Research on geoengineering—manipulating Earth’s climate to counter global warming and climate change—appears to have broad public support, a University of Calgary-led international study has found.
In the internationally representative survey done by researchers at the University of Calgary, Harvard University and Simon Fraser University, 72 per cent of respondents approved research into the climate-manipulating technique.
The study, published Oct. 24 in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first international survey on public perception of geoengineering and solar radiation management.
“Support for geoengineering is spread across the political spectrum and is linked to support for science concern about climate change,” says David Keith, a fellow with the university’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE) and a Harvard University professor.
“The strongest opposition comes from people who self-identify as politically conservative, who are distrustful of government and other elite institutions, and who doubt the very idea that there is a climate problem.”
Surprisingly, global warming was not a key factor in determining an individual’s support for or opposition of solar radiation management. The researchers had hypothesized that seeing climate change as an important issue, and its causes due to human activities, would be an obvious predictor of support.
Solar radiation management is a type of geoengineering that seeks to reflect sunlight by various means, including releasing suphate-based particles into Earth’s troposphere, to reduce warming.
“I think this is the first in line of many studies that will show that solar radiation management intersects with people’s political and environmental attitudes in surprising ways,” says study lead author Ashley Mercer, a PhD student in ISEEE’s Energy and Environmental Systems graduate specialization program (Keith is her supervisor).
“The results suggest that dialogue surrounding this topic needs to be broadened to include ideas of risk, values and trade-off,” Mercer says.
The 18 question, internet-based survey was completed by 3,105 participants from Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States at the end of 2010. The survey was designed to ascertain how widespread public knowledge of geoengineering was and how the public actually perceived it.
The study is available at: http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/6/4/044006