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Survey finds public support for geoengineering research; strongest opposition from conservatives
24 October 2011
A new, internationally-representative survey by researchers from the University of Calgary, Harvard University and Simon Fraser University found that 72% of respondents approved research into geoengineering. The study, published as an open access paper in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first international survey on public perception of geoengineering and solar radiation management (SRM) and shows that these terms are becoming increasingly embedded into public discourse.
Geoengineering is the process of deliberately manipulating the Earth’s climate to counteract the effects of global warming, while SRM is a type of geoengineering that seeks to reflect sunlight by various means to reduce warming.
The study found that public awareness of geoengineering is broad. Eight percent of the sample were able to provide a correct definition of geoengineering, an increase on previous estimates; however, 45% of the sample correctly defined the alternative term “climate engineering”, adding weight to the argument that “geoengineering” may be misleading and difficult to understand.
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, and was designed to ascertain how widespread public knowledge of geoengineering was and how the public actually perceived it.
Some reports have suggested that opposition to geoengineering is associated with environmentalists, but our results do not support this view. We found that geoengineering divides people along unusual lines. Support for geoengineering is spread across the political spectrum and is linked to support for science concern about climate change.
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.—Professor David Keith of Harvard University
The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) project (earlier post) is an example of SRM that intends to release sulphate-based particles into the troposphere in attempt to reflect the light rays from the sun and reduce warming.
A SPICE test project scheduled to take place in the UK was recently delayed by six months in order to explore and discuss the social aspects associated with geoengineering.
The study found that global warming was not a key factor in determining an individual’s support or opposition of SRM. The researchers hypothesized that seeing climate change as an important issue, and its causes anthropogenic, would be an obvious predictor of support.
I think this is the first in line of many studies that will show that SRM intersects with people's political and environmental attitudes in surprising ways. The results suggest that dialogue surrounding this topic needs to be broadened to include ideas of risk, values and trade-off.—Ashley Mercer, lead author of the study
A M Mercer, D W Keith and J D Sharp (2011) Public understanding of solar radiation management Environ. Res. Lett.
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