Climates of suspicion: ‘chemtrail’ conspiracy narratives and the international politics of geoengineering

Cairns, Rose (2016) Climates of suspicion: ‘chemtrail’ conspiracy narratives and the international politics of geoengineering. Geographical Journal, 182 (1). pp. 70-84. ISSN 0016-7398

[img] Microsoft Word (Research Article) - Accepted Version
Download (96kB)
[img] PDF - Accepted Version
Download (541kB)


Concurrent with growing academic and policy interest in ‘geoengineering’ the global climate in response to climate change, a more marginal discourse postulating the existence of a climate control conspiracy is also proliferating on the Internet. Here, the term ‘chemtrails’ is used interchangeably with the term geoengineering to describe the belief that the persistent contrails left by aeroplanes provide evidence that a secret programme of large scale weather and climate modification is on-going. Despite recent calls for greater appreciation of the diverse ways in which people conceive of and relate to ideas of climate control, and widespread acknowledgement of the importance of democratic public engagement in governance of geoengineering, the chemtrail conspiracy narrative has received very little attention in academic work to date. This paper builds on work highlighting the instability of the distinction between ‘paranoid’ and ‘normal’ views, and examines the chemtrail conspiracy narrative as a discourse rather than a pathology (either psychological or sociological). The analysis finds that while some elements of the chemtrail narrative do not lend themselves to democratic processes of deliberation, and potential for engagement with more mainstream discourse appears to be low, nevertheless certain elements of the discourse (such as the moral outrage at the idea of powerful elites controlling the climate, or the importance of emotional and spiritual connections to weather and climate) highlight concerns of relevance to mainstream geoengineering debates. Furthermore, the pervasive suspicion that characterises the narrative and its reminder of the key role that trust plays in knowledge creation and the justification of beliefs, signals what is likely to be a perennial issue in the emerging international politics of geoengineering.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: geoengineering; climate engineering; climate change; conspiracy theory; seg
Schools and Departments: School of Business, Management and Economics > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation
H Social Sciences
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Rose Cairns
Date Deposited: 04 Sep 2014 14:35
Last Modified: 17 Mar 2017 09:56

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update
Project NameSussex Project NumberFunderFunder Ref
Climate Geoengineering GovernanceG0841ESRC and AHRCES/J007730/1