Geoengineering – the latest hot topic

Geoengineering, the use of large-scale engineering techniques to tackle climate change, is a field rapidly gaining momentum. It covers all sorts of methods – space mirrors to deflect sunlight, cloud-seeding, putting iron compounds into the sea or planting genetically modified highly reflective crops or simply painting all roofs white…

Much may sound like science fiction but scientific and media interest in geoengineering is increasing rapidly.

So what do we think of it all?

The first international survey on public attitudes to geoengineering was published last week. Questioning over 3000 people from the USA, Canada and the UK, it found 72% supported research into solar radiation management.

However like many controversial areas of science, there is some disquiet about the extent to which we interfere with nature. There was significant support for statements such as ”The Earth’s temperature is too complicated to fix with one technology” and ”Humans should not be manipulating nature in this way”.

Analysis of the data shows that the level of support for geoengineering is linked to support for climate change, and is spread across the political spectrum. Reports that it is environmentalists who generally oppose such techniques seems to be unfounded, with the main opposition coming from conservatives who are generally mistrustful of politicians, and are perhaps climate-change deniers.

Americans are more distrustful, with 41% opposed to ever introducing such technologies, compared to only 30% of Canadians and Brits.

And the survey is published at the crucial time for the UK. Scientists last month postponed the launch of the SPICE project (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering) in order to allow more time for public consultation. The SPICE project will launch a 19m helium filled balloon high in the sky above Norwich and pump tonnes of minute particles into the atmosphere to reflect some of the solar radiation.

One thing is clear – public support will be needed before these technologies are introduced.

“Such efforts to take the public’s pulse on geoengineering may be crucial for understanding how to involve citizens in future policy making”, says David Goldston, director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C. ”This is something that is going to require a lot of public engagement before decisions are made. Getting a baseline is very important.”

Read more about it here and here.

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