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Battling the contrails

Where most people see innocent vapour trails, the so-called chemtrailers see a global conspiracy to spread chemicals in the atmosphere.

Translated by Erik Grønvold. Originally published 02.04.2017.

According to the «chemtrailers» the clouds are manipulated in secret. Now, they fight to save people from a threat that almost nobody think is real.

– Being branded an outsider is the price you have to pay, says Sven-Inge Johansen in «Aksjonsgruppa for blå himmel», the Blue Skies Action Group.

– I’ve decided to stay here with my countrymen, no matter what happens. People deserve to know the truth, Johansen says.

But what is Johansen and the other chemtrailers so worried about? Join me as I meet them in an attempt to see the sky from their perspective.

Astrid Rommetveit og Sven-Inge Johansen

WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE: Can I see the clouds and weather through chemtrailer Sven-Inge Johansen’s eyes? It’s time to give it a try. Even though Sven-Inge is very sceptical towards NRK, he chooses to make an exception.

Foto: Martin Torstveit / NRK

BERGEN: I’ve worked as a weather and climate reporter for NRK for a decade, and all that time I’ve been approached by people who think I’ve misunderstood something vital: That the weather no longer is natural, and that it’s being manipulated without informing the public of the fact.

The evidence is visible in the skies every day in the shape of vapour trails from aeroplanes, they say. They called these clouds «chemtrails» – chemical clouds.

As alternate facts and fake news climb ever higher on the agenda, I decide it’s time to take a closer look at this issue. I pack my bags and head for the airport.

Fighting for blue skies

BERGEN AIRPORT: The Twin Otter is ready at the gate. The weather is okay. Everything is going smoothly, but I’m still a bit apprehensive about the journey. Sven-Inge Johansen is waiting for me at the other end, and I have no idea how our meeting will go.

Johansen helped start the Blue Skies Action Group, based in Skien in Telemark, and wants to spread the message further than to their 10 or 15 members.

Ser ut vindu på flyplass

WHAT ARE THE PLANES DOING? Aeroplanes release chemical substances to manipulate the weather, according to the chemtrailers. I can’t imagine how airport employees could organise something like that without anyone noticing.

Foto: Odd Arne Olderbakk / NRK

A reporter from NRK may be an opportunity, but it might also backfire. Sven-Inge knows that chemtrailers have been ridiculed in the media, and has no interest in becoming a laughing stock. My intention isn’t to make fun of anyone, but to try to understand. I’ve told him that much. He will hear counterarguments, but will also be listened to and heard.

I’ve heard stories about aggressive chemtrailers from scientists, about threats and physical violence. I don’t think Johansen is one of them.

As I board the plane, one thought keeps going through my mind. Is it really possible to understand a worldview so completely different from my own? I suspect that we have a very different relationship to facts.

Going viral

Sven-Inge Johansen isn’t the only one who suspects something is wrong with the clouds. In an international survey from 2011, 3015 people from the US, UK and Canada were interviewed about the subject.

Almost 17 % of them supported the claim that a secret government program is using planes to spread chemicals in the atmosphere. 2.6 % thought the claim was true, while 14 % thought it was partly true.

No similar surveys have been done in Norway, but emails and activity on the web testifies to the existence of such ideas here as well. The Facebook group “Chemtrails Østlandet” has 665 followers, while the group «Blå himmel nå – stopp værmodifiseringen» (Blue skies now – Stop weather modification) has 1417 followers.

This picture galleries shows some of the posts shared on the latter group recently:

As I leave the plane I just have to ask the pilots: What do they think about the chemtrailers’ claims that planes are dispersing chemicals?

– Bullshit. We release exhaust, but that’s no secret, says captain Tor Hjelle, and laughs. He points at the more than 100 buttons on the walls and roof of the cockpit. They all have a function – but none of them include illegal activities.

Sven-Inge Johansen doesn’t believe that turboprop pilots in small airliners are involved in the emissions. The chemtrails are produced by larger jets, and the pilots are kept in the dark, according to him. Everything is controlled from computers on the ground.

To piloter sitter i cockpit på Widerøe-fly

CAN’T HELP LAUGHING: The two pilots Tor Hjelle and Aleksander Glendrange swear they’re not involved in any secret project to manipulate the clouds.

