Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Six)


Climate Nationalism   

The regional variation and effectiveness of geoengineering efforts raises the spectre of climate nationalism, where nation states focus on climate change impacts that affects them, at the expense of global agreements and united action. Although geoengineering ostensibly aims for a global “solution” “there are still highly variable regional impacts to implementing geo-engineering in practice” (Brown and Sovacool, 2011: 137) and regional climate changes after geoengineering “are likely” (Rasch et al., 2008). Predictions for how SRM affects different regions (e.g. China and India) “diverge from historical baselines in different directions” so “it may not be possible to stabilize the climate in all regions simultaneously” (Ricke et al., 2010: 537). In other words some nations will invariably lose out – “one nation’s emergency can be another’s opportunity” (Victor et al., 2009).

Individual nations might pursue such technologies “to reduce the negative impacts of rising temperatures on their population” regardless of the impact on their neighbours (Preston, 2013: 30). Indeed, as Clive Hamilton (2010) warns us, it may be likely in the future that

“…an impatient nation suffering the effects of climate disruption may decide to act alone. It is not out of the question that in three decades the climate of the Earth could be determined by a handful of Communist Party officials in Beijing. Or the government of an Australia crippled by permanent drought, collapsing agriculture and ferocious bushfires could risk the wrath of the world by embarking on a climate control project.”

We cannot be naïve enough to think the wealthiest governments in the world would risk ecological and political fallout to sacrifice their own national interests for those of the Global South (Klein, 2014: 276). Geoengineering the Earth’s climate carries the risk of creating “novel climate configurations” with corresponding “complex issues of justice and redistribution” (Szerszynski et al., 2013: 2811). Burns (2011) calls geoengineering “the quintessential act of generational selfishness” causing “future generations to “stick with the program” or face catastrophic impacts” (55). Svoboda et al (2011) continue this line of thought, warning the discontinuation of geoengineering by future generations would cause “severe economic damages for those future generations”.


Although ENMOD prohibits “military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques” the potential for the weaponisation of geoengineering technologies “is of obvious strategic interest” (Preston, 2013 :30). And back in 1996 US military officers, whilst not reflecting “the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, Department of Defense, or the United States government”, wrote a report titled “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025” (House et al., 1996). In it they detailed how

“enhancing friendly operations or disrupting those of the enemy via small-scale tailoring of natural weather patterns to complete dominance of global communications and counterspace control, weather-modification offers the war fighter a wide-range of possible options to defeat or coerce an adversary” (vi)

They also see such warfare as a natural extension of a national security strategy that includes weather modification, and highlight its ability to “deter and counter potential adversaries” (vii). More recently, groups such as the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have recognised the “potential for solar shades to be used as weapons” according to Edney and Symons (2014: 314) and “convened a meeting in 2009 to consider geoengineering” (Hamilton, 2014). Their interest is shared by agencies such as the “semi-secret” JASON (Kintisch, 2009) and the CIA (Robock, 2015).

That planetary modification on a scale that dwarfs earlier efforts at “weather warfare” is being considered as a potential element of “national security” should fill us with dread. These are technologies that, like nuclear weapons, “would effectively determine the living conditions of all humanity” (McLaren, 2015).

Cost and Control

“Geoengineering will be much more expensive and challenging than previous estimates suggest” as the University of Leeds (2014) reports. In their simulations, they continue, “Issues around monitoring and predicting the effects of our actions led to huge indecision and highlighted how challenging it would be to ever try and deploy these techniques in the real world.”

This statement helps highlight the massive technical and political issues surrounding any potential implementation of geoengineering. David Roberts (2010) lists some important questions:

“To begin with, consider that by some estimates a large-scale, controlled scientific experiment with solar radiation management could take up to 10 years. In the meantime, who controls the research? Who funds it? Who has access to the information it reveals? Will it take place behind closed doors in the Department of Defense or in public, in a transparent, open-source spirit? … What happens to the law once humanity is officially in charge of the climate? Are we then liable for what takes place in it? … If a geoengineering experiment goes awry, typhoon season is disrupted, and millions in Asia die from drought, what would liability even look like?”

On the technical side, it is important to remember that the natural world, contrary to early scientific thought, is not easily quantifiable or conquerable. There is no reason to expect that we would receive “convenient early warning signals of an impending environmental catastrophe” from the earth system (Benedick, 2011: 6). Geoengineering technologies, according to the National Research Council (2015), “pose considerable risks and should not be deployed at this time”. Otherwise we risk living in a world where nothing “would be outside the reach of humanity’s fallible machines, or even fully outside at all” (Klein, 2014: 260).

There is still “no assessment of how geo-engineering technologies either individually or together” could interact (Galaz, 2012), or how the different techniques could affect the earth system’s components (Rockström et al., 2009). Such an intervention in the Earth’s climate could simply replicate the current patterns of climate change – that is, “equally unpredictable, incalculable and turbulent in its unfolding” (Cooper, 2010: 184). Some SRM technologies would need constant, meticulous maintenance or risk catastrophic failures – estimates suggest that failure to sustain a geoengineering programme could lead to climate warming at a pace twenty times greater than the warming evident today (Matthews and Caldeira, 2007). As Yusoff (2013) explains, the sheer scope of geoengineering creates new questions “to do with world risk, anticipatory governance of futures, atmospheric securitisation, [and] innovation of “earth systems governmentality”” (2800).

