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Survey finds public support for geoengineering research

Research on geoengineering appears to have broad public support, as a new, internationally-representative survey revealed that 72 per cent of respondents approved research into the climate-manipulating technique.

The study, published today, 24 October, in IOP Publishing's journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first international survey on public perception of geoengineering and solar radiation management (SRM) and shows that these terms are becoming increasingly embedded into public discourse.

Public awareness of geoengineering is remarkably broad. Eight per cent of the sample were able to provide a correct definition of geoengineering, an increase on previous estimates; however, 45 per cent of the sample correctly defined the alternative term "climate engineering", adding weight to the argument that "geoengineering" may be misleading and difficult to understand.

The 18 question, internet-based survey was completed by 3,105 participants from Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States at the end of 2010, and was designed to ascertain how widespread public knowledge of geoengineering was and how the public actually perceived it.

Professor David Keith of Harvard University said: "Some reports have suggested that opposition to geoengineering is associated with environmentalists, but our results do not support this view.

"We found that geoengineering divides people along unusual lines. Support for geoengineering is spread across the political spectrum and is linked to support for science concern about climate change.

"The strongest opposition comes from people who self-identify as politically conservative, who are distrustful of government and other elite institutions, and who doubt the very idea that there is a climate problem."

Geoengineering is the process of deliberately manipulating the Earth's climate to counteract the effects of global warming, whilst SRM is a type of geoengineering that seeks to reflect sunlight by various means to reduce warming.

The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (Spice) project is a well-documented example of SRM that intends to release sulphate-based particles into the troposphere in attempt to reflect the light rays from the sun and reduce warming.

The researchers, from the University of Calgary, Harvard University and Simon Fraser University, publish their work at a critical time for Spice as a test project scheduled to take place in the UK was recently delayed by six months in order to explore and discuss the social aspects associated with geoengineering.

Interestingly, global warming was not a key factor in determining an individual's support or opposition of SRM. The researchers hypothesised that seeing climate change as an important issue, and its causes anthropogenic, would be an obvious predictor of support.

Ashley Mercer, lead author of the study, said: "I think this is the first in line of many studies that will show that SRM intersects with people's political and environmental attitudes in surprising ways.

"The results suggest that dialogue surrounding this topic needs to be broadened to include ideas of risk, values and trade-off."

From 24 October, this paper can be downloaded from

Notes to Editors


1. For further information, a full draft of the journal paper or contact with one of the researchers, contact IOP Press Officer, Michael Bishop:
Tel: 0117 930 1032
Public understanding of solar radiation management
2. The published version of the paper 'Public understanding of solar radiation management' (A M Mercer, D W Keith and J D Sharp 2011 Environ. Res. Lett. 6 044006) will be freely available online from 24 October. It will be available at

Environmental Research Letters

3. Environmental Research Letters is an open access journal that covers all of environmental science, providing a coherent and integrated approach including research articles, perspectives and editorials.

IOP Publishing

4. IOP Publishing provides publications through which leading-edge scientific research is distributed worldwide. IOP Publishing is central to the Institute of Physics (IOP), a not-for-profit society. Any financial surplus earned by IOP Publishing goes to support science through the activities of IOP.Beyond our traditional journals programme, we make high-value scientific information easily accessible through an ever-evolving portfolio of community websites, magazines, conference proceedings and a multitude of electronic services. Focused on making the most of new technologies, we're continually improving our electronic interfaces to make it easier for researchers to find exactly what they need, when they need it, in the format that suits them best. Go to

The Institute of Physics

5. The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society promoting physics and bringing physicists together for the benefit of all.

It has a worldwide membership of around 40 000 comprising physicists from all sectors, as well as those with an interest in physics. It works to advance physics research, application and education; and engages with policymakers and the public to develop awareness and understanding of physics. Its publishing company, IOP Publishing, is a world leader in professional scientific communications. Go to

Michael Bishop | EurekAlert!
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