Thursday, May 31, 2012

New US Public Opinion Data

The Brookings Institution has released new findings on Americans' views on geoengineering.  As part of the ongoing National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change (NSAPOCC), Brookings researchers polled 887 individuals in December of last year.  The survey produced three key findings related to geoengineering:
  • Respondents were skeptical that "scientists would be able to find ways to alter the climate" (31% agree, 60% disagree), but more confident in the efficacy of specific "atmospheric engineering methods" (38% agree, 45% disagree).  This contrast is attributable to different ways of framing climate intervention.
  • In response to the statement "Attempts to reduce global warming by adding materials to the atmosphere will cause more harm than good for the environment," 69% agreed (41% strongly, 28% somewhat) while only 17% disagreed (6% strongly, 11% somewhat).
  • Across the board, climate change deniers were significantly more negative toward geoengineering than those who accept the science of climate change.
Based on these results, the researchers conclude that "Americans ... maintain broad and deep concerns regarding geoengineering options for combating climate change" (p. 6).

These results contrast with previous opinion data released last fall (see Public Opinion Supports SRM Research, 10/25/2011).  Below is a summary of results from US respondents based on data provided to me by the authors of this earlier survey.
The questions posed here differ in many important respects from those posed in the Brookings survey.  The most comparable question is the first one relating to geoengineering deployment, which is most closely echoed in the Brookings question concerning "adding materials to the atmosphere."  In the earlier survey, 32% of respondents believed that geoengineering should be used and 41% disagreed (28% had no opinion), whereas in the Brookings survey, only 17% of respondents believed climate interventions would benefit the environment while 69% disagreed (14% were unsure).  However, these questions vary to such an extent that there is ultimately little utility in drawing conclusions based on any comparison.  The former question is normative ("should be used"), proposes a more specific solution ("geoengineering"), and is accompanied by an explanation of geoengineering, while the latter question is predictive ("will cause"), much more vague ("adding materials to the atmosphere"), and is unaccompanied by any discussion of geoengineering, a term which apparently was not used in interviews.  Evidence internal to the Brookings survey, i.e., framing influences, suggests that more specific language prompts more positive sentiments toward geoengineering.  Crucially, the Brookings survey asks no questions at all about geoengineering research, which elicited strong support in the earlier survey.  Overall, the new Brookings data offer less guidance on American opinions toward geoengineering than the earlier results published last year.

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