This study explores the development of laypeople’s preferences for newly emerging climate engineering technology (CE). It examines whether laypeople perceive CE to be an acceptable back-up strategy (plan B) if current efforts to mitigate CO2 emissions were to fail. This idea is a common justification for CE research in the scientific debate and may significantly influence future public debates. Ninety-eight German participants chose their preferred climate policy strategy in a quasi-realistic scenario. Participants could chose between mitigation and three CE techniques as alternative options. We employed a think-aloud interview technique, which allowed us to trace participants’ informational needs and thought processes. Drawing on Huber’s risk management decision theory, the study addressed whether specific CE options are more likely to be accepted if they are mentally represented as a back-up strategy. Results support this assumption, especially for cloud whitening. This result is especially relevant considering the high prevalence of the plan B framing in CE appraisal studies and its implications for public opinion-formation processes.