This article originally appeared on VICE US
A former solar panel engineer named Dane Wigington has a theory about California's apocalyptic drought: It's a secret weather-control operation orchestrated by the Powers That Be, part of a doomed attempt by government geoengineers to stop global warming. But while that might sound like one guy's harebrained idea—and it is—Wigington's harebrained idea has caught on, sparking a small but burgeoning movement of drought truthers who see a dark conspiracy in the dry weather.
Over the past four years, California has experienced so little rain that the state has been plunged into the worst water shortage in its 500-year recorded history. The causes of the drought aren't precisely known—like a freak snowstorm or an off-season hurricane, there is no specific villain to blame for California's dry spell, human or otherwise. Extreme weather events are mostly dice-rolls of nature, pushed along perhaps by climate change. Local experts also blame a high pressure system unofficially called "The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge," but that goofy name is probably the most entertaining thing about California climate science.
Wigington, who was interviewed by Sacramento's CBS News affiliate last week, has much more amusing ideas about what's causing the drought: the government—and specifically, the government's chemtrails. According to the news channel, more than 1,000 people packed into an auditorium in Redding, California last week to hear Wigington talk about this theory.
He explained to CBS reporter Nick Janes, in somewhat general terms, how it works: "You can't interfere with a climate system, putting aerosols—fine particles—into the atmosphere without affecting the rain. You can't do it," Wigington said. The aerosols, he added, supposedly contain metals like aluminum and barium, and are apparently meant to block radiation from the sun. But he claims that they're also blocking the moisture that would allow rain.
If you're not familiar, chemtrails are how conspiracy theorists explain the cloud-like streaks that some planes leave behind in the sky. According to these theories, the planes are not merely letting out exhaust, but spraying chemicals into the atmosphere. The reasons vary widely, although it usually has something to do with controlling the weather, or alternatively, controlling our minds.
The "official story," on chemtrails—"official" here meaning what scientists say—is that those innocuous wisps are actually condensation trails—"contrails," not chemtrails. Basically it's just something that jet exhaust does when the weather is right. Of course, that's according to NASA.
On the other hand, the homepage of Wigington's website GeoengineeringWatch.com warns visitors in no uncertain terms of the dangers they face from chemtrails. He argues that these are being used to carry out such terrifying schemes as solar radiation management (SRM) and stratospheric sulphate aerosols geoengineering (SAG-SRM). "Climate engineers control who gets rain and who does not," he wrote in a post last year, adding that there is no longer any natural weather at all.
All of which makes it seem like the drought fits into some vast and sinister plan. But the lingering question then is, um, why?
On this point, Wigington is less clear. But he does offer two possible reasons: "First, California is possibly a climate 'sacrifice zone'," he writes, going on to theorize that without a drought in the West, climate engineers couldn't have achieved record snowstorms in the eastern US, although he doesn't explain why they wanted those snowstorms.
Second, he argues that "a population that has no water and can not grow any food does not tend to be in a position to effectively protest the crimes of it's government." He doesn't go into detail what those crimes will be, beyond controlling the weather obviously.
Part of what makes the theory so compelling, though, is that Wigington's ideas aren't pure fantasy. Geoengineering experiments are real. A paper published in the year 2000 by atmospheric scientists Ken Caldeira and Bala Govindsamy specifically focused on the use of aerosols as a potential tool to address climate change. The paper, which was published by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, was titled "Geoengineering Earth's radiation balance to mitigate CO2-induced climate change."
The paper found that experiments on atmospheric models showed promise; but the authors also detailed a vast array of caveats and unknowns, and finally concluded that, "given these difficulties, the most prudent and least risky option to mitigate global warming may well be to curtail emissions of greenhouse gases."
Now, rather than speak out about the benefits of weather control, which would make him the perfect villain for Wigington's narrative, Caldeira has actually become a pundit of sorts, cautioning against geoengineering in interviews.
This hasn't escaped the attention of Dane Wigington, who keeps a careful eye on Caldeira, and refers to him as a "paid liar," and "the most despicable form of human. " He seems to view the scientist as a duplicitous puppet master, dismissing his professed caution about geoengineering as nothing but a ruse.
And Wigington has harsh words for anyone who questions him: "Those who doubt this is going on, those who deny it, those who are in fact protecting their paychecks and pensions by denying it, will not be able to much longer."
"I am not sure I want to deal with this much more," Caldeira told me.
In a blog post back in February, Caldeira described being badgered by obsessives who believe he's part of a secret government conspiracy to change the weather, control people's minds, or both. In a response, Caldeira wrote that he pitied them, because while they trust people who are wrong, they're not wrong to doubt official narratives. After all, Caldeira concluded, "[we] cannot rely on our government to tell us the truth."
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