Engaging Citizens to Inform Governance of Controversial Research

How should solar geoengineering research be governed to address risks and uncertainties?

We are pleased to announce that the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes (CSPO) and our partners, with the generous support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (grant 2017-9921), will conduct a groundbreaking new project on solar geoengineering research governance.

Should scientists conduct research on ways to directly intervene in the global climate to avoid the worst impacts of climate change? Prompted by concerns about climate change risks, some scientists and commentators argue that research on these techniques should now be pursued. Others are concerned that even researching these ideas might lead to the inadvisable development of fundamentally irreversible and uncertain technologies. Both sides agree that this is not an issue to be decided by scientists alone.

To better understand geoengineering, researchers have proposed a variety of field experiments. Some of these planned experiments to research a method called solar geoengineering have secured funding. Solar geoengineering is intended to reflect sunlight before it heats the atmosphere or to allow more heat to escape into space. As these scientists move ahead, how should research be governed to address existing concerns and uncertainties, and anticipate future ones?

This CSPO project will use innovative methods of engaging the public and stakeholders to address this question. Through workshops with key stakeholders and structured deliberations with hundreds of citizens, the research team will gain important insights into how geoengineering research governance can be responsive to public perspectives and concerns. The team will connect these insights directly to early governance efforts at the national and global level. These include efforts by researchers and research funders; advisory commissions overseeing experimental proposals; experts developing research codes of conduct; and international organizations engaged in ongoing conversations about geoengineering research and its governance.

The project goals are twofold. First, by engaging with diverse groups of lay citizens, the project team aims to understand whether and how reasoned deliberation among citizens can usefully inform geoengineering research governance. Second, our team will study how this public input influences the way scientists, funders, and other stakeholders approach geoengineering research. The result will be a rich exploration of democratic governance of geoengineering research through public and stakeholder engagement.

By working with citizens to develop a balanced framing of the profound questions raised by geoengineering research, this project seeks to help experts and decision makers benefit from the insights and priorities of the public. If successful, this project can serve as a model for informing governance of other types of emerging technologies and controversial research.

The research team is led by CSPO’s Daniel Sarewitz and Mahmud Farooque, in collaboration with ASU PlanetWorks director Ariel Anbar. Other team members include ASU’s Ira Bennett, Jason Lloyd, and Stephen Romaniello; Jane Flegal at the University of California Berkeley; David Sittenfeld from the Museum of Science Boston; and David Tomblin at the University of Maryland.

Additional details about the project can be found at the program page. For more information, contact co-primary investigator Mahmud Farooque: [email protected].