Foto: Astrid Rommetveit / NRK

Contrails are heating the planet

SKIEN: The gently rolling landscape provides plenty of room for the sky as I drive from Torp Airport to Skien.

Kondensstripe fra fly

CONTRAIL: This is the first thing I see after landing at Torp Airport. I only just manage to capture the image before the trail fades away.

Foto: Astrid Rommetveit / NRK

A white stripe cuts through the blue. A sight I normally wouldn’t give a thought, but today I see the world through a different filter. After all, contrails are artificial. They’re produced by planes and wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for us humans.

Condensation trails or vapour trails consist of tiny ice crystals that form behind the engines of aeroplanes at high altitudes, 8-12 km up in the air. In the cold air, the moisture in the exhaust from the plane condenses into steam which turns into water droplets and finally freezes to ice.

Sometimes, when conditions are optimal, contrails can linger for a long time and transform into ordinary cirrus clouds.

Contrails aren’t completely innocent: The airline industry is growing rapidly, and more and more contrails are being drawn across the sky. Scientists believe they actually contribute to global warming because they prevent long-wave radiation from leaving the atmosphere.

In the short term, the contrails contribute more to global warming than CO2 emissions from aeroplanes, scientists at CICERO reveal in a report about aviation and the climate.

In March 2017, contrails were included in the International Cloud Atlas, which means they are now considered to be «real» clouds.

This is the science I’ve packed for my trip to Skien. What Sven-Inge Johansen thinks remains to be seen.

Striper på himmelen

STEADILY INCREASING: Scientists have calculated that condensation trails covered 0.135 % of the northern hemisphere in 2006. Contrails and cirrus clouds contribute to global warming. Other, more low-lying clouds have the opposite effect.

Foto: Andreas Christen / Flickr

– The raindrops have grown bigger

Johansen waits outside a cafe in Skien. This is where the Blue Skies Action Group usually meets, but today it’s just the two of us.

We choose the sidewalk over the cafe. After all, I’ve come to look at the clouds through Johansen’s eyes.

Sven-Inge Johansen og Astrid Rommetveit

VERSATILE: As a bus driver, Sven-Inge Johansen gets up early in the morning to check the weather. Johansen previously worked at the local Waldorf School. He’s also been a businessman, and lived for several years in Germany. – The Norwegian princess Märtha Louise has made a considerable contribution towards spiritual openness, he says, explaining that this was the reason he decided to move back to Norway.

Foto: Martin Torstveit / NRK

– I can’t remember seeing any normal clouds the past months, says Sven-Inge and points to the sky. The jazz loving bus driver is wearing a shirt and tie under his jacket, and has hiking boots on his feet. Johansen loves to go for walks, and is often annoyed when contrails «smeared across the sky» steal the sunlight.

– The spraying is continuous, he claims.

In 2015, he voiced his concerns in the local newspaper, and several people who shared his views got in touch. That was the start of their action group.

The white contrails aren’t the only thing Sven-Inge is worried about. It’s the weather that results from them.

– They can make fog. They create abnormal temperatures and a type of cold weather that doesn’t belong here. Last year we had to cancel all the buses because of heavy snow. The snow was very wet, and I think it was abnormal. The raindrops have grown bigger as well. All these things add up to what I believe is an abnormal situation.

– But who are they? I ask. Who’s behind this interference with the weather?

– That’s a very important question, Johansen answers. But he doesn’t elaborate.

It’s an important question to me as well. Maybe Johansen will explain it further when he gets to know me better.

Don’t trust the meteorologists

One of the members in the action group has mounted a camera on a telescope to take pictures of passing planes. Photographs are among the action group’s most important tools to document what’s going on.

In February 2017, they gathered the pictures in a report where they explain how the weather often changes in the days and weeks after many contrails have appeared on the sky.

Here’s one example:

Utdrag fra rapport fra Aksjonsgruppa for blå himmel

Excerpt from the report the Blue Skies Action Group published in February 2017.

Foto: Aksjonsgruppa for blå himmel

[TEXT IN PHOTO: Clouds often change after planes have left trails, they become heavy and wet, and sometimes the temperature changes. These clouds can persist over Southern Norway for several days, and this time it was cold and unpleasant. The photo shows the sky over Telemark and Vestfold. The date is 15 November, following an unusual change in the weather. The fog in the picture lasted for two days.]

