Public Pecerptions of Solar Radiation Management with Erb Institute | Business for Sustainability Faculty Director Joe Arvai

Nov 20, 2017 3:00 PM ET

SRM could reduce the Earth’s mean temperature, but the technology raises concer…

Current efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change might not succeed in time to avoid dangerous consequences. One option to fight climate change—often discussed within scientific circles, but still relatively unknown among the general public—is solar radiation management (SRM), a type of geoengineering that reflects some short-wave radiation (such as ultraviolet radiation or sunlight) into space. SRM is an artificial extension of natural processes, like cloud layers and ice caps, which similarly reflect some of the sun’s heat back into space. SRM could also reduce the Earth’s mean temperature, but the technology raises concerns.

A group of researchers, including Erb Institute Faculty Director Joseph Árvai, set out to study public perceptions of this technology in different countries, and their findings were published in Climatic Change—“Beliefs and Values Explain International Differences in Perception of Solar Radiation Management: Insights from a Cross-Country Survey,” by Vivianne H.M. Visschers, Jing Shi, Michael Siegrist and Joseph Árvai.

SRM involves spraying sulfate particles into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight. Despite potential ecological side effects, SRM would be much easier and cheaper for some countries—even companies—to implement than carbon dioxide removal, another geoengineering option, because it is already within their technological capabilities, and its effects might be more immediate. At the same time, SRM could be weaponized, even by the world’s poorer countries or non-state actors, altering weather and climate for geopolitical gain.

Because SRM’s side effects are not well understood, and its use will cross national boundaries, the researchers surveyed people in Canada, China, Germany, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S. to find out:

  • how much perceptions of SRM differ among people from different countries
  • to what extent certain factors explain people’s acceptance of SRM:
    • perceived risks associated with SRM
    • concern about climate change
    • altruistic, egoistic and biospheric values
    • the belief that SRM tampers with natural processes
    • the notion of “moral hazard” (the idea that SRM would make people less motivated to address rising greenhouse gas emissions)

Participants in the study read a description of SRM’s purpose, mechanisms, benefits, risks, uncertainties and sustainability. Then they answered questions about the values and perceptions above.

Read the findings of this study on the Erb Institute website, and follow Joe Arvai on Twitter @DecisionLab.