toward cloudy streaks in the sky coming off of airplanes as evidence of their theories' legitimacy — but the scientific community knows that those streaks in the sky are merely contrails, which are trails of condensation that materialize when warm plane fuel exhaust interacts with cold air and water vapor in the sky. 

Contrails are not harmless and may play a major role in trapping heat, but science can explain them without the need for further conjecture about added chemicals intended to trickle down to the surface. 

Why is this bill important?

The phrasing of this bill seems to conflate chemtrail conspiracy theories and the possibility of solar geoengineering as though there is a secret program injecting chemicals into plane exhaust systems.

Tennessee's bill says that the government (or other organization) has conducted or may conduct "geoengineering experiments by intentionally dispersing chemicals into the atmosphere," and as a result of that claim, the bill seeks to ban releasing chemicals "with the express purpose of affecting temperature, weather, or the intensity of sunlight." 

Sponsored by state senator Steve Southerland and state representative Monty Fritts, the bill is seen by many as lending concerning legitimacy to chemtrail conspiracies despite having no scientific evidence.

"This is not a fringe movement, but a real political force," sustainability professor Holly Jean Buck told the Post.

As the Tennesseean put it, in summarizing a Harvard analysis: "If there truly was a large-scale program which involved aircrafts introducing hazardous chemicals, there would first need to be an operating system to manufacture, load and disperse materials. Additionally, if such a system existed, it would require the work and cooperation of thousands of people, which would make it difficult to maintain a secret."

While it may seem harmless to ban something that isn't happening, the language may prevent legitimate future scientific experiments that could help to determine another method to help save the planet from worsening climate issues. These kinds of anti-science bills in general could have chilling effects on important research that helps our planet in the long run.

What can I do to help?

The most immediate action citizens can take against anti-science and anti-planet political movements is to support candidates who maintain pro-science, pro-clean energy platforms. If your local or state officials support potentially dangerous anti-science bills like Tennessee's, contact your representatives to make your voice heard.

Fortunately, many government policies are helping advance climate science and clean energy that keeps us safe rather than exacerbating existing issues. 

For example, the city of Sacramento plans to ban new gas stations to promote clean energy, the state of Michigan is requiring utility companies to provide 100% clean energy by 2040, and Kentucky is greenlighting numerous new clean energy projects.

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