Introducing DSG’s New Series: Clearing the Air on Solar Geoengineering Communications and Public Trust

April 05, 2024

I first learned about solar geoengineering about fifteen years ago while attending graduate school. Like many, when I first heard about the concept of an intentional large-scale intervention to increase the amount of sunlight reflected back into space, I figured it was the stuff of science fiction, a futuristic and speculative “worst-case scenario” that would never come to pass. Surely, we’d figure out how to take action before needing to employ such a thing. 

In the time since, the conversation has evolved – to a point. Unfortunately, many of the dialogues that take place around the world are oriented around outcome-driven motivations rather than trying to build inclusive, well-informed discussions. On one side of this dialogue are people who fear that merely engaging in SRM discussions will derail further climate action. On the other side are those who are actively pushing for research (or even deployment) to happen more quickly, without being open and transparent about their goals, activities, or funding. 

Instead of shying away from this topic and avoiding the controversy altogether or pushing for activity to continue without public knowledge or deliberation, the recent discussions on the world stage underscore the need to continue to actively engage with these tough conversations, sooner rather than later. To do so, it’s becoming all the more urgent to address the existing knowledge gaps and understanding of the risks and uncertainties in order to build the expertise and trust necessary to hold these types of difficult and delicate – but well-informed – conversations about SRM research, governance, and potential use. 

DSG’s Approach

Navigating this terrain is tricky, but DSG is dedicated to fostering an open, inclusive and informed dialogue on solar geoengineering. Communication serves as one of our organization’s core pillars because we recognize the importance of combating misinformation and controversy through the creation and sharing of unbiased, carefully researched information. Unlike typical NGO communications programs, our core pillar goes beyond simple public relations that promotes DSG to focus on sharing carefully researched, high-quality, and contextually accurate information. We share this information with diverse audiences in climate-vulnerable communities, with the goal of empowering them to formulate their own perspectives and represent their own interests. 

Our emphasis on transparency serves as a bulwark against the pitfalls of secrecy and unilateral decision-making. Already, we are witnessing the temptation to prioritize expediency over ethics. We remain steadfast in our commitment to openness and accountability by providing a platform for rigorous debate and scrutiny, guarding against the risks of unchecked power and ensuring that decisions are made with the utmost consideration for their broader implications. 

A New Series Exploring SG Communications

It’s become increasingly apparent that a comprehensive understanding of solar geoengineering is essential for informed decision-making. The stakes are high, and the potential consequences are profound. In a world increasingly facing the challenges and consequences of a changing climate, all innovative approaches must be on the table for discussion. Discussions have been taboo for so many years that many audiences lack a general knowledge of this complex concept, hindering their ability to engage meaningfully in relevant conversations. 

Science discourse already poses a unique challenge – even in the best of times – due to the complexity of scientific concepts, which may involve abstract theories and technical terminology. Communicating these ideas in a way that is both accurate and understandable to a broad audience is challenging. Mainstream media often struggles to balance this complexity, and oversimplification can lead to inaccuracies or misconceptions, while excessive complexity may alienate or confuse an audience. 

Then there’s the emotional nature of these value-laden issues. Some scientific topics, such as climate change and health, are deeply intertwined with societal values and ethical considerations. Communicating about these topics requires an emotional sensitivity and understanding of cultural dimensions, as well as recognizing the potential for polarization and controversy. Miscommunication or misinterpretation of scientific information can lead to misunderstandings, confusion, and eventually mistrust. The only way to navigate this as a communicator of science is to ensure clarity, transparency, and accuracy in messaging. 

In DSG’s new blog series, we’ll unravel some of the challenges of communicating the complexities of solar geoengineering. We’ll share the pitfalls of misinformation and its impact on scientific integrity, the importance of access to unbiased, impartial information, lessons learned from science communication in other sectors, the importance of transparency for legitimacy in research, and the role of the media in communicating about controversial topics such as SG. 

Our next blog in this series will explore the current issue of misinformation in the SG space. We’ll talk about how conspiracies are shared across social media and are entering the mainstream, as well as some strategies to combat misinformation.