I’ve asked leading meteorologist Anders Sivle to look at the report. He praises Johansen for accurate observations, but says that the weather changes have a natural explanation.

Anders Sivle

​MORE CONTRAILS: Anders Sivle says the chemtrailers are right about one thing: There are more planes and more contrails in the sky now. – But I’ve never learned how this might cause extreme weather, fog, wind and snowstorms, so I’d like to see proof of this.


Conditions for contrails are often excellent just before a change in the weather. When warm air (a warm front) approaches Norway, it will arrive first at higher altitudes because the wind moves more rapidly there, creating excellent conditions for contrails. A few hundred kilometres behind it, warm air arrives at the surface, leading to grey and wet weather.

But Sven-Inge Johansen doesn’t buy this explanation. He doesn’t have much faith in Anders Sivle or other meteorologists.

To understand his scepticism, I have to go deeper into Johansen’s world.

Boiling clouds with radio waves

It’s not only contrails we see in the sky above Skien this day. Johansen also thinks we see signs of what he calls “heating”.

He claims that installations in Alaska, Troms and elsewhere emit radio waves that can control the weather, create flooding, hurricanes and droughts. Frequent extreme weather events may be the result of such “heating”.

Sometimes the procedure makes the clouds boil, Johansen says. The picture below shows one such instance (from the action group’s report).

Skybilde med forklaring fra Aksjonsgruppa for blå himmel

DIFFICULT CLOUD TYPE: This is probably a cloud type that hasn’t been classified until recently: Asperitas. – I’m not surprised that the meteorologist in question had trouble identifying it, says leading meteorologist Anders Sivle.

Foto: Aksjonsgruppa for blå himmel

[TEXT IN PHOTO: Here we see powerful heating of clouds, making them “boil”, i.e. they turn and twist just like boiling water. Clouds are water in an evaporated state, so this is a clear indication of artificial heating. We’ve seen this procedure carried out at a wide range of power levels. Photo taken 25 November 2016 above Telemark and Vestfold. There was significant air traffic with chemtrails in the preceding and following days. Was this the start of the warm weather in December?]

Johansen sent a similar picture to the Institute of Meteorology, asking for an explanation for the phenomenon.

The meteorologist on duty was uncertain about the cloud type, and referred to a Wikipedia article that might provide an answer. This weakened Johansen’s trust in Norwegian meteorologists.

– When the Institute of Meteorology tells me their source is Wikipedia, well, I don’t have much reason to trust them. I’m sorry. I thought they had plenty of knowledge, but it doesn’t seem that way. Wikipedia is full of factual mistakes, and you need to be extremely wary of it, he says.

Fears toxic substances in the rain

We agreed to tape the conversation so that I don’t have to remember everything. I sometimes have to laugh at my poor memory, but memory is no joke to Sven-Inge Johansen.

He lost his mother to Alzheimer’s disease, and is worried that chemicals in the air, especially aluminium, may dull his senses. He therefore often jots down his thoughts and ideas on paper.

The Blue Skies Action Group collected rainwater and had it analysed in a laboratory. They specifically asked the technician to search for aluminium and barium.

Laboratorieprøve av regnvann
Foto: Aksjonsgruppa for blå himmel

The analysis revealed that the water contained:

  • Aluminium: 8.2 µg (0.0000082 g) per litre.
  • Barium: 0.4 µg (0.0000004) per litre.

To Johansen, this is a lot.

– If we inhale aluminium, it will obviously affect us. Barium is a toxic substance. One gram is enough to kill a person, he says. He claims that none of the two elements occur naturally in rainwater.

But scientists say he’s wrong.

Atmospheric scientist isn’t worried

Hilde Uggerud

A SPECIALIST PROFESSION: – Many things can go wrong with a water sample. It’s very easy to taint it by adding something that wasn’t there at the outset, says Hilde Uggerud. She uses acid washed plastic containers for rainwater samples.

Foto: Ingar Næss

I get in touch with Hilde Uggerud, a senior scientist at NILU - The Norwegian Institute for Air Research. There’s absolutely no reason to be alarmed by the results from the action group’s tests, she says.

We ask Uggerud to calculate how much of the water a person can drink before it might be dangerous.

The answer is that an adult has to drink several thousand litres of this rainwater a week for the intake of aluminium to exceed the limit recommended by the WHO (see factsheet).

