A strong body of STS scholarship has begun to question the speculative and controversial proposal that geoengineering Earth's climate might be a good idea. This panel aims at exploring areas of inquiry that STS is yet to tackle.
Existing STS scholarship seeks to open up geoengineering to deliberation by a broader set of publics, expose and question dominant framings, and examine public discourses and sense-making. We welcome contributions that extend and transcend existing lines of inquiry, for example in the following areas:
Techno-fixes rely on a particular problem diagnosis. How are geoengineering research and governance co-produced with knowledge of climate futures? How are geoengineering technologies endowed with attributes that allow for cost-benefit-calculations, estimations of effectiveness and side-effects, and prognoses of harms? How do geoengineering futures come to be known, and how do they highlight some uncertainties while obfuscating others?
A founding myth of the current wave of geoengineering research is that the scientific community shied away from geoengineering until Paul Crutzen "broke the taboo" in 2006. Today, one frequently encounters claims that it is impossible to clearly distinguish between climate science and geoengineering research, and that restrictive governance of geoengineering research would therefore unduly restrict climate science. How do such dynamics of normalization affect the field and its political handling?
Geoengineering does not promise salvation from disease or hunger—its seductive power stems from a sense that the future could be made somewhat less catastrophic than expected. How does this economy of promises shape scientific and political discourses? Which threatened populations are promised protection, and how? How are these promises made sense of by those whom they posit as beneficiaries? Is STS research itself contributing to a stabilization of contentious definitions and a normalization of speculative promises?
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Climate intervention: new and emerging opportunities in STS
This presentation will examine new and emerging opportunities for STS scholars to gain historical, cultural, and technical perspectives on climate intervention order to develop informed, serious, and yet accessible critiques.
As the alarm over global warming spreads, a radical idea is taking hold. A handful of so-called "geoengineers" thinks that voluntary compliance with emissions reductions is highly unlikely and that so-called "negative emissions" or more radical invasive techniques to cool the planet will be necessary. Geoengineering, however, is not really engineering. It consists of a basket of speculative proposals aimed at intervening in the atmosphere, the oceans, the biosphere, or even human behavior. The proposals lie at the outer fringes of scientific possibility, but are presented as if they were magic bullets or lifeboats for a sinking planet.
STS has, as yet, not developed full or very effective critiques. This presentation will examine new and emerging opportunities for STS scholars to gain historical, cultural, and technical perspectives on climate intervention order to develop informed, serious, and yet accessible critiques. It will preview themes that will appear in the sequel to my 2010 book, Fixing the Sky: The checkered history of weather and climate control.
The 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change aims to prevent "dangerous anthropogenic interference" with the climate system. It was inspired by international agreements seeking to limit the incremental carbon dioxide emissions of all the worlds' peoples, but it must also surely apply to the geoengineers. If there is no guarantee that planetary intervention will accomplish its goals or be sustainable, should we ever even consider doing it - whatever "it" turns out to be?
Between magic and hubris: the geoengineering turn in climate policy and the global South
I examine the two main imagined geoengineering technologies - the negative emissions technology (NET) BECCS, and solar geoengineering with stratospheric aerosols. I look at how the discourses surrounding each technology engages, albeit very differently, with development and justice concerns.
The Paris climate agreement arguably marks the beginnings of a geoengineering turn in global climate policy. I explore this turn for its implications for the global South and from a climate justice perspective. I examine the two main imagined geoengineering technologies - the negative emissions technology (NET) bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and solar geoengineering with stratospheric aerosols - the former critical to the Paris agreement and modelled climate futures, and the latter not officially embraced. I look at how the discourses surrounding each technology engages, albeit very differently, with development and justice concerns. I conclude that the approach to both technologies reflects a view of how the world ought to be ordered, one which emanates from the global North but is expected to be applied in the global South.
What is responsible climate geoengineering? Contested notions of responsibility in climate engineering expert discourses
Climate engineering (CE) experts frame responsibility concerning research, deployment, and governance of CE in various ways. This paper maps, explains, and compares responsibility concepts across six domains of the CE expert discourse.
Climate engineering comes with the potential to decelerate climate change and its associated risks by modifying the planetary environment. Therefore, it is important to illuminate how experts involved in the discourses around these technologies understand their own and others' responsibilities. Experts frequently and lightly talk about "responsibility". Although, the concepts of responsibility are not well understood and not clear enough in their formulation because of their often-unclear references to responsibility subjects, objects, norms, and institutions. This paper investigates discursive framings of responsibility in six major domains - science and engineering, social sciences and humanities, interdisciplinary research, policy, the science-policy interface, and civil society. It reconstructs and compares the major concepts inside and across domains. The study found that assignment and combination of subjects (who?), objects (for what?), norms (based on?), and authority (to whom?) of responsibility are particularly diverse. For example, seeing industrial countries as mainly responsible for anthropogenic emissions is common among NGOs while many scientists see responsible research as a self-governed process. These findings suggest that "responsible climate engineering research, development, and deployment" has to be elucidated and clarified among discursive participants to enable some form of responsible governance.
