A recent poll seeking to gauge public understanding of climate engineering across the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom has made a surprising discovery: 72 percent of respondents were favorably inclined toward exploring climate engineering and solar radiation management (SRM) options.

Climate engineering, or geo-engineering, is the deliberate manipulation of global environmental conditions to counteract the effects of global warming. Proposals for method of climate engineering typically fall into two categories: carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management. Carbon dioxide removal efforts primarily target the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and concentrate on either removing them directly or enabling removal through environmental processes such as encouraging phytoplankton blooms. The phytoplankton actively absorb carbon dioxide, helping to reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Solar radiation management, by contrast, seeks to reduce environmental warming by reflecting the sun's rays. The particular method discussed in the poll involves the injection of sulfur into the atmosphere to deflect sunlight away from the Earth's surface, cooling it and offsetting the effects of global warming.

The survey, which was coauthored by published in the environmental scholarly journal Environmental Research Letters, found that 72 percent of the 3,105 people surveyed said that they "supported" or "somewhat supported" the exploration of methods for SRM.

The results were something of a surprise to researchers, who had undertaken survey efforts as a means of determining public awareness of the topic of climate engineering. According to the study, while climate engineering has been a topic of discussion in scholarly circles since the 1960s, it was avoided as an area of public discourse due to the tacit concern that it would shift policy focus away from reducing carbon emissions. As a result, the debate on climate engineering has remained confined primarily to academia until recently, the expectation being that the public was not well enough informed on the topic to participate in the discussion in a meaningful way.

The coauthors of the study, led by Ashley Mercer, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Calgary in Alberta, say that the survey definitely shows that the time has come to involve the public in the climate engineering debate. "Researchers and policymakers can no longer assume that the public is unaware of geo-engineering. As this research shows, awareness is larger than expected and likely growing. Engaging with the broader public is important to help improve any future decisionmaking about SRM because these decisions involve many different values and risk trade-offs."

The supporters of SRM in the poll were typically characterized by a faith in scientific research and scientific institutions - as opposed to the distrust felt for governmental agencies - a prioritizing of SRM benefits in their decisions, and the opinion that SRM is a natural means of affecting change. Those against SRM were generally of the opinion that humans should not be manipulating nature in the manner SRM proposes.