Geoengineering, moral hazard, and trust in climate science: evidence from a survey experiment in Britain


Geoengineering could be taken by the public as a way of dealing with climate change without reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This paper presents the results of survey experiments testing whether hearing about solar radiation management (SRM) affects people’s support for taxing polluting energy and/or their trust in climate science. For a nationally representative sample of respondents in Britain, I found that receiving a brief introduction to SRM had no impact on most people’s willingness to pay taxes, nor on their trust in climate science. Hearing about this form of geoengineering therefore appears unlikely to erode support for emissions reductions. Specifically for political conservatives asked first about paying taxes, moreover, hearing about SRM increased trust in climate science. These and other results of the experiments also provide partial support for the theory that conservatives’ lower trust in climate science generally stems from their aversion to regulatory action by the state.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Corner and Pidgeon (2014) investigated whether people believe there is a moral hazard. My study, like Kahan et al.’s (2015), tests whether there is a moral hazard problem.

  2. 2.

    Geoengineering has nonetheless been mentioned in the news, and some respondents will already have known something about it.

  3. 3.

    Angel (2006) and proposes means of using small mirrors in space, and Sánchez and McInnes (2015) provide a recent discussion of the use of a large orbiting mirror.

  4. 4.

    Introductions to different geoengineering techniques could have different impacts on public support for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. That this study only examines how public opinion responds to brief introductions of two particular techniques is a limitation, and future studies should test the impacts of others.

  5. 5.

    Examples are the World Values Surveys/European Values Studies and the International Social Survey Programme.

  6. 6.

    Trust and beliefs are tightly linked, as influential definitions of trust show (see Nannestad 2008).

  7. 7.

    See: Benoit and Laver (2007) provide a longer discussion of these three parties’ relative placements on a left-right scale, concluding that at some times, in some ways, the Liberal Democrats have fallen to the left of Labour in terms of their policy agenda—and they have often had a stronger focus on environmental protection.

  8. 8.

    These probabilities therefore quantify how confident we can be that the estimated positive/negative relationship is really positive/negative.

  9. 9.

    Other than for non-voters, the interaction effects in Model T3 are more negative than the base effect (for Conservatives) is positive. This implies that if anything hearing about geoengineering reduces the trust of most non-Conservatives. But the magnitude of this effect is miniscule.

  10. 10.

    95 % Bayesian credible intervals: 39–67 % and 60–81 %, respectively.


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Correspondence to Malcolm Fairbrother.

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Fairbrother, M. Geoengineering, moral hazard, and trust in climate science: evidence from a survey experiment in Britain. Climatic Change 139, 477–489 (2016).

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  • Global Warming
  • Moral Hazard
  • Political Ideology
  • Climate Science
  • Solar Radiation Management