Uggerud and her colleagues monitor the air across the country, and often find rainwater containing small amounts of both aluminium and barium. In other words, the rain in Skien is perfectly normal.

– These substances rarely come from human activity, Uggerud says. They occur naturally in the soil, are absorbed by plants, whirled up into the air by the wind and come back down with the rain.

Aluminium is the third most common element in the Earth’s crust, according to Uggerud.

Why aluminium and barium?

Sven-Inge Johansen has taken a blood sample that shows he has aluminium in his blood. This worries him. – It’s almost impossible to avoid inhaling these substances in the air, not least when the fog comes rolling in, he explains.

This is a misunderstanding, according to Uggerud.

– Most of the aluminium in people’s bodies comes from food and drink. Hardly any of it comes from the air.

– But why on earth are chemtrailers so worried about aluminium and barium? the scientist asks. She often gets questions from chemtrailers about these specific substances.

I ask Johansen the same question. He says that even though he’s no expert on chemistry or weather, he checks for the same substances that other chemtrailers talk about.

– These substances have been found in analyses in the US and Sweden, and they’re connected to weather manipulation, he answers.

Hilde Uggerud’s assurances have little effect on Johansen.

– I don’t buy it, not without further explanation. To me, this is on par with the clouds from Wikipedia, Johansen says. He refers to an episode in Cornwall in England in 1988, where aluminium sulphate was released into the drinking water. The waterworks manager said the water was safe to drink, which turned out to be wrong. May there be similar arrogant attitudes among Norwegian air researchers?

– I believe normal rainwater shouldn’t contain toxic substances of any kind, Johansen adds. He wants to see even better documentation from NILU.

Sven-Inge Johansen tar bilde av skyene

FEARS SUBSTANCES IN THE FOG: – We’ve had plenty of fog in recent years. It’s very cold and unpleasant. I believe that the metal particles being dispersed come back down with the fog. We’re forced to breathe it, says Sven-Inge Johansen. He keeps on documenting what he sees.

Foto: Martin Torstveit / NRK

My article is misused

Where does the idea of chemtrails come from? I recently helped unwittingly further their claims.

Artikkel om geoengineering

MISUNDERSTOOD: This article about geoengineering emphasises that NO global weather experiments have been initiated yet. However, some people interpret the article as proof of the opposite.

Foto: NRK

On 19 March, I published an article about Helene Muri at the University of Oslo who investigates so-called geoengineering. Among other things, Muri and other climate scientists have considered creating a blanket of artificial clouds around the planet to reduce the global temperature if it gets too hot. The article clearly states that the plans have never been tested in real life. The researchers have made no attempt to keep their work secret.

The article is still being shared by chemtrailers on social media as proof that a massive, secret weather experiment is already ongoing today.

And I’m not the only one to be misunderstood. Many climate scientists also express frustration about these claims. In the US, a group of researchers have set up a website aimed at chemtrailers to quash claims that they’re secretly manipulating the weather.

Sven-Inge Johansen names two Norwegian climate scientists he believes are involved in secret weather manipulation during our conversations. These are scientists that have been active in the media and the climate change debate.

In autumn 2016, scientists launched the first earnest attack at the chemtrailers’ arguments. In a report published in Environmental Research Letters, atmospheric scientists from all over the world, including Norway, denied that secret weather manipulation was taking place. The cloud formation photos and measurements taken by the chemtrailers have natural explanations.

But Sven-Inge Johansen isn’t convinced by the vast majority of scientists.

– It doesn’t match what we can see with our own eyes, he says.

Mann ser på flystripe på himmelen

​SEEKS THE TRUTH: – I’ll keep working to help us understand what’s going on. I’m going to make people aware of what’s happening, and I’m ready to go as far as I must to get it out. But with honest means, no cheating, Sven-Inge Johansen says.

Foto: Astrid Rommetveit / NRK

Why? Who’s behind it?

Darkness falls on the contrails in the sky above Skien. We’re homing in on the darkest side of Johansen’s beliefs. Because why would anyone fiddle with the weather in secret? Who’s behind it?

To some chemtrailers, the answer is simple: The authorities and scientists all over the world have already started geoengineering. They want to cool down the planet without telling you and me.

Johansen doesn’t believe this. It’s too simple. He’s a climate sceptic, and doesn’t believe climate change is happening. He believes claims of climate change are used to disguise the true motives behind the contrail spraying. A cover-up, in other words.

