What Other Sectors Can Teach Us: Insights for Effective Communication in Solar Geoengineering

June 03, 2024

Solar geoengineering is still early in its emergence as a hot topic in the public lexicon, and the field’s communication complexities and potential ramifications are already proving to be roadblocks. As the field gains momentum and more public attention, now is the right time to determine how to create the most effective communications that emphasize clarity and integrity and center ethical considerations. 

Luckily, solar geoengineering isn’t the first technical or complex field to exist. While solar geoengineering has unique communication needs, there are also some shared commonalities and some shared tribulations with other fields. The field’s communicators should carefully examine and draw lessons from other sectors to navigate communication hurdles and combat misinformation in discourse. Studying communication experiences and lessons from different sectors– particularly those that have a history of needing to address misinformation and foster transparent dialogue– offers invaluable insights for navigating the uncertainties of solar geoengineering communication.


Let’s start with a sector closely related to solar geoengineering: the environment. DSG’s staff come from this space, so we know acutely that effective communication and stakeholder engagement are pivotal in the environmental sector. And so, our lessons learned– both positive and negative– can yield valuable lessons for solar geoengineering discourse. 

Vulnerable frontline communities have dealt with long legacies of disproportionate social, economic, and environmental injustices, all of which are exacerbated by climate change. Climate mitigation and adaptation strategies have often neglected to directly engage with frontline communities and consider their needs as dictated by the communities themselves. When local knowledge and perspectives are not centered in communications from the start, and when stakeholder concerns aren’t addressed or resolved, even projects with the best intentions will fail. 

In the past, this ignorance about a lack of engagement with the most vulnerable communities was all too easily excused or, worse, ignored outright. But we know better now. And that’s where collaboration comes in. Environmental challenges demand interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral cooperation. These initiatives thrive when stakeholders are engaged transparently and inclusively from the start, emphasizing the importance of communicating with diverse stakeholders. Solar geoengineering researchers can leverage this approach, fostering dialogues that bridge scientific expertise with societal perspectives to promote understanding and trust. Actors in the solar geoengineering sector should prioritize engagement with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including environmental organizations, policymakers, and local communities, to address concerns, build consensus, incorporate public input and foster collective decision-making processes.

It also matters who is behind the messaging and, more importantly, why they’ve chosen specific messaging and framing tactics. As we’ve seen, greenwashing has become a frequent fossil fuel industry tactic to distract and delay meaningful action to reduce emissions. After decades of growing fossil fuel use and dependency, greenwashing efforts from these corporate entities are untrustworthy because they are pushing for outcomes related to financial gain, which harm the public’s ability to be informed and erode trust in science and technology. For-profit involvement or investment in solar geoengineering risks similar greenwashing (or justice-washing) through techno-optimism, obfuscating and excusing production expansion while also limiting any meaningful climate policy. 


In the best of times, health information is difficult to convey convincingly. However, health crises, in particular, necessitate clear, accessible, and transparent communication to empower individuals and communities. The health sector provides valuable insights into effective communication strategies and misinformation management relevant to solar geoengineering discourse. Communicators in solar geoengineering can adopt similar approaches, translating complex scientific concepts into understandable language and fostering public dialogue to enhance an informed public.. 

Misinformation has haunted the health sector, especially in recent years. From the vaccination skeptics to the COVID-19 pandemic, the dangers of misinformation emphasize the need for proactive measures to combat falsehoods and conspiracy theories. Similarly, solar geoengineering has the opportunity to combat misinformation through credible sources, fact-checking mechanisms, and public education initiatives, building resilience against misinformation in the discourse surrounding climate intervention. 

Moreover, lessons learned from the health sector underscore the need for transparent and proactive outreach to frontline communities, addressing fears and other potential obstacles. The health sector has done an admirable job of collecting and sharing credible materials while amplifying trusted voices and relying on partnerships to expand reach and address the needs of underserved communities.

