Dustin Tingley — Public Attitudes of Solar Geoengineering

Geoengineering poses a fascinating set of political and social questions. Some of these are descriptive and others are more theoretical. This project focuses on the following question: What are public and elite attitudes about geoengineering, are they changing over time and how, and are there sub-communities of individuals that are or could be thought leaders (both in a negative or positive way)? Furthermore this project examines the types of specific arguments the public and elites bring to bear around geoengineering.


Mahajan, Aseem, Dustin Tingley, and Gernot Wagner. “Fast, cheap, and imperfect? U.S. public opinion about solar geoengineering.” Environmental Politics (2018). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Solar geoengineering, which seeks to cool the planet by reflecting a small fraction of sunlight back into space, has drawn the attention of scientists and policymakers as climate change remains unabated. Unlike mitigation, solar geoengineering could quickly and cheaply lower global temperatures. It is also imperfect. Its environmental impacts remain unpredictable, and its low cost and immediate effects may result in “moral hazard,” potentially crowding out costly mitigation efforts. There is little understanding about how the public will respond to such tradeoffs. To address this, a 1,000-subject nationally representative poll focused on solar geoengineering was conducted as part of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) of the US electorate in October-November 2016. The importance that individuals place on solar geoengineering’s speed and cost predicts their support for it, but there is little to no relationship between their concerns about its shortcomings and support for its research and use. Acquiescence bias appears to be an important factor for attitudes around solar geoengineering and moral hazard.
Tingley, Dustin, and Gernot Wagner. “Solar geoengineering and the chemtrails conspiracy on social media.” Palgrave Communications 3, no. 12 (2017). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Discourse on social media of solar geoengineering has been rapidly increasing over the past decade, in line with increased attention by the scientific community and low but increasing awareness among the general public. The topic has also found increased attention online. But unlike scientific discourse, a majority of online discussion focuses on the so-called chemtrails conspiracy theory, the widely debunked idea that airplanes are spraying a toxic mix of chemicals through contrails, with supposed goals ranging from weather to mind control. This paper presents the results of a nationally representative 1000-subject poll part of the 36,000-subject 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), and an analysis of the universe of social media mentions of geoengineering. The former shows ~ 10% of Americans declaring the chemtrails conspiracy as “completely” and a further ~ 20–30% as “somewhat” true, with no apparent difference by party affiliation or strength of partisanship. Conspiratorial views have accounted for ~ 60% of geoengineering discourse on social media over the past decade. Of that, Twitter has accounted for >90%, compared to ~ 75% of total geoengineering mentions. Further affinity analysis reveals a broad online community of conspiracy. Anonymity of social media appears to help its spread, so does the general ease of spreading unverified or outright false information. Online behavior has important real-world reverberations, with implications for climate science communication and policy.