The NERC carried out a public dialogue to explore the views of the public in relation to geoengineering .
Problems and Purpose
Geoengineering technologies (or climate engineering) involve the deliberate and large-scale manipulation of the Earth's climate to counteract the effects of climate change and global warming, for example through carbon reduction techniques (CDR) or solar radiation management (SRM).
There are now significant national and international policy initiatives to tackle global warming and climate change. To date, most climate change research and policy has focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The development of geoengineering technologies has different moral, ethical, and societal implications. For example, some commentators have suggested that geoengineering presents a moral hazard because it threatens to reduce the political and popular pressure for emissions reduction. Questions have also been asked about the preservation of what the public perceive to be ‘natural systems’, as well as the potential consequences of geoengineering. 
The aim of the dialogue was to identify and understand public views on geoengineering, including its moral, ethical and societal implications, to help inform the future planning, conduct and communication of geoengineering research by NERC and other funding bodies. It was also hoped that the dialogue may be of value to science users, such as industry and policy makers, who may play a role in further research and deployment of geoengineering, as well as to science communicators. 
The specific objectives of the project were:
- To better understand the public’s perceptions and opinions of geoengineering research
- To inform the development of geoengineering research in NERC’s strategy, based on the widest range of views and opinions
- To identify areas of particular public concern about geoengineering, and ensure new research takes account of the needs and concerns of society on this topic
- To increase public awareness of geoengineering and its potential implications through dissemination of the results
- To inform policy makers (e.g. in the Department for Energy and Climate Change) of the outcomes, to help inform policy-making in this area, as well as potential business users
- To identify particular requirements for further dissemination from the research.
Background History and Context
Climate Change Challenges
International scientific consensus agrees that the global climate is changing as global temperatures rise, driven by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is, however, proving difficult to establish global political action on tackling climate change – the outcome of the Copenhagen summit prior to the dialogue was seen to have fallen short of agreeing decisive commitments.
The disagreement on national and global commitments to policy interventions has led some scientists and commentators to suggest exploring ‘Plan B’ solutions, in case these should become urgently necessary. 
These potential ‘Plan B’ solutions are geoengineering technologies. Geoengineering could offer, potentially, large-scale solutions to some of the problems caused by rising concentrations of atmospheric CO2, if carbon emissions cannot be cut speedily enough to avert disastrous climate change.
However, there are still significant technological and scientific uncertainties around geoengineering. To progress geoengineering to the point where it could be used, investment in research is urgently required. However, deciding on which research to fund is a challenge. Even to weigh up the costs and benefits of research into geoengineering may require more information than is currently available about the potential effects of geoengineering on people and ecosystems.
The Royal Society Report “Geoengineering the Climate” points out that technical and scientific issues may not be the dominant ones when it comes to the actual deployment of geoengineering technology. Social, legal, ethical and political issues would be of equal significance, as geoengineering could potentially affect the lives of people around the world. Implementing global-scale projects would require international agreement. Therefore, the report asserted that public attitudes towards geoengineering should be a critical factor in considering its future. 
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. It already supports a wide range of research relevant to geoengineering. Early in 2010, the Council was expected to start to take decisions on its priorities around geoengineering and come to informed investment decisions in this area. Taking account of the Royal Society’s recommendations for public involvement, NERC wanted to understand public opinion on how, and to what degree, geoengineering-related research should go forward, and where priorities should lie.
A public dialogue was considered the most appropriate way to engage people with geoengineering. Public dialogue is useful where the public know little, initially, about the issue under discussion, and where the themes involve complex political, social, ethical and technical considerations. Geoengineering satisfied both of these conditions.
In Spring 2010, NERC and Sciencewise-ERC, together with LWEC, the Royal Society and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) came together to run a public dialogue. [2,3]
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Sciencewise funding: £85 000
The project was commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), in partnership with the Royal Society and supported by the Living with Environmental Change Programme (LWEC). Ipsos MORI, Dialogue by Design, and the British Science Association ran this project as a consortium.
- Ipsos MORI is a UK market research company and led the delivery consortium.
- Dialogue by Design specialises in running public and stakeholder engagement processes using online, paper-based and face-to-face methods.
- The British Science Association exists to advance the public understanding, accessibility and accountability of the sciences and engineering in the UK.
The dialogue has been independently evaluated by Collingwood Environmental Planning, a multi-disciplinary consultancy. 
The dialogue commissioner, NERC (Natural Environment Research Council), is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences.
