Does solar geoengineering crowd out climate change mitigation efforts? Evidence from a stated preference referendum on a carbon tax


Solar geoengineering is increasingly being considered a realistic approach to managing climate change. One crucial concern is whether geoengineering crowds out efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Adding to a limited body of empirical evidence, we use a survey experiment to estimate how informing the U.S. public about solar geoengineering impacts support for a proposed national carbon tax. In contrast to the crowding-out hypothesis, we find that respondents who are provided with information about geoengineering are significantly more likely to support the tax. Further, we document systematic variation as people with egalitarian and communitarian worldviews are more responsive to the information relative to those with hierarchical and individualist worldviews. Our study suggests that the availability and awareness of solar geoengineering options may lead to an increase in greenhouse gas abatement efforts.

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  1. 1.

    David Keith, borrowing from the insurance literature, referred to the potential for solar engineering to diminish mitigation efforts as “moral hazard” (Keith 2000), and while this term has gained traction in the literature, many consider mitigation displacement (crowding-out) to be more appropriate (Morrow 2014).

  2. 2.

    See Reynolds (2019) for a summary of the literature.

  3. 3.

    Campbell-Arvai et al. (2017) consider carbon dioxide removal and find that learning about that technology can reduce support for mitigation policies.

  4. 4.

    Game-theoretic studies (e.g., Millard-Ball 2012, and Urpelainen 2012) have also illustrated the possibility that a credible threat of future geoengineering can provide enough incentive for self-interested countries to increase their current abatement levels and to form meaningful climate agreements.

  5. 5.

    In a closely related study, Kahan et al. (2015) examined how worldviews may explain any effect that geoengineering may have on people’s concern for climate change. Raimi et al. (2019) considers political ideology and finds that conservatives and moderates are less affected by the prospects of solar geoengineering.

  6. 6.

    Public perception is just one factor in the decision-making process on the introduction of geoengineering technologies. Policymakers, scientists, lobby groups, and media play an important role in the development and deployment of technologies.

  7. 7.

    We note that we cannot disentangle that the treatment introduces both additional content and additional text. Thus the treatment effect should be interpreted as the behavioral response to the addition of solar radiation information.

  8. 8.

    Respondents could choose between “Yes—support the proposal” and “No—oppose the proposal”.

  9. 9.

    A chi-square test for covariate balance failed to reject the null that the covariates are balanced (p = 0.999).

  10. 10.

    Concern for climate change, tax efficacy in reducing emissions and tax negative impact on local economy are measured using a 5-point Likert scale with higher numbers indicating more concern, greater efficacy and more negative impact.

  11. 11.

    Results are robust to probit and logit specifications.

  12. 12.

    Following the literature, we elicited the level of certainty that respondents had in their referendum vote. A test of proportions indicates no significant difference between the baseline and treatment groups (p = 0.179).


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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 2033855 and 1948154.

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Correspondence to Todd L. Cherry.

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Cherry, T.L., Kallbekken, S., Kroll, S. et al. Does solar geoengineering crowd out climate change mitigation efforts? Evidence from a stated preference referendum on a carbon tax. Climatic Change 165, 6 (2021).

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  • Climate change
  • Solar geoengineering
  • Moral hazard
  • Emissions
  • Experiment