Webinar Question by participant: NAS Report Governance and Social Aspects: Question on parallels to SRM reserach

Simone Tilmes

Staff member
I would value thoughts regarding parallels with other scientific research exercises beyond solar geoengineering and how the proposed approach compares. Is what is being proposed in fact just similar to others, or is it out on its own? The larger context would be interesting. For example in which areas of medical research is more public engagement needed, what determines when this is needed in that context, and how does the approach recommended for SG relate to those principles?


Adrian Hindes
New member
It's not exactly a parallel to SRM research overall, but comparing outdoor experimentation of SAI to MCB; there was some limited field testing for the latter on the Great Barrier Reef which went ahead with relatively little public opposition, or even news coverage. There were some policy/legal scholars arguing for more public consultation and stronger governance (see McDonald et al., 2019), but for the most part the MCB experiments by Harrison and colleagues seemed to go without a hitch.

At least in comparison to the debacle over SCoPEx, it's quite a marked contrast.

Public engagement is generally taken to be an unabashed good, but as you note in the wider context there's questions around how to determine to what extent that's needed. Others have made this argument, but if SCoPEx had instead just been a straightforward atmospheric physics project in scope (instead of having "solar geoengineering" associated with it), there would have been less perceived requirement for public engagement.

If it's not just the research itself, but also what it's ostensibly "aiming for" (or perceived to be aiming for) that matters, it all becomes much muddier. It's not all to obvious whether maximizing public engagement aligns with optimal public engagement.

In medical and public health research, maybe fluoridation of public water supply could be an illustrative historical comparison on relatively smaller scales? How much public engagement was done prior to such policies being put in place for various regions? What happened after the handful of cases of overfluoridation in the U.S. in the 90s?