Public perceptions of carbon dioxide removal in the United States and the United Kingdom

Abstract

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies may be needed to meet climate change targets. A full understanding of public attitudes towards such approaches is currently lacking. Here we report a mixed-methods study on public perceptions of CDR in the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, direct air capture and terrestrial enhanced rock weathering. A discourse of climate urgency had a substantial impact on perceptions, with CDR seen as offering too slow a response to the climate crisis. CDR also fails to reflect long-term hopes for a sustainable world, being interpreted as not addressing the root causes of climate change. A social license to operate may therefore depend on resolving these temporal dilemmas regarding both the short- and long-term implications of technology development. While research under well-controlled conditions is likely to be acceptable, at-scale deployment without corresponding efforts to reduce emissions may represent a red line for many people.

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Fig. 1: Public perceptions of CDR risks and benefits.
Fig. 2: Mediation analysis.
Fig. 3: Perceptions of CDR as addressing the ‘root cause’.

Data availability

The survey data have been made publicly available in Cardiff University Open Data Repository: https://doi.org/10.17035/d.2020.0101974649 (survey data)63 and https://doi.org/10.17035/d.2020.0106264948 (questionnaire data)64. The workshop audio files and transcripts cannot be made publicly available due to the need to respect participant confidentiality. However, we will consider requests to share the anonymized transcripts (for research purposes only) on a case-by-case basis after an embargo of two years, during which time our analysis continues. Any other data are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. Source data are provided with this paper.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the Leverhulme Trust under project research grant RC-2015-029. We are indebted to members of the LC3M advisory board for their design input and ongoing support, and to the University of Illinois Extension Office and Evan de Lucia lab for fieldwork assistance. We also thank V. Campbell-Arvai, P. Ashworth, M. Ferguson, T. Kruger, N. Vaughan, G. Henderson, D. Evensen and A. Flewker for help with survey design and workshop materials.

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Contributions

E.C., E.S. and N.P. were involved in the conceptualization of the research. E.C. designed and facilitated the workshops and analysed the qualitative and questionnaire data. E.S. designed the survey and analysed the survey data. E.C. wrote the original draft. E.C., E.S. and N.P. were involved in writing, review and editing of the manuscript. N.P. acquired funding.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Emily Cox or Nick Pidgeon.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods 1–6 and Tables 1–3.

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Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

Source data for Fig. 1: risk and benefit perceptions survey questions. Excel file, 92 kB.

Source Data Fig. 3

Source data for Fig. 3: root cause survey question. Excel file, 48 kB.

Source Data Table 1

Source data for Table 1: workshop questionnaire responses. Excel file, 17 kB.

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Cox, E., Spence, E. & Pidgeon, N. Public perceptions of carbon dioxide removal in the United States and the United Kingdom. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 744–749 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0823-z

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