Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Quick Studies

spacelens1

(Photo: Public Domain)

The Public Isn’t Yet Ready for Sci-Fi Climate Engineering

• January 13, 2014 • 1:15 PM

(Photo: Public Domain)

A new survey reveals that people aren’t embracing space mirrors and stratospheric aerosols as solutions to climate change.

As global temperatures continue to rise and carbon dioxide emissions reach a record high, scientists are now more earnestly testing the possibilities of climate engineering, which, in doomsday lingo, is “deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change.”

But as atmospheric physicists and weather engineers fine-tune their methodologies, another group of researchers has set out to determine if the implementation of the controversial techniques would really be palatable to the public. Surveys of more than 2,000 people in New Zealand and Australia revealed that they aren’t wild about the apocalypse-reversing technology. 

The study, which appears in the journal Nature Climate Change, used a marketing approach to evaluate the participant’s opinions about six different technologies:

Biochar (making charcoal from vegetation to lock in CO2); Enhanced Weathering (increasing the rate that carbon dioxide dissolves silicate minerals to form limestone); Air Capture (building structures that filter CO2 from the air); Stratospheric Aerosols (spreading very small particles in the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight); Cloud Brightening (automated ships spraying small seawater droplets over the ocean to reflect sunlight); and Mirrors in Space (placing large mirrors or sunshade structures in orbit to block or reflect sunlight). Participants viewed an on-screen visual of each climate engineering technique and read a brief definition of the concept inclusive of advantages and disadvantages.

The subjects were then asked to describe the technology using a list of attributes, five positive (understandable, controllable, environmentally friendly, long-term sustainability, cost-effective) and five negative (unknown effects, risky, artificial, quick-fix, eyesore). People overwhelming responded with the negative descriptors: more than 66 percent of the total associations were negative. “Unknown effects” and “risky” made up about 40 percent of all the attributes selected.

By far, people were less freaked out by the carbon dioxide removal technologies than solar radiation management. But even the highest positively rated carbon dioxide removal strategy, Biochar, still received a high degree of negative feedback (52 percent for Australians and 48 percent for New Zealanders). “Mirrors in Space” seemed to bother everyone: 80 percent of the attributes provided among Australians were negative, and 86 percent of the descriptors provided among the New Zealanders were. “Stratospheric Aerosols” didn’t trail too far behind.

Interestingly, recent computer modeling by climate researchers at the University of Reading shows that there might be good reason to doubt such technologies. The team discovered that “massive injections” of sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere could generate widespread drought in Africa, South America, and Asia.

The researchers behind this study, though, remain hopeful that perceptions of climate engineering will shift.

“The results will probably change as the public dialogue unfolds, as the public are exposed to other climate engineering concepts and provided with additional scientific information on the techniques presented here,” the authors write. “Re-applying the present methods provides a solution to the problem of assessing the exposure impact of scientific information in a real-world setting. That is, it provides a method of tracking changes in public perceptions if climate engineering moves from conceptual discussion to possible implementation.”

Ryan Jacobs
Associate Digital Editor Ryan Jacobs joined Pacific Standard from The Atlantic, where he wrote for and produced the magazine’s Global and China channels online. Before that, he was a senior editorial fellow at Mother Jones. Follow him on Twitter @Ryanj899.

More From Ryan Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 2 • 9:00 AM

For Memory, Curiosity Is Its Own Reward

A new study suggests a neural link between curiosity, motivation, and memory.


October 2 • 8:00 AM

Can Prisons Predict Which Inmates Will Try to Escape?

And what can they do to prevent it?


October 2 • 6:00 AM

How Do We Know Our Environmental Laws Are Working?

Ask a great white shark.


October 2 • 5:00 AM

Give Us This Day Our Daily Brands

Researchers find identifying with brand-name products reduces religiosity.


October 2 • 4:00 AM

Why Can’t Anyone Break the Women’s Marathon Record?

Paula Radcliffe set the world record in 2003. Since then? No one’s come within three minutes of her mark.


October 1 • 2:00 PM

Most People With Addiction Simply Grow Out of It. Why Is This Widely Denied?

The idea that addiction is typically a chronic, progressive disease that requires treatment is false, the evidence shows. Yet the “aging out” experience of the majority is ignored by treatment providers and journalists.


October 1 • 1:00 PM

Midlife Neuroticism Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease in Old Age

New research from Sweden suggests that the personality dimension is connected to who ultimately suffers from late-in-life dementia.



October 1 • 11:11 AM

The Creative Class Boondoggle in Downtown Las Vegas

On Tony Hsieh and the pseudoscience of “collisions.”


October 1 • 9:14 AM

Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.


October 1 • 6:00 AM

Would You Like a Subscription With Your Coffee?

A new app hopes to unite local coffee shops while helping you find a cheap cup of good coffee.


October 1 • 4:00 AM

How to Plant a Library

Somewhere outside of Oslo, there are 1,000 newly planted spruce trees. One hundred years from now, if everything goes to plan, they’ll be published together as 100 pieces of art.



September 30 • 10:09 AM

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.


September 30 • 8:00 AM

The Psychology of Penmanship

Graphology: It’s all (probably) bunk.



September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


Follow us


For Memory, Curiosity Is Its Own Reward

A new study suggests a neural link between curiosity, motivation, and memory.

Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.