Study finds little support for climate hacking

Public has strong negative views on climate engineering

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Can climate hacking slow the pace of global warming?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The concept of climate hacking may be popular in some intellectual  circles, but the public in general — at least in New Zealand and Australia — is skeptical that we can engineer our way out of the global warming crisis.

Researchers with the University of Southampton and Massey University (New Zealand) recently tried to systematically evaluate public reaction to climate engineering, which involves deliberate large-scale manipulation of the environment to counteract climate change.

The results, published in Nature Climate Change, suggest that people have a negative view of such efforts, perhaps instinctively understanding that such efforts will more than likely have unintended  consequences — Illustrated by one recent study showing potential disruption of monsoon rains.

Some scientists think climate engineering will be needed in the face of the inexorable rise in atmospheric CO2 due to the burning of fossil fuels. Climate engineering could involve techniques that reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere or approaches that slow temperature rise by reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface.

Co-author Professor Damon Teagle of the University of Southampton said: “Because even the concept of climate engineering is highly controversial, there is pressing need to consult the public and understand their concerns before policy decisions are made.”

“Previous attempts to engage the public with climate engineering have been exploratory and small scale” said lead author, Professor Malcolm Wright of Massey University. “In our study, we have drawn on commercial methods used to evaluate brands and new product concepts to develop a comparative approach for evaluating the public reaction to a variety of climate engineering concepts.”

The results show that the public has strong negative views towards climate engineering. Where there are positive reactions, they favor approaches that reduce carbon dioxide over those that reflected sunlight.

“It was a striking result and a very clear pattern,” said Professor Wright. “Interventions such as putting mirrors in space or fine particles into the stratosphere are not well received. More natural processes of cloud brightening or enhanced weathering are less likely to raise objections, but the public react best to creating biochar (making charcoal from vegetation to lock in CO2) or capturing carbon directly from the air.”

Nonetheless, even the most well regarded techniques still has a net negative perception.

“The responses are remarkably consistent from both countries, with surprisingly few variations except for a slight tendency for older respondents to view climate engineering more favorably,” said co-author Pam Feetham.

Professor Wright said giving the public a voice early in technological development was unusual, but increasingly necessary.

“If these techniques are developed the public must be consulted. Our methods can be employed to evaluate the responses in other countries and reapplied in the future to measure how public opinion changes as these potential new technologies are discussed and developed,” he said.

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