This brings us to the trusted voices, because there are also lessons to be learned about who delivers this information. Throughout the pandemic, doctors and healthcare professionals emerged as trusted voices on the frontlines, effectively countering misinformation with evidence-based knowledge and clear, compassionate communication. These professionals’ credibility, expertise, and direct engagement with the public played a crucial role in guiding communities through the crisis. DSG prioritizes initial engagements with civil society and policymakers in climate-vulnerable communities precisely because we know that they act as trusted voices in their local communities. We know that by leveraging their local expertise, rather than simply relying on authoritative, outsider voices, these local experts on the frontline can build trust in the scientific and governance process. 


We’ll end with a sector that may seem removed from solar geoengineering, but has perhaps the most important lessons to share. Like solar geoengineering, cryptocurrency is championed as an innovative solution, in this case, a decentralized form of money that transcends borders and transforms the world. More than that, it promised to liberate the masses by ridding us of the most frustrating parts of traditional finance, such as long transaction times, high fees, and unnecessary intermediaries. But like solar geoengineering, all of the promises and enthusiasts can’t overcome reputational challenges that aren’t carefully considered and addressed early on. 

The first reputational challenge is a heady one – how to navigate the excitement that comes with novelty and technological promise? In the early days of cryptocurrency, the hype was high. Super Bowl commercials, celebrity endorsements, influencers and thought leaders played a significant role in attempting to educate the public and touting the promise of the currencies and trading platforms. But, after these over-hyped expectations for the future didn’t pan out, the whiplash from that hype led to swings in value, not to mention lawsuits and bankruptcies. Many experts would eventually claim that these high expectations were unrealistic, which led to inevitable disappointment, not to mention a lasting skepticism on the part of those who didn’t partake when the hype was high. There are critical lessons to be learned here – avoid overselling the benefits of solar geoengineering and be up-front and honest about uncertainties, risks, and limitations. Discuss potential benefits, of course, but balance those discussions with frank conversations about challenges and unknowns. 

Cryptocurrency also yields lessons in the form of public perception and trust building. Public perception heavily influences policy and investment decisions, which underscores the importance of transparent communication in solar geoengineering and the danger of perceived shrouding and concealing experiments and actions. Cryptocurrency is also uniquely vulnerable (in the financial sector, at least) to reputational damage caused by misinformation and fraud, resulting in disruption of large-scale business, losses incurred for investors, and even a wide-scale dip in sectoral reputation. Similarly, the reputation of solar geoengineering is often at the mercy of individuals or single entities – one misstep could affect the entire sector. With these major potential pitfalls in mind, ethical considerations must undergird any communications decisions. 

To combat the public’s fear of secrecy and accusations of withholding information, solar geoengineering researchers should proactively engage with the public, addressing concerns and uncertainties through accessible language and evidence-based data and findings to foster trust and support. Solar geoengineering interventions raise ethical concerns regarding environmental risks, equity, and governance. Communicators must share these ethical dilemmas transparently, engaging stakeholders in meaningful discussions to ensure responsible decision-making aligned with societal values. Regulatory clarity has helped legitimize some cryptocurrencies, while the lack of sector-wide regulation has led to fraud, instability, and a lack of trust for the sector as a whole. The takeaway thus becomes clear for solar geoengineering – work to establish (and communicate) governance frameworks and regulatory standards, coordinating with international bodies to create guidelines that ensure safety, efficacy, and ethical conduct above all.

While there are many lessons to be learned from other sectors, there will inevitably be new lessons for solar geoengineering with no established blueprint. Adopting effective communication strategies and learning from other sectors’ experiences are essential for navigating the complexities of solar geoengineering discourse. By aspiring to transparent communication, engaging diverse stakeholders, and addressing misinformation, researchers and organizations can foster trust, enhance public understanding, and facilitate responsible decision-making in the pursuit of climate intervention solutions. In the meantime, the best we can do is learn quickly, document our own lessons, and be ready to evolve and grow with each critical moment.