Diverging imaginations of climate engineering: how different scientific communities construct climate engineering promises
Despite collaboration between actors in different climate engineering (CE) research communities, different scientific cultures, histories, and imaginations exist between these communities. This paper explores how different imaginations of CE lead to different narratives, promises and exclusions.
In the development of climate engineering research, defined by the Royal Society (2009) as 'deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change', much has been ascribed to, mostly western, historical perceptions of climate and climate change. These determinations of climate change have played a defining role in the development of climate engineering (CE). Mediating climate change by means of CE entails a specific, holistic view of the earth's climate systems, stemming from the historical developments in climate science as a numerical, model-based science. As a result, CE-research in general, and solar radiation management (SRM) in particular, is primarily engaged in research of quantified, whole-Earth solutions. These solutions take different shapes, and make different promises, in different scientific communities. Overarching narratives converge and diverge accordingly.
In recent years, Germany and the United States have emerged as the two most vibrant locations for climate engineering research. Despite intense collaboration between the actors in both geographical communities, different scientific cultures, histories, and imaginations exist between these communities. I compare the SPP-1689 project in Germany and the David Keith Group in the U.S. as exemplars of different CE research-cultures. Different imaginations of climate change and, in particular, future CE research and implementation in these research groups lead to the foregrounding of different scientific and political discourses, and cultivating different promises. In this paper, I outline these differences, what they imply for the construction of scientific questions, and how they construct different notions and framings of CE.
Techno-fixes in theory and (political) practice: conditions and challenges for policy implementation
Geoengineering research still neglects the question how techno-fixes fit in the dominant climate policy paradigm. A differentiation between conditions of integrating geoengineering in conceptual thinking and conditions of practical governance helps to reflect on techno-fixes' policy relevance.
Anticipated policy relevance of geoengineering technologies motivates an increasing number of academics and external funding sources to invest research capacities in so-called techno-fixes for climate change. Within the emerging research field, one crucial - but so far underexposed - question is: Which particular (use of) technology will be compatible with the dominant climate policy paradigm? Although a final answer is not possible yet, working on the following two questions could contribute to narrowing-down the main challenges in dealing with research and governance practices around different geoengineering technologies.
A systematic differentiation between the conditions of development and incorporation of technologies in conceptual thinking on the one hand, and conditions of practical geoengineering-governance in the dominant climate policy paradigm on the other, could fruitfully contribute to the research field. We hereby extend the question of how geoengineering futures come to be known by questioning conditions, challenges, potentials and prerequisites of the policy implementation of techno-fixes.
In addition, STS can contribute to academic research on geoengineering by shedding a light on the spatiality and embeddedness of co-production processes of knowledge and governance on techno-fixes. Reminding the emerging transnational geoengineering community of the fact that "societies vary in their conceptions of public reason" (Jasanoff) would be crucial to close the gap between thinking geoengineering conceptually and an awareness for varying realities of governance processes within the dominant climate policy paradigm.
Constitutional climates: solar geoengineering in the co-production of climate expertise and global order
We present a set of preliminary observations of solar geoengineering, comparing the problem diagnoses on which it relies, what is promised in its name, and how it is sustained (or not) as climate expertise is co-produced with political, ethical and normative choices.
The emergence of solar geoengineering needs to be studied as a constitutional moment in the reshaping of global order, in which scientific-technical expertise is co-produced with political, ethical and normative choices. However, despite the global questions at stake, the shaping and reshaping of global order is not a universally uniform process. Instead, any approach that focuses solely on the global level risks glossing over the important particularities that shape different national contexts, and even more the unequal ability of various groups of actors in defining the problems and choosing alternatives. STS scholars have shown in great detail how approaching the question of governance requires intermediate research steps and a precise description of the various actors, institutions, and practices involved. We examine the uneven present of solar geoengineering, its uncertain future, and, crucially, alternative imaginings of the governance challenges that research and deployment of solar geoengineering pose. To this end, we present a set of preliminary observations of solar geoengineering, comparing the problem diagnoses on which it relies, what is promised in its name, and how it is sustained (or not) in dynamics of co-production.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.