The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in association with the Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre initiated a public dialogue on geoengineering in 2010. They wanted to assess the public’s views on possible geoengineering methods and approaches in combating climate change.
According to the Royal Society publication, Geoengineering the Climate, geoengineering is “the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system, in order to moderate global warming”. It is considered a viable tool in tackling climate change but one that carries with it ethical, moral and social dilemmas.
The public’s views were sought on the various options available so that research funding bodies, such as NERC, would be better informed in their future planning and conduct of geoengineering methods. The dialogue could also have benefit for other observers such as industry and decision makers in their future dealings with geoengineering.
The initial group consisted of 85 people who were split into 3 groups. They were from Cardiff, Birmingham and St. Austell and met for two days. The group was specifically selected to be representative of the wider UK population. A few members from each of the 3 groups then went on to a meeting in Southampton where the issues and findings were discussed in greater depth with senior figures from NERC, among others.
At the meetings, members of the public met scientists and science ethicists. They discussed the issues surrounding nine geoengineering methods based around CDR (Carbon dioxide removal) and SRM (Solar radiation management). Participants were also provided with presentations on the subjects where the pros and cons of the approaches were explained.
Alongside the core group, numerous other methods were utilised to increase the sample. These include:
• A qualitative online questionnaire
• A discussion with people living in areas that are prone to flooding
• A discussion with young people aged 16-18
• Events at science centres in Oxford, Cardiff and Birmingham
The public felt it was important to remain open to mitigation and that no one approach should be relied on.
The public expressed greater warmth towards CDR methods such as afforestation (creating forests in new areas) and biochar (the use of charcoal as soil amendment; produces negative carbon dioxide emissions). These approaches were considered more “natural” (compared to mirrors in space deflecting the Sun’s rays) and that sentiment represents the streak of preference amongst the participants.
Participants drew a distinction between purposeful climate manipulation (geoengineering) and accidental (effects of industrialisation); the latter was considered regrettable and the former less acceptable. They expressed concern about the following:
• Interfering with “natural processes”
• Is the technology controllable
• Is the technology reversible if necessary
• Is it cost-effective
Scientists concluded that:
• Initial knowledge of geoengineering was low but developed through the workshops.
• Some of the views expressed by participants demonstrate a lack of public understanding in crucial aspects of climate science.
• The findings may have important implications for science communication.
Natural Environment Research Council
Gather individual pre-existing opinions
Gather informed and considered opinions (deliberation)
Number of participants
A Group which broadly reflects the Demographic make up of a certain community or population
Statistically representative sample of a population
Level of awareness and interest
participants need information and cannot articulate their interests
participants know about some aspects/can roughly articulate some interest
Science and technology
Limit search to...
... face to face processes
... online processes
Level of involvement
Children and young people