One of the poisonous side effects of the fact-free atmosphere that has been created by the Republican party is that evidence in support of any theory is no longer considered necessary. As long as prominent people are willing to make strong assertions confidently and their targets have already been suitably demonized, these statements are given a presumption of credibility. The examples are legion. Obama is a Kenyan, Muslim, Marxist plotting to install a dictatorship in the US is perhaps the most egregious example and best known. Others are that Christians are being persecuted in the US, climate change is a hoax, Planned Parenthood sells baby parts for profit, 9/11 was an inside job, Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons and was responsible for 9/11, Obamacare has death panels, airplane contrails are really ‘chemtrails’ in a secret government spraying program, immigrants from Mexico are responsible for a crime spree of murders and rapes, the list goes on and on. It seems like there is no major issue, whether natural or human-caused, that escapes the paranoid fantasies of a significant minority in the US.
The latest involves the large number of fires that are threatening large areas of the western US due to the extreme drought that the region has suffered. The question being debated by most serious people is whether this drought is due to a statistical outlier, caused by an unfortunate run of successive rain-free years that has no deeper cause, or is one of the consequences of climate change.
But that is not what some people believe. An alternative theory that is being promoted is that the drought has been deliberately caused by government scientists.
Last week, a crowd of several hundred turned out in Redding, in northern California, to hear grave warnings from a solar power contractor named Dane Wigington that the weather has been taken over by government geoengineers spraying our skies with toxic chemicals in a doomed attempt to slow down global warming.
In April, an essay published under the name “State of the Nation” argued that the drought was not only artificially created, it was in fact a stepping-stone in the US military-industrial complex’s master plan to take over the planet and achieve “total control of all of Earth’s resources”.
The conspiracists are in no doubt: the government is spraying chemicals and artificially holding back weather patterns off the California coast to keep the rain away. They are doing this with planes – Wigington likes to show audience footage of thick contrails spewing into the sky, evidence he calls “undeniable” – but they may also have operated in the past from a military installation in Alaska, now closed, called the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP.
These people have seized on an idea that I had heard of before, that suggested that it might be able to counter global warming by seeding the upper atmosphere with an aerosol layer that could reflect sunlight and thus cool the Earth by a few degrees, though the idea’s originator warns that a lot more research needs to be done before such a risky strategy is adopted. Couple this suggestion with more well-known efforts to cause rain by seeding clouds (that have had only mixed results) and these people think they have sufficient grounds to believe that the government can actually manipulate the weather.
But what has the government got against California and other western states that it is trying to fry them out of existence? Why would Obama do this, especially since those states are friendly to Democrats? You can always make up reasons, however implausible they are. One favorite one is that government scientists are behind this in order to create alarm over climate change.
But plausible reasons are not even necessary for such people. It is simply taken as a given that the government is evil and ideas that feed that belief are promoted by those industries and interests who would like to see all regulations eliminated. That goal would be achieved by depriving the government of any powers to do anything at all, let alone try and improve environment, and implying that they use such powers nefariously takes them further towards that goal.
Normally, one would dismiss theories such as the one about forest fires being governmentally caused as being held by just a crackpot fringe. But the fact that several hundred people turned out to listen to this suggests that this is another crackpot theory virus that may escape from its limited group of adherents and infect the general public. That likelihood becomes greater if the idea that the chances of large and devastating forest fires are being enhanced by climate change gains ground, because then climate change denialists will need an alternative theory to distract the public and maintain their belief that it is a massive hoax perpetrated by scientists. Their favorite tactic is to create doubt by postulating one alternative hypothesis after another, irrespective of the level of evidence in support of it, and this one will do just fine.