Researchers and policy makers can no longer assume that the general public is wholly unaware of solar radiation management (SRM) – a type of geoengineering that seeks to mitigate climate change by reflecting sunlight. That’s according to a survey of public perception carried out by researchers in Canada and the US, and reported in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

The survey of more than 3000 individuals in Canada, the US and the UK found that 8% of the population correctly defined the term geoengineering and 45% correctly defined climate engineering.

“The familiarity with these terms is higher than in past studies and suggests a growing public interest in geoengineering,” Ashley Mercer from Canada’s University of Calgary told environmentalresearchweb. “Our results show that that interest in geoengineering is no longer confined to academia and policy elites. It is important that researchers and policy makers engage the public in the discussions about geoengineering and SRM.”

The study showed that the public is overwhelmingly in favour of supporting research into SRM. “While some sections of the public are against SRM because it is seen as ‘interfering with nature’, our work also shows that 72% of respondents are in favour of some research into SRM,” said Mercer.

The results support the ongoing debate about the term geoengineering being ineffective because it is difficult for the public to understand and derive its correct meaning. “Our survey showed that the term climate engineering seems to capture the essential aspect of SRM, through higher rates of correct definitions and fewer avenues for misunderstandings,” said Mercer.

The survey also looked at which information sources the public trusts when it comes to geo- or climate engineering. It found that scientists are considered a trusted source of information but governments and the media are not.

“It is important that researchers and policy makers engage with the public so that the public can help us make decisions that both address the technical issues and the social issues of SRM,” said Mercer. “So often a technology is developed that can fix a problem but not in a way that is acceptable to people. Including the public from this early stage will help us improve any future decisions about SRM.”