Public consultation is fundamental for fair, effective policy-making on potential geoengineering technologies, such as ocean-fertilization and solar radiation management. In this research Gannon and Hulme explore public perceptions of geoengineering through a real-world ocean fertilization case study.

The Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC), financed by a First Nations community from the British Columbian archipelago, Haida Gwaii, sparked a debate about the desirability and feasibility of ocean fertilization as a geoengineering response to the threat of climate change. This debate incorporated a wide-range of actors, and – as the first publically available research on perceptions of geoengineering to consult indigenous people – this paper opens up the debate to a wider range of perspectives.

This research provides interpretations of key contrasting viewpoints captured from participants local to Haida Gwaii. The researchers find that the debate was shaped by deep-rooted and conflicting values and expectations about natural systems, the role of human beings in managing nature, and the perceived validity of different types of knowledge.

The way in which participants debated the desirability and feasibility of geoengineering reflected the distinctive cultural, political and geographical context of the HSRC. Nevertheless, debate echoed familiar global discourses on a range of geoengineering technologies. Thus geoengineering in Haida Gwaii could help us make sense of some of the ways in which geoengineering is debated elsewhere.

Key points for decision makers

  • The research focuses on the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation’s (HSRC) ocean fertilization project in Haida Gwaii, Canada.
  • This is the first publically available research on public perceptions of geoengineering to consult indigenous people.
  • Public consultation on geoengineering is pressing as the debate is evolving quickly. A new non-profit group, the Oceaneos Marine Research Foundation – with notable continuity among some of the HSRC’s project management team – has emerged in Vancouver, around a proposal to fertilise Chilean waters in the Pacific Ocean with iron.
  • Despite literature which suggests that people find debates about climate change abstract and difficult to relate to, the HSRC prompted extensive and often sophisticated discussion about the desirability and feasibility of ocean fertilization as a geoengineering response to the threat of climate change.
  • Debate was embedded in local contexts, but echoes familiar global discourses.
  • The research suggests geoengineering technologies are always going to be contested because they interact with multiple and diverse ways in which people value natural systems and understand the role of human beings.
  • By offering interpretations of key points of view surrounding the HSRC, this research provides a new tool for reflexivity in geoengineering governance; to expose the visions being pursued and some of the values being ignored.
  • The interpretations in this research could be used as a framework for communication around geoengineering and critical self-reflection among policy-makers and other actors on some of the core assumptions and motivations shaping different geoengineering problem diagnoses and policy prescriptions.
  • The First Nations Haida village of Old Massett that financed the HSRC was promised that ocean fertilization would result in salmon restoration, a meaningful response to the threat of climate change and community-owned carbon credits. However, evidence that ocean fertilization sequesters CO2 and benefits ocean food webs remains highly contested. In addition, since there is currently no established mechanism to generate carbon credits from ocean fertilization, it seems unlikely that community carbon credit ambitions will be realised from the HSRC.

ISSN 2515-5717 (Online) – Grantham Research Institute Working Paper series

ISSN 2515-5709 (Online) – CCCEP Working Paper series

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