Menus Subscribe Search

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

August 20 • 4:00 PM

Why Can’t Conservatives See the Benefits of Affordable Child Care?

Private programs might do a better job of watching our kids than state-run programs, but they’re not accessible to everyone.


August 20 • 2:00 PM

Oil and Gas Companies Are Illegally Using Diesel Fuel in Hundreds of Fracking Operations

An analysis by an environmental group finds hundreds of cases in which drillers used diesel fuel without obtaining permits and sometimes altered records disclosing they had done so.


August 20 • 12:00 PM

The Mystery of Britain’s Alien Big Cats

In a nation where the biggest carnivorous predator is a badger, why are there so many reported sightings of large cats?


August 20 • 10:00 AM

Death Row in Arizona: Where Human Experimentation Is the Rule, Not the Exception

Recent reports show that chemical roulette is the state’s M.O.


August 20 • 9:51 AM

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.


August 20 • 8:40 AM

Psychopathic or Just Antisocial? A Key Brain Difference Tells the Tale

Though psychopaths and antisocial people may seem similar, what occurs in their brains isn’t.


August 20 • 8:00 AM

What the Cost of Raising a Child in America Tells Us About Income Inequality

You’ll spend nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise a kid in the United States, or about five times the annual median income.


August 20 • 6:00 AM

In Praise of ‘American Greed’

While it remains semi-hidden on CNBC and can’t claim the car chases of Cops, American Greed—now with eight seasons in the books—has proven itself a worthy endeavor.


August 20 • 4:00 AM

Of Course I Behaved Like a Jerk, I Was Just Watching ‘Jersey Shore’

Researchers find watching certain types of reality TV can make viewers more aggressive.


August 20 • 2:00 AM

Concluding Remarks About Housing Affordability and Supply Restricitions

Demand, not supply, plays the dominant role in explaining the housing affordability crisis. The wages are just too damn low.


August 19 • 4:00 PM

Can Lawmakers Only Make Laws That Corporations Allow?

There’s a telling detail in a recent story about efforts to close loopholes in corporate tax laws.




August 19 • 12:00 PM

How ‘Contagion’ Became Contagious

Do ideas and emotions really spread like a virus?


August 19 • 10:00 AM

Child Refugees: The New Barbarians

The disturbing rhetoric around the recent rise in child refugees into the United States from Central America may be shaping popular opinion on upcoming immigration reform.


August 19 • 8:00 AM

Making Police Departments More Diverse Isn’t Enough

Local police departments should reflect the communities they serve, but fixing that alone won’t curb unnecessary violence.


August 19 • 7:15 AM

Common Knowledge Makes Us More Cooperative

People are more inclined to take mutually beneficial risks if they know what others know.


August 19 • 6:00 AM

Seeking a Healthy Public School Lunch? Good Luck

Mystery meat will always win.


August 19 • 4:00 AM

The Positive Effects of Sports-Themed Video Games

New research finds sports-themed video games actually encourage some kids to get onto the field.


August 19 • 1:00 AM

DIY Diagnosis: How an Extreme Athlete Uncovered Her Genetic Flaw

When Kim Goodsell discovered that she had two extremely rare genetic diseases, she taught herself genetics to help find out why.



August 18 • 3:30 PM

Mister Rogers’ Heart-Healthy Neighborhood

Researchers find living in a friendly, cohesive neighborhood lowers seniors’ chances of having a heart attack.


August 18 • 2:00 PM

Wealth or Good Parenting?

Framing the privileges of the rich.


August 18 • 12:00 PM

How Much Did the Stigma of Mental Illness Harm Robin Williams?

Addiction treatment routinely fails people with mental illnesses, while mental health care often ignores addiction. And everywhere, stigma is rife. Can a tragic death prompt a more intelligent approach?


August 18 • 10:00 AM

Punished for Being Poor: The Problem With Using Big Data in the Justice System

Correctional departments use data-driven analyses because they’re easier and cheaper than individual assessments. But at what cost?


Follow us


Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.

Psychopathic or Just Antisocial? A Key Brain Difference Tells the Tale

Though psychopaths and antisocial people may seem similar, what occurs in their brains isn’t.

Common Knowledge Makes Us More Cooperative

People are more inclined to take mutually beneficial risks if they know what others know.

How a Shift in Human Head Shape Changed Everything

When did homo sapiens become a more sophisticated species? Not until our skulls underwent "feminization."

Journalists Can Get PTSD Without Leaving Their Desks

Dealing with violent content takes a heavy toll on some reporters.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one
Subscribe Now

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