Confusion was the best thing that happened to me on Jan. 8 after I left “Operation Sierra Storm,” a South Lake Tahoe conference on climate change.
At the conference, Dr. James Hansen, the keynote speaker and internationally-renowned expert on climate change, presented his decades of research clearly and concisely. Yet, when someone from the audience asked about chemtrails and I didn’t know what they were, I realized my lack of knowledge, and thus confusion about what I can best do to help with the global warming crisis, had kept me on the sidelines.
Though Dr. Hansen answered the question indirectly by restating his research — first we must reduce carbon emissions and only then should we consider sequestering carbon from the atmosphere — I did not look up chemtrails when I came home. Nor did I days later when a friend pointed to the sky and exclaimed, “A chemtrail!” and a colleague told me many of her friends believe chemtrails to be real. It finally took something more personally consequential — a phone call from a client retracting her decision to buy a ski condo because of the global warming — to get me engaged.
I discovered “chemtrails” are slowly dissolving jet condensation trails which have become part of a conspiracy theory suggesting chemtrails are undisclosed chemicals sprayed for such things as solar radiation control. And I discovered two 2014 scientific studies (Stanford University and the American Meteorological Society) which concluded the immediate cause of the California drought is an enormous high pressure ridge over the Pacific, blocking storms from reaching the West Coast. Extensive modeling and statistical analysis have demonstrated this ridge to be “much more likely” to form in higher greenhouse gas concentrations.
Already, simply by gaining information, I felt better. I recalled a quote I read while doing the research — “Confusion strengthens fear” — and I wrote it down and pinned it to my bulletin board.
Still, last week, staring at the brown-dry Sierra and talking to my neighbor in the street, I noticed how, just like that, I slipped into a self-preservation mind-set instead of a broader world-view when I said, “Perhaps living near the bottom of Lake Tahoe will luckily keep our aquifer full.”
Had I again allowed fear to contract my good-intentions of becoming more informed and proactive?
“Yeah, last summer my well pump kicked off after 30 minutes,” my neighbor replied. “The summer before, I could water all day long.”
I glanced at his lawn, then mine. “Hmm, I probably should remove half my lawn and water less,” I said. I hoped he’d agree to do the same.
“If I could drill sideways into the bottom of that lake to get more water I would,” he said.
It was clear again how fear has us all thinking irrationally.
“It’s so confusing not knowing what to do about global warming,” I ventured.
“Global warming? It’s a natural cycle, nothing we can do.”
A July, 2009 PEW Research Center survey says 84 percent of scientists but only half the public believe global warming is due to human activity. I changed the subject.
“Have you heard about chemtrails?”
I told him what I learned and how, in retrospect, it was more exhausting and fearful for me to not know than to find out. I felt some small relief. Though I may not know what I can do to help, I was committed to finding out. And though at the time it may not have seemed like much, sharing my experience of where I got myself stuck was the obvious first step.
Kathy Walters is the mother of a teenage boy, works for Kirkwood Mountain Realty and lives in Gardnerville. Currently, she is working on her memoir “Enough”.