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Part Seven coming soon


  • Benedick, R. E. (2011). Considerations on governance for climate remediation technologies: lessons from the “ozone hole”. Stanford Journal of Law, Science & Policy 4, 6-9.
  • Brown, M. A., Sovacool, B. K. (2011). Climate Change and Global Energy Security: Technology and Policy Options. MIT Press, Massachusetts.
  • Burns, W. C. G. (2011). Climate Geoengineering: Solar Radiation Management and its Implications for Intergenerational Equity. Stanford Journal of Law, Science & Policy 4, 39-55.
  • Cooper, M. (2010). Turbulent worlds: financial markets and environmental crisis. Theory, Culture and Society 27 (2–3) 167–190.
  • Edney, K., Symons, J. (2014). China and the blunt temptations of geo-engineering: the role of solar radiation management in China’s strategic response to climate change. The Pacific Review 27 (3), 307-332.
  • Galaz, V. (2012). Geo-engineering, Governance, and Social-Ecological Systems: Critical Issues and Joint Research Needs. Ecology and Society 17(1), 24.
  • Hamilton, C. (2010). The Frightening Politics of Geo-engineering. Accessed 2 December 2015.
  • Hamilton, C. (2014). Geoengineering and the politics of science. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 70 (3), 17-26.
  • House, T. J., Near, Jr., J. B., Shields, W. B., Celentano, R. J., Husband, D. M., Mercer, A. E., Pugh, M. J. E. (1996). Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025. Accessed 3 December 2015.
  • Kintisch, E. (2009). DARPA to Explore Geoengineering. Accessed 3 November 2015.
  • Klein, N. (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Simon & Schuster, New York.
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  • McLaren, D. (2015). Where’s the justice in geoengineering? Accessed 28 November 2015.
  • National Research Council (2015). Climate Intervention Is Not a Replacement for Reducing Carbon Emissions; Proposed Intervention Techniques Not Ready for Wide-Scale Deployment. Accessed 4 December 2015.
  • Preston, C. J. (2013). Ethics and geoengineering: reviewing the moral issues raised by solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 4 (1), 23-37.
  • Rasch, P. J., Tilmes, S., Turco, R. P., Robock, A., Oman, L., Chen, C., Stenchikov, G. L., Garcia, R. R. (2008). An overview of geoengineering of climate using stratospheric sulphate aerosols. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 366 (1882), 4007-37.
  • Ricke, K. L., Morgan, M. G., Allen, M. R. (2010). Regional climate response to solar-radiation management. Nature Geoscience 3, 537 – 541.
  • Roberts, D. (2010). The Ultimate Sunblock. Accessed 26 November 2015.
  • Robock, A. (2015). The CIA asked me about controlling the climate – this is why we should worry. Accessed 3 December 2015.
  • Rockström, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone, Å. Persson, F. S. Chapin, III, E. Lambin, T. M. Lenton, M. Scheffer, C. Folke, H. Schellnhuber, B. Nykvist, C. A. De Wit, T. Hughes, S. van der Leeuw, H. Rodhe, S. Sörlin, P. K. Snyder, R. Costanza, U. Svedin, M. Falkenmark, L. Karlberg, R. W. Corell, V. J. Fabry, J. Hansen, B. Walker, D. Liverman, K. Richardson, P. Crutzen, and J. Foley. (2009). Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Ecology and Society 14 (2), 32.
  • Svoboda, T., Keller, K., Goes, M., Tuana, N. (2011). Sulfate Aerosol Geoengineering: The Question of Justice. Public Affairs Quarterly 25 (3), 157-180.
  • Szerszynski, B., Kearnes, M., Macnaghten, P., Owen, R., Stilgoe, J. (2013). Why Solar Radiation Management Geoengineering and Democracy Won’t Mix. Environment and Planning A 45 (12), 2809-2816.
  • University of Leeds (2014). Geoengineering our climate is not a ‘quick fix’. Accessed 28 November 2015.
  • Victor, D. G., Morgan, M. G., Apt, J., Steinbrune, J. (2009). The Geoengineering Option: A Last Resort Against Global Warming? Accessed 4 December 2015.
  • Yusoff, K. (2013). The Geoengine: Geoengineering and the Geopolitics of Planetary Modification. Environment and Planning A 45 (12), 2799-2808.

5 thoughts on “Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Six)

  1. Pingback: Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Seven) | Fighting The Biocrisis

  2. Pingback: Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Eight) | Fighting The Biocrisis

  3. Pingback: Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Nine) | Fighting The Biocrisis

  4. Pingback: Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Ten) | Fighting The Biocrisis

  5. Pingback: Climate Imperial: Geoengineering and Capitalist Hegemony (Part Eleven) | Fighting The Biocrisis

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