– Then what is the real motive? I ask.

Johansen has given the question plenty of thought. He finally chooses to share some of his speculations with me. Maybe somebody wishes to control global food production, creating drought so that more food has to be genetically modified? Maybe it’s an attempt at mind control via radio waves? Maybe the weather is being weaponised into a device more powerful than an atom bomb?

– In any case, it’s a military project. It’s not civilian. This means they have huge resources, he says, and explains that the most probable forces behind it are government agencies with a hidden agenda.

– A bit conspiratorial

Kurt Oddekalv

​OBEDIENT NORWEGIANS: – We’ve been taught to believe that the authorities are always right. Norway is a quiet country where people potter about, pleased with whatever government is in power, says Oddekalv, who believes global warming is real. According to him, the problem is that some people are too eager to cool down the planet without public debate.

Foto: Tim Christian Wassmo / NRK

I know the head of the Blue Skies Action Group from elsewhere. Kurt Oddekalv is also the leader of the Green Warriors of Norway. He came out as a chemtrailer in 2015.

Oddekalv shares Johansen’s concern that planes are dispersing chemicals in the air, and is frightened by tests that show aluminium and barium in rainwater.

But they disagree on one point: For Oddekalv, the story of climate and geoengineering is enough. He believes that scientists and politicians are cooling the planet in secret so we won’t have to reduce consumption.

He doesn’t believe in other, more sinister motives.

I tell him that Sven-Inge Johansen thinks otherwise. Oddekalv wasn’t aware of that.

– Johansen is more of a conspiratorial type. We haven’t discussed it in detail, but I’m always open for people with different opinions, Oddekalv says.

Doesn’t like to be called conspiratorial

Silence. Disbelief. Laughter.

Sven-Inge Johansen gets many kinds of reactions when he shares his suspicions about weather manipulation with others.

We’ve returned to the cafe where the Blue Skies Action Group usually meets. They arrange lectures and discuss weather observations.

It’s good not to be alone when searching for the truth. When I use the word «conspiratorial», Johansen is annoyed.

Sven-Inge Johansen i samtale med Astrid Rommetveit

​CAN DONALD TRUMP HELP REVEAL THE TRUTH? Johansen and other chemtrailers all over the world have sent letters to Trump, urging him to take chemtrails seriously. – I believe he’s from another background than the established elite, Johansen says.

Foto: Martin Torstveit / NRK

– Ruining people’s reputation by using the term “conspiracy” is arrogant behaviour motivated solely by greed for power. It’s a domination technique used against people who believe otherwise, says Sven-Inge. He thinks both NRK and the authorities use such techniques to silence people like him.

I can’t that help thinking Johansen has a heavy load to carry with this project. Wouldn’t it be great to discover that all his suspicions are unfounded?

– That would be fantastic. But I don’t think it’s going to happen. I search for the truth, and I’m willing to accept it if I’m wrong. But I need explanations that correspond to what I’m seeing.

– I think a lot of people don’t want to look up at the sky. The floodgates open, and too much comes out at once, Johansen says.

Heading home: Snow and lightning

The next morning, there’s heavy snowfall in Østlandet, creating chaos. Cars skid off the road.

Folk går ombord i Widerøefly

CHAOTIC MORNING: The huge snowfall creates problems for many travellers. The snowfall had been forecast well in advance. The cause? A powerful low pressure system over the British Isles.

Foto: Astrid Rommetveit / NRK

Coming in for landing in Bergen, the Twin Otter descends through three layers of clouds, all of them pummelling the airframe. Ahead of us, another plane is hit by lightning. There’s a huge bang, but no serious damage.

The weather is flexing its muscles. Which is exactly how I think it should be.

For Sven-Inge Johansen and the other chemtrailers, it’s yet another confirmation that the weather is manipulated. They have their own view on the dramatic skies.

What will happen to society if everyone gets to define their own truths? I wonder. If everyone forecasts their own weather? Makes their own diagnoses? Analyses their own drinking water according to their own criteria for what’s safe?

How would this flight have unfolded if I didn’t choose to trust the pilots and the engineers that built the plane?

It could easily end in chaos. As a journalist, I want to be inquisitive and open to new ideas, but facts and science are still the most important thing.