Public Response to Climate Engineering Tested

Averting mass economic and social upheaval from looming climate change will likely require forms of climate engineering to supplement existing energy efficiency and emissions control programs. Climate engineering is the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change, and comes in two main variants, carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management. Because climate engineering is controversial, scientists are seeking to inform the public and understand their concerns before policy decisions are taken.

In a paper published in the leading science and medicine journal Nature Climate Change, researchers from Massey University and the UK’s Southampton University tested public reaction to six climate engineering concepts: Biochar; Enhanced Weathering; Air Capture; Stratospheric Aerosols; Cloud Brightening; and Mirrors in Space. Study participants viewed an on-screen visual of each climate engineering technique and read a brief definition of the concept inclusive of advantages and disadvantages.

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies include planting new forests, biochar (making charcoal from vegetation to lock in CO2), enhanced weathering (increasing the rate that carbon dioxide dissolves silicate minerals to form limestone), ocean fertilization, ocean liming, and various forms of air capture (building structures that filter CO2 from the air).

Solar radiation management (SRM) technologies seek to reduce temperatures by using reflective technologies to alter the balance of solar radiation and include cloud brightening (automated ships spraying small seawater droplets over the ocean to make clouds whiter and reflect more sunlight), stratospheric aerosols (spreading very small particles in the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight), roof whitening, and mirrors in space (placing large mirrors or sunshade structures in orbit to block or reflect sunlight).

Overall public evaluation of climate engineering was found, not surprisingly, to be negative. The research showed low awareness of climate engineering, but where there were positive associations, preference was for CDR over SRM possibly because CDR techniques mitigate increasing atmospheric CO2, the root cause of anthropogenic climate change. There was considerable public discomfort with the technique of stratospheric aerosols.

The researchers were Malcolm Wright, Professor of Marketing at Massey University, expatriate New Zealander Damon Teagle, Professor in Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton, and Pamela Feetham, tutor in the School of Communications at Massey University.

They noted that the research identified language for effective public communication of climate engineering in the event it moves from conceptual discussion to possible implementation.

Published online in Nature Climate Change January 2014.

Tags: Damon Teagle  Malcolm Wright  Massey University  Nature Climate Change  Pamela Feetham  University of Southampton  

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