Sciencewise-ERC is a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills funded programme to bring scientists, government and the public together to explore the impact of science and technology. Its core aim is to develop the capacity of Government to carry out good dialogue, to gather and disseminate good practice, have successful two-way communications with the public and other stakeholders, and to embed the principles of good dialogue into internal Government processes.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Public Participants: 85
Experts Stakeholders: 74
Steering Group: 15
Management Team: 8 
A Steering Group of scientists and science communicators, and representatives from government, business and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) was established to oversee the project and to contribute to the development of stimulus materials for the dialogue workshops.
The dialogue events involved three groups of up to 30 people (85 in total, selected by professional recruiters to give a representative sample of the local population) who met in Cardiff, Birmingham and St Austell (Cornwall). 
Around one third of the public participants from each of the three areas (31 in total) then attended a final workshop event that took place at NERC’s National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton. Here, public participants met with NERC staff, scientists and other stakeholders to discuss their thoughts and findings from the earlier workshops. 
Methods and Tools Used
The following methods were used in the public engagement process.
Three general public groups (core dialogue), comprising 85 people in total, were recruited in Cardiff, Birmingham and St Austell, Cornwall. Each group of around 30 people met for a full day, then were reconvened for a second full day a week later. Participants from all three locations were invited to a final event. Scientists also attended the events, to discuss the issues with the public.
Two targeted long discussion groups, one with a group of 10 residents at risk of flooding (Cardiff), the other with a group of 10 young people (16-18) (Birmingham).
The Royal Society hosted a meeting with NGOs to discuss the issues around the dialogue and invite their views and input. (They, along with other stakeholders who had expressed interest, were continually consulted around the materials used for the dialogue).
Qualitative online survey, 65 responses from stakeholders in community groups.
Three open access events at science centres in Cardiff, Birmingham and Oxford in partnership with the British Science Association. These events utilised “have your say” cards and the use of pros and cons lists to stimulate and organise group discussion.
The core dialogue provided in-depth evidence while the additional strands gave further data, which broadly supported the core dialogue’s findings. Evidence from all the strands was synthesised for the report. [2,3]
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Before the dialogue began, a steering group of scientists, science communicators, and representatives from government, business and the third sector was appointed. Meetings were held with the steering group and separately with a group of NGO representatives to discuss the terms of reference of the dialogue, and the appropriateness and accuracy of stimulus materials for the dialogue workshop. A wider group of stakeholders was also asked to comment on the materials as they were developed.
Geoengineering technologies discussed
This public dialogue focused on nine geoengineering technologies. The technologies chosen for discussion broadly reflected those discussed in the Royal Society’s report. The dialogue did not provide exhaustive coverage of all geoengineering techniques. For practical reasons, most notably the time available to discuss the technologies with participants and to avoid information overload, a selective list was necessary.
The technologies can be divided into two main categories: Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and Solar Radiation Management (SRM). Both sets of techniques have the ultimate aim of lowering global temperatures, but approach the task in different ways. The dialogue project included a selection of both CDR and SRM techniques.
CDR techniques address the root cause of climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. During the dialogue, the following techniques were discussed: biochar, liming the ocean, iron fertilisation, air capture, and afforestation.
SRM technologies attempt to offset effects of increased greenhouse gas concentrations by reflecting a small percentage of the sun’s light and heat back into space. The following were included in the dialogue discussions: sulphate particles, mirrors in space, white roofs, and cloud whitening.
Public Workshop Events 1, 2 and 3 (Reconvened Event)
At Event 1, the public met with scientists and learned about climate change and geoengineering approaches. At Event 2, the public discussed values, principles and ethics and viewed contributions from science ethicists.
Following Event 2, a smaller group from each of the three areas attended a final day-long event, which was held at NERC’s National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton. Here, representatives from each area met with NERC staff, scientists and other stakeholders to discuss their thoughts and findings from the earlier events. 
Awareness of geoengineering among participants prior to the dialogue was low. Once facilitators had introduced the idea, participants were interested and willing to consider different technologies.
Targeted discussion groups were held with specific groups within the general public. In Cardiff, a three hour discussion was held with ten residents living in an area considered to be at-risk of flooding. These participants were explicitly included to test whether people with greater exposure to the reality of the impacts of climate change differ in their attitudes towards potential solutions, including geoengineering.
A three hour discussion was also held in Birmingham with 10 young people, aged 16 to 18, to ensure the views of the future generation were captured in the dialogue. Both groups covered a shorter version of the first public event encompassing all nine technologies.
