Imaginaries of geoengineering

10 April 2017 -
1:00pm to 2:00pm
UCT Upper Campus, Snape Building: Teaching Studio 4B
Contact Person: 
Samantha Keen
Contact Email: 

With Speakers: Jeremy Baskin of University of Melbourne and input from Hedley Twidle of Environmental Humanities South, UCT.

Solar geoengineering (SGE) is a controversial proposed technology which aims to mask global warming by the ongoing injection of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere, thereby reducing incoming sunlight and cooling the Earth. Once ‘taboo’, SGE has re-emerged since the mid-2000s as a proposal from a section of the climate science community. However, it has not yet been ‘normalised’ as an acceptable or accepted addition to the existing cornerstone climate policies of mitigation and adaptation. The ‘geoengineering turn’ in climate policy has substantial implications for the global South even as it is being modelled and imagined largely in the global North. What travels with this emerging technology and how is SGE imagined by both its opponents and proponents? I focus on understanding SGE’s power effects (geo-politically, economically and socially); the knowledge systems which are brought to bear in developing and assessing the technology; and the competing values and worldviews which infuse the arguments of both its proponents and opponents. In the process I explore the differences and continuities between SGE now and geoengineering previously, and what is constraining SGE from being embraced and ‘normalised’ as a third leg of climate policy. I argue that SGE is best understood as a sociotechnical project, an act of world-making, and not simply as a technology to combat climate change. The widely-acknowledged ethical and governance issues which attach to SGE are not simply complications. They are intrinsic to the technology and wrapped up in the idea itself. I show how different sociotechnical imaginaries of SGE co-exist, none of them hegemonic. These are the oppositional ‘Un-natural’ imaginary, a conspiratorial ‘Chemtrail’ imaginary, and a ‘Power’ imaginary containing three narratives which co-exist uncomfortably – which I label the ‘Market’, ‘Geo-management’ and ‘Salvation’ narratives.