Kylie Jenner is wrong to assume contrails are chemtrails, but she's right to ask about them. The famous Kardashian family member's passing reference to a conspiracy theory from the 1990s flew over the heads of many this past week. Jenner's conspiratorially loaded tweet included an image with some intriguing questions about the world, among them the question of contrails:
Contrails are made of condensation: thin clouds that form after a reaction between temperature changes and water in the atmosphere when jet aircraft fly around. But to a dedicated band of conspiracy theorists, contrails are actually chemtrails, chemicals spewed by the government in the air to poison hopeless pedestrians.
Conspiracy theories are like house guests who outstay their welcome
There's a reason conspiracy theories exist, even so long after the dawn of reason. They stick in our brains as a combination of emotional pressures and our inability to disprove them in an experiential manner. The two authors of American Conspiracy Theories state anxiety can play some terrible tricks on us, as Scientific American summarized in 2014:
"researchers have found that inducing anxiety or loss of control triggers respondents to see nonexistent patterns and evoke conspiratorial explanations" and that in the real world "there is evidence that disasters (e.g., earthquakes) and other high-stress situations (e.g., job uncertainty) prompt people to concoct, embrace, and repeat conspiracy theories."
When someone is prompted to become curious about a topic for any reason, good or bad, that's as much an opportunity for a conspiracy theory to take root in our minds as it is one to inform. And since we all experience anxiety and loss of control in our lives, the matter of conspiracy theories is one we are each forced to personally address sooner or later.
Don't blame Kylie for trying to ask tough questions; blame her for trying to get easy answers
The world is complicated, and we can't prove or disprove a lot of stuff we might end up believing or sharing. Kylie is right to ask questions about contrails, and anything else, as all of us are. In the case of contrails, however, Google would have been a productive place to start with her research.
Kylie is no different than dear Terry who, in 2002, wrote a letter to Grist with another theory:
I’m interested in learning more about Chemtrails. I understand that they are spread in the sky by jets using aluminum particles and that they are used to create cooler weather to slow down global warming. However, people are suffering from health problems as a result of this spraying action. If you have more information on Chemtrails, I would be interested in hearing about it.
The answer (of which a section is below) is a great summary of both the truth and the shocking allegations that fuel the theory's driving force of pure terror:
People who are concerned about chemtrails think some of this vaporous skywriting spells, "WATCH OUT FOR THE GOVERNMENT." This chemtrails theory holds that U.S. military jets are purposefully spraying the populace with unknown and possibly harmful substances.
Terror, anxiety, fear, a loss of control: these are the real ingredients that make up chemtrails, none of which should ever go viral.