Online Qualitative Survey
A qualitative online survey was also conducted, with responses received from 65 people and organisations. Invitations for the survey were sent out to stakeholders in community groups such as Green Drinks, Community Action Network, Women’s Institute, and were posted on various websites such as Living With Environmental Change, ScienceOxfordLive, Sustainable Development Research Network as well as the websites of all the organisations directly involved in conducting this research. The survey website was also publicised at a public evening event at the Science Museum.
The survey question pages contained a brief summary of each technology, a link to a document outlining the pros and cons of each, and questions on what participants liked and disliked about the technology.
Open Access Events
Three open access events were held in Cardiff, Birmingham, and Oxford.
In Cardiff, sessions were held with school children: one group of around 20 children in Year 8 and one group of 20 children in Year 9. Sarah Castell (Ipsos MORI) and Amy Lothian (British Science Association) ran the sessions, which involved a demonstration of some techniques such as dissolving CO2 in water and reflecting light from the sun back into space. The children were given some of the materials used to explain a range of technologies and worked in small groups to decide on the ‘pros and cons’ of each. They completed ‘Have your say’ cards answering the question ‘What should scientists studying climate research be doing to save the environment?’
The open access event in Birmingham took place in the city’s science museum, Thinktank. Carl Reynolds (Dialogue by Design facilitator) and local STEM ambassador Madaser Iqbal ran the two hour drop-in event from 12-2pm on Sunday 14 March, which was during National Science & Engineering Week. Participants completed the ‘Have your say’ cards as above. Information on the various geoengineering technologies was available via handouts and through informal discussions with the two staff. Also, a series of busks were developed by Thinktank and performed by explainer staff in the science museum on Saturday 27 March and 1 and 8 April.
The final open access event took place at Science Oxford on Wednesday 14 April from 7.30- 9pm. Dominic McDonald, Head of Public Engagement at Science Oxford facilitated a discussion with scientist Andy Ridgwell from Bristol University. The event was free to attend and was advertised on both the British Science Association and Science Oxford websites, the local Oxford newspaper, and through a number of e-newsletters. Notes were taken of participant questions and they also filled in comment cards.
Overall Findings and Key Messages from the Public
The case study report highlights the following key issues raised by public participants:
Public participants were not against geoengineering as a matter of principle, but there were questions about governance and ethics as well as concerns with specific technologies.
Overall, CDR techniques were favoured over SRM. Some technologies were considered more acceptable than others:
- Afforestation and biochar were preferred because they were seen as ‘natural’ approaches
- Support for ocean-based methods such as iron fertilisation and liming was low, though at the reconvened event, participants were more prepared to consider these
- Support for air capture increased as the dialogue progressed. Participants liked the fact that it could be carried out locally without the need for international regulation, and may produce quicker results than afforestation
There was less support for SRM technologies, as these were not seen to tackle the root cause of climate change (which participants considered to be greenhouse gases):
- Cloud whitening and sulphate particles were the most positively received of the SRM technologies, but were not endorsed by a majority
- Mirrors in space were seen as expensive and risky, and white roofs were viewed as likely to be ineffective and not feasible. Neither received much support
Public attitudes towards government, science and institutions formed an important context for their views on climate issues, as did their views of the seriousness of climate change on their views on geoengineering.
Participants found it difficult to envisage the scale of likely climate change impacts, and found it useful to have imagery that expressed these on a human scale. Relatedly, participants found it difficult to form firm views on the issues, not only because of perceived levels of uncertainty about climate change, but also because of uncertainty around the technologies, none of which has been developed for geoengineering on a large scale to date.
The concept of ‘natural’ processes evoked a strong emotional response. There was a widespread belief that ‘natural systems’ are balanced and self- contained, and should be respected.
Participants felt it was both ethically and practically important to link any new climate change solutions to continued mitigation. This contradicts the ‘moral hazard’ argument that geoengineering would undermine popular support for mitigation or adaptation. The majority favoured the combination of several different international geoengineering approaches with international, national and individual mitigation efforts.
Additionally, participants did not see ethical issues as inherently separate from scientific and economic ones.
Participants drew a distinction between deliberately manipulating the climate (through geoengineering), which they saw as less acceptable, and manipulating the climate accidentally as a consequence of industrialisation, which was seen as regrettable, but more acceptable.
At the end of the dialogue, participants gave cautious support to research in geoengineering provided their principles and caveats were addressed in future decision-making, that further research was undertaken to understand the risks and that there was continued public engagement. 
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The results of the dialogue gave NERC the confidence to proceed with research in this area within specific principles.
