The University of Arizona

Geopolitical ecology of solar geoengineering: from a 'logic of multilateralism' to logics of militarization

Kevin Surprise


Solar geoengineering technologies intended to slow climate change by injecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere are gaining traction in climate policy. Solar geoengineering is considered "fast, cheap, and imperfect" in that it could rapidly reduce planetary temperatures with low cost technology, but potentially generate catastrophic consequences for climate, weather, and biodiversity. Governance has therefore been central to solar geoengineering debates, particularly the question of unilateral deployment, whereby a state or group of states could deploy the technology against the wishes of the international community. In this context, recent, influential scenarios posit that – given technological and political complexities – solar geoengineering deployment will likely be guided by a "logic of multilateralism." I challenge this assertion by arguing that solar geoengineering is defined by equally compelling 'logics of militarization.' I detail recent involvement in solar geoengineering development on the part of U.S. defense, intelligence, and foreign policy institutions, geoengineering scenarios that adopt militarized logics and expertise, and Realist international relations theories that undergird leading governance scenarios. I then demonstrate that the U.S. military has a strategic interest in solar geoengineering, as U.S. hegemony is predicated on expanding fossil fuels, but the military deems climate change a threat to national security. The unique spatio-temporal qualities of solar geoengineering can bridge the gap between these contradictory positions. In examining the militarization of solar geoengineering, I aim to ground recent conceptions of "planetary sovereignty" in the emergent field of "geopolitical ecology" through the latter's more granular approach to the world-making powers of key geopolitical-ecological actors. 

Key Words: solar geoengineering, geopolitical ecology, militarization, U.S. hegemony, climate intervention

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