U-M study finds discussing carbon dioxide removal does not limit climate policy support

July 22, 2022

How should scientists, advocates, and others communicate to the general public about new geoengineering technologies that mitigate climate change? Specifically, does the discussion of climate change technologies create a moral hazard effect, in which individuals feel less threatened by climate change and less supportive of policies to address it?

Focusing on carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies, Ford School Associate Professor Kaitlin Raimi and her colleagues address this question in their research published in Energy Research & Social Science.

“The general public may incorrectly believe that [CDR strategies] are sufficient to address climate change, leading to less support for traditional mitigation approaches that avoid or reduce the release of greenhouse gas emissions in the first place,” the authors write. “Alternatively,” they propose, “it is possible that learning about climate change solutions can increase the risk salience of climate change, leading to greater support for climate mitigation policy.”

Raimi and her colleagues, Sol Hart (University of Michigan), Victoria Campbell-Arvai (University of Southern California), and Kimberly Wolske (University of Chicago), designed two experiments that examine whether including information (or not) about the impacts of climate change—heat waves, flooding, rising sea levels, etc.—alters how information about CDR is received. Study 1 leveraged the Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy National Surveys on Energy and Environment to investigate how a CDR-only message may affect perceived threat and support for mitigation policies. It also observed how political ideology may moderate the findings. Study 2 was a four-condition design to assess how information about CDR and climate change may independently, and in combination, influence perceived threat and policy support.

Results are mixed, and the researchers found moral hazard effects are very small or null depending on the study design. Information about CDR has minimal effects on climate risk perceptions and mitigation policy support, even when explicit information about climate risks are provided. The authors also encourage other researchers to account for political ideology and climate risk information in future studies.

 “Overall, even when moral hazard effects occur they are likely to be very small, so public communicators shouldn't be overly concerned that discussing things like carbon capture may limit support for climate mitigation policy,” Hart said.

Read the full study, “Moral hazard or not? The effects of learning about carbon dioxide removal on perceptions of climate mitigation in the United States” in Energy Research & Social Science.