Climate engineering—what do the public think?

Jan 13, 2014
Credit: NASA

Members of the public have a negative view of climate engineering, the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the environment to counteract climate change, according to a new study.

The results are from researchers from the University of Southampton and Massey University (New Zealand) who have undertaken the first systematic large-scale evaluation of the reaction to .

The work is published in Nature Climate Change this week.

Some scientists think that climate engineering approaches will be required to combat the inexorable rise in atmospheric CO2 due to the burning of fossil fuels. Climate engineering could involve techniques that reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere or approaches that slow temperature rise by reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface.

Co-author Professor Damon Teagle of the University of Southampton said: "Because even the concept of climate engineering is highly controversial, there is pressing need to consult the public and understand their concerns before policy decisions are made."

Lead author, Professor Malcolm Wright of Massey University, said: "Previous attempts to engage the public with climate engineering have been exploratory and small scale. In our study, we have drawn on commercial methods used to evaluate brands and new product concepts to develop a comparative approach for evaluating the public reaction to a variety of climate engineering concepts."

The results show that the public has strong negative views towards climate engineering. Where there are positive reactions, they favour approaches that reduce carbon dioxide over those that reflected sunlight.

"It was a striking result and a very clear pattern," said Professor Wright. "Interventions such as putting mirrors in space or fine particles into the stratosphere are not well received. More natural processes of cloud brightening or enhanced weathering are less likely to raise objections, but the public react best to creating biochar (making charcoal from vegetation to lock in CO2) or capturing carbon directly from the air."

Nonetheless, even the most well regarded techniques still has a net negative perception.

The work consulted large representative samples in both Australia and New Zealand. Co-author Pam Feetham said: "The responses are remarkably consistent from both countries, with surprisingly few variations except for a slight tendency for older respondents to view climate engineering more favourably."

Professor Wright noted that giving the public a voice so early in technological development was unusual, but increasingly necessary. "If these techniques are developed the public must be consulted. Our methods can be employed to evaluate the responses in other countries and reapplied in the future to measure how public opinion changes as these potential new technologies are discussed and developed," he said.

Explore further: Cloud mystery solved: Global temperatures to rise at least 4C by 2100

More information: Wright, M.J., Teagle, D.A.H., and Feetham, P.M., (2014) A quantitative evaluation of the public response to climate engineering, Nature Climate Change DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2087

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axemaster
4.7 / 5 (7) Jan 13, 2014
The results show that the public has strong negative views towards climate engineering. Where there are positive reactions, they favour approaches that reduce carbon dioxide over those that reflected sunlight.

This is hardly a surprise. I've never met a scientist who thought climate engineering was a good idea (I'm a physicist working in a physics dept, so I've met a lot of scientists). The public's reaction to geoengineering is very rational - they understand that the root of the problem, CO2, needs to be the target, and that the obvious way to deal with it is to stop producing it.
krundoloss
4 / 5 (4) Jan 13, 2014
It is a rational way of thinking. If you make a mess, clean it up! Don't cover up the mess, or work around it. The public knows that if you push nature, it will push back. CO2 sequestration is the way to go. We should never assume we know enough about our planet to try and "engineer" it.
OdinsAcolyte
3 / 5 (4) Jan 13, 2014
Leave it alone.
ACW
2.8 / 5 (5) Jan 13, 2014
The Earth's climate has changed many times since its formation. CO2 levels have always followed climate change by 500-1000 years, it not been the catalyst.

If someone wants to try engineering a planet's climate, send them to Mars, don't let them potentially ruin the planet that we live on.
Doug_Huffman
3 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2014
Who is liable for the OOPSie? Who is liable for the unintended consequences of even scientific-progressivism?

If you're a "scientist" then you did your homework and read The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Popper, 1959). Read on to his The Open Society and Its Enemies on (social) engineering's failures.
ab3a
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2014
Let's suppose for an instant that we had some way to adjust regional climates. Great.

How shall we adjust it? Hotter? Cooler? Wetter? Dryer? Wars have started over lesser political issues.
Drjsa_oba
3.3 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2014
It is a relief to find myself in full agreement with a majority viewpoint (nice change). My view is that climate engineering could be the most dangerous thing anybody ever does deliberately to our planet. Potentially more lethal than the pollution problem and population pressure combined.
Sinister1812
3.8 / 5 (4) Jan 13, 2014
The public knows that if you push nature, it will push back.


The public knows that? There are a lot of climate deniers around the world, and they think there's a conspiracy campaign run by Al Gore.. That's probably the reason a lot of them disagree.

If they are going to do this, they should do it in secrecy and test it first. Otherwise the problem is going to get worse.
Sinister1812
4 / 5 (4) Jan 14, 2014
they understand that the root of the problem, CO2, needs to be the target, and that the obvious way to deal with it is to stop producing it.


But there's a lack of action going on at the moment. It's one thing to talk about cutting back on CO2, but it's another thing actually doing it. There was a public outcry about the Carbon tax in Australia. The problem is that not everyone agrees on a solution, so we end up doing nothing.
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (5) Jan 14, 2014
This is hardly a surprise. I've never met a scientist who thought climate engineering was a good idea

Dito. We should keep these approaches for when there's really no alternative (e.g. if the sun were suddenly to brighten by 5% or somesuch.)

Fix the causes - not the symptoms. Covering up effects just leads to an (unseen) system growing more and more unstable until it blows up in our faces. At some point our ability to safely manipulate the climate would just be overextended (if there is ever a 'safe' margin to begin with) and then we'll just be another in a long line of extinct species.
mosahlah
3 / 5 (4) Jan 14, 2014
Global warming or climate engineering? Which do you prefer? (Because I'm guessing your car is not staying in the garage.)
Maggnus
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 14, 2014
mosahlah, that's the fallacy of an excluded middle. The answer is not an either/or proposition.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Jan 14, 2014
Global warming or climate engineering? Which do you prefer? (Because I'm guessing your car is not staying in the garage.)

How about I prefer a car that doesn't run on fossil fuels? Not really a problem, is it?
cantdrive85
2 / 5 (6) Jan 14, 2014
Being that not a single climate model accurately predicted the current GWing "lull" and we are still learning how the Earth receives it's energy from the solar plasma...;
http://prl.aps.or.../e235002

...this knee jerk consideration based on faulty reasoning seems a monumentally bad idea. Sadly, there is no shortage of morons who believe they are much smarter than they really are.
Maggnus
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 14, 2014
A three for you cantdrive, because you said this:
Sadly, there is no shortage of morons who believe they are much smarter than they really are.
meaning that one part of your statement is completely true.

The Earth does not receive it's energy from solar plasma, excepting that the Sun is a huge ball of plasma energizied by nuclear fusion.

And climate models have suggested from the start that the rise in temperatures would not be a straight line.

Perhaps your knee-jerk reaction of instant contrarianism should be the thing being studied?
mosahlah
5 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2014
A zero emission car sounds great.
meBigGuy
5 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2014
"The Earth's climate has changed many times since its formation. CO2 levels have always followed climate change by 500-1000 years, it not been the catalyst."

How can the reader of a science site be so stupid? Astounds me.