Geoengineering may not be a household name just yet, but its celebrity status seems to be on the rise. A new survey finds that public awareness of strategies aimed at manipulating Earth's climate is higher than earlier surveys suggested.
In recent years, geoengineering, a blanket term for techniques to cool global temperatures by doing things like planting more trees or thickening clouds, has gone from lunchroom pariah to potential new cool kid. A report published earlier this month by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center, for instance, called for greater federal leadership on climate-tweaking science. Despite this uptick in interest, few researchers have explored just how much the public knows (or doesn't) about the topic. A quick-and-dirty survey reported in 2010 hinted that only 3% of Americans could effectively communicate what geoengineering science means.
To get a better sense of public attitudes, a research group led by energy specialist David Keith of Harvard University queried about 3000 men and women in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom in late 2010. They found that about 8% of respondents could accurately describe geoengineering without prodding. When the group asked people to define the nearly-synonymous term "climate engineering," that number jumped to 45%, the researchers report today in Environmental Research Letters.
Why awareness seems to be climbing isn't clear, Keith says. But he notes that both scientific papers and media stories on issues related to geoengineering have soared in recent years.