The dialogue results fed into an EPSRC-led 'sandpit' on priorities for future funding of geoengineering research. The first day of the sandpit discussed moral and ethical issues that had been raised in the dialogue. The sandpit agreed that the two projects it recommended for research council funding should both have public dialogue components as this dialogue had proved so valuable; one of the projects has reflected on this dialogue and is using this as a starting point for its own investigations. 
Impacts on policy makers and policy organisations:
The findings had a direct impact on funding policy for the research councils in geoengineering as it showed a clear impact on the projects funded through the sandpit and also influenced research council strategies in this area.
It was felt that the findings would help policy makers – not just research councils funding policy, but also government policy makers, by providing a clearer picture of public opinion, priorities and values, and contributing to how the scientists and others involved plan public communications in future. The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was represented on the steering committee and both DECC and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) (particularly their Chief Scientific Advisers) took a keen interest in the dialogue and its outputs.
Impacts on public participants:
Initially, participants tended not to relate climate change impacts to their own personal lives. Their view changed once they accepted the size and scope of the challenge.
Participants said that they had enjoyed the events and many said they would like to be involved in similar activities in the future. Relatedly, participants enjoyed listening to the scientists; everyone felt that their views were being listened to and appreciated.
The dialogue was successful in increasing participants’ knowledge and understanding of geoengineering. At the start of the process 54 (out of 85) participants said that they either knew nothing or had never heard of geoengineering; seven believed they knew a great or a fair amount. By the end of Event 2, 64 people considered that they knew a great deal or a fair amount about the subject and only one still felt they knew almost nothing.
Impacts on scientists/experts and other stakeholders:
The scientists enjoyed hearing the views of members of the public and felt that this experience has significant value in a society where people are losing the experience of engaging in conversations about important subjects with people unfamiliar to or unlike themselves.
Many of the scientists commented on the useful messages coming out of the dialogue on how best to communicate geoengineering science.
Some of the scientists involved expressed the need to learn from the process for dialogues in future; NERC and its science leaders are continuing to explore other opportunities and need for dialogue in the different areas of science it supports, and some further activity is planned. 
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Notes on using the findings
The final report  highlight a number of issues with interpreting the results and findings produced by the engagement process, given the methodological approach. These include the clarification that the method provides qualitiative results which do not necessarily represent public views and findings are only indicative of views in the context of this process.
The way the issue was framed had an effect on the discussion. Participants were given information concerning the context of debate. This included:
- A definition of the problem of climate change and geoengineering
- Whether humans have caused the problem was defined as outside the scope of the dialogue
- There is a wide range of opinions on the level of impact climate change might have, which leads to different predictions as to how widespread the impacts might be and how long before different impacts are felt
Lessons for future practice
1) Value and cultivate the benefits of bringing the public and scientists together in scientific discussions. All those involved indicated they found the process valuable.
2) Ask members of the public to use their own knowledge and expertise, without them needing to become scientists. Some participants expressed concern about how their views might be used, emphasising that they were not ‘experts’ and that they had not been given the necessary information to be able to make decisions.
3) Be clear about the scope of the project and make sure this is clear throughout, particularly about what the public can and cannot influence.
4) Scientist participants indicated, during and after the dialogue workshops, that they realised the value of discussing science with the public and were ready to promote this to their organisations. However, this change in attitude was not communicated to the public participants, who would value clearer evidence of how their input has been used and what impact it has had.
5) It is worth investing time and resources in making partnerships between stakeholders work. The partnership working involved was highly valued by those taking part, but significant time was required for project management to make these relationships work.
6) Public dialogue and market research have different purposes. Dialogue (such as in this project) involves deeper engagement and can encourage the co-production of outcomes, deliberation, and social learning; market research asks people for information on their attitudes and concerns. They are different, but each approach has value depending on the purpose of the engagement. Here, there was some lack of understanding among scientists about the nature of the process and, therefore, the status of the findings that resulted.
7) The design of the events was very good, but the amount of information provision in Events 1 and 3 limited time for longer discussions between participants. This was regrettable, but perhaps inevitable given the complex nature of the topic. [2, 4]
 Sciencewise (2017) “Geoengineering” [ONLINE] Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20170110120841/http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/geoengineering/
 Sciencewise (2010) “Case Study: A Public Dialogue on Geoengineering”
 Ipsos MORI “Reporting on a Public Dialogue on Geoengineering” Final report, August 2010
 Orr, P.R., Twigger-Ross, C.L., Kashefi, E., Rathouse, K. and Haigh, J.D. (2011) “Evaluation of ‘Experiment Earth?’ Public Dialogue on Geoengineering. A report to the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)” Collingwood Environmental Planning Ltd, London