Due to the fear of the consequences of climate change, many scientists today advocate the research into—but not deployment of—geoengineering, large-scale technological control of the global climate, to reduce the uncertainty around its efficacy and harms. Scientists propose in particular initiating field trials of stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI). This paper examines how the meanings of geoengineering experimentation, specifically SAI field trials, are reconfigured in the deliberation of the lay public. To this end, we conducted focus groups with Japanese citizens in June 2015 on the geoengineering concept and SAI field trials. Our main findings are as follows: the ‘climate emergency’ framing compelled the lay public to accept, either willingly or reluctantly, the need for ‘geoengineering research’ however, public discourse on SAI field trials was ambiguous and ambivalent, involving both tensions and dilemmas in understanding what the SAI field trial is for and about. Our results exhibit how the lay public wrestles with understanding the social, political, and ethical implications of SAI field trials in multiple dimensions, namely, accountability, controllability, predictability, and desirability. The paper argues that more clarity in the term ‘geoengineering research’ is needed to facilitate inclusive and pluralistic debates on geoengineering experimentation and not to preemptively arrive at a consensus that ‘we need more research.’ We conclude that ambivalence about both the pros and cons of geoengineering experimentation seems to be enduring; thus, instead of ignoring or repressing it, embracing ambivalence is required to keep the geoengineering debate democratic and inclusive.
- Climate engineering
- Public engagement
- Social experiment
- Stratospheric aerosol injection