TikTok video misrepresents Mexico move to restrict 'geoengineering'

A video shared across social media claims Mexico has banned "chemtrails," suggesting this confirms the widespread conspiracy theory that the skies are being sprayed with chemicals to harm people. The claim is false; the Mexican government in January announced steps to stop experiments that involve putting particles into the atmosphere, but did not endorse the chemtrails theory which has been widely debunked.

"Mexico banned chemtrails and solar geoengineering after discovering a rogue climate balloon hovering over Baja (California Sur)," said the speaker in a February 2, 2023 video on TikTok, with more than 45,000 views. "The balloon was released in an experimental attempt to dim the Sun in order to fight climate change."

The claim spread across social media, including on Facebook where one commentator wrote: "It's not f... conspiracy if they say it's real."

The video repeated extracts from an article published on News Punch, a website previously named YourNewsWire, that has been repeatedly fact-checked by AFP and other organizations.

Screenshot taken on March 10, 2023 of a Facebook post

No mention of chemtrails

The Mexican environment ministry said in a statement on January 13 it was banning "geoengineering experiments" as a "precautionary" measure. It said a US start-up firm, Make Sunsets, had launched balloons containing sulfur dioxide in Southern Baja California in an unauthorized experiment.

The company says on its website that it uses balloons to make "reflective, high-altitude, biodegradable clouds that cool the planet."

The government statement said geoengineering technology was unproven and could affect the weather and pose a risk to human health. It cited a "moratorium" on solar geoengineering under a 2010 UN convention.

Under that convention, countries agreed to restrict solar geoengineering to protect biodiversity "until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks."

The Mexican statement makes no mention of supposed chemtrails, however. As of March 9, 2023 there were no federal decrees published in the country's official journal concerning "chemtrails."

The head of the environment ministry's information department Diana Aspiros told AFP on March 9, 2023 that she was not aware of any such decree in the works.

Screenshot taken on March 10, 2023 of videos on TikTok

No evidence for chemtrails

A study published in 2016 surveyed 77 atmospheric chemists and geochemists on whether they had observed evidence of a "secret large-scale atmospheric program" such as that alleged by "chemtrails" theorists. All but one of them said they had not.

Airplanes produce condensation trails or "contrails" because "the heat of aircraft engines causes water vapor in the atmosphere to condense into water and then freeze into ice crystals, which coalesce into long, thin clouds that follow the path of aircraft," Ella Gilbert, a meteorologist at the British Antarctic Survey, told AFP for a previous AFP fact-check about false weather claims.

"Their engines also release tiny particles of soot and other pollutants that may act as seeds for cloud formation," she added.

Some scientists see solar geoengineering as a possible means of cooling the Earth to counter global warming. The controversial practice involves techniques such as injecting aerosol particles into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight back from Earth.

Experts reporting to the UN have warned of uncertainties about the impacts, but some scientists are researching the possibilities.

The chemtrails conspiracy theory suggests a range of motivations for the purported spraying, including sterilization, reduction of life expectancy, mind control or weather control.

A research group at Harvard University developing proposals for solar geoengineering field experiments, led by physicist David Keith, explains online "we have not seen any credible evidence that chemtrails exist."

AFP has fact-checked other false and misleading claims about climate change here.