It’s kinda geoengineering week here at the Intersection, as I continue to prepare for Friday’s Point of Inquiry episode with Eli Kintisch to discuss his new book, Hack the Planet. So I’ve been doing my reading, and I came across this article by Kintisch’s rival Jeff Goodell, who also has a geoengineering book coming out, entitled How to Cool the Planet. (So far Goodell’s seems to be selling a bit better, but I like Kintisch’s title!)
I’m certainly not surprised, but I had not yet seen the relevant data showing that when it comes to this subject, the public is basically a blank slate. Goodell provides said data in his piece:
Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, who presented the results of a long-running study on the public perception of global warming. In his most recent survey, he had thrown in a few questions about geoengineering. When asked, “How much, if anything, have you heard about geoengineering as a possible response to climate change,” 74 percent of respondents said “nothing.” The 26 percent that had heard about geoengineering turned out to be wildly misinformed — more than half thought it referred to geothermal energy. Only 3 percent of the people who had heard about geoengineering were correctly informed about it. “The public basically knows nothing about this,” Leiserowitz told the attendees. “That is both a great challenge, and a great opportunity.”
I’m not sure what this means for Kintisch’s and Goodell’s book sales. But I am sure of one thing: People may be malleable and uninformed on this subject now, but the more they hear–and especially if some major controversy erupts–the more they will firm up their minds.
This suggests to me that scientists ought to get out in front of this opinion-forming process now, rather than later. And so far, it does not appear that their recent Asilomar meeting on geoengineering has had that desired effect. How much media coverage did it get? Was it just a blip?
The activists are already out there, engaging in street theater, trying to make geoengineering into the the next GMO-type backlash issue. Right now, it is entirely up in the air whether they will succeed, but I must say that I’m worried they might. Geoengineering is not something to ban in a knee-jerk way, but something to study and hold in reserve in case we need it and there is no other choice. If the activists prevail, we might lose such a planetary insurance policy.