Preemption, anti-fragility, and Grand Strategy: The geopolitics of solar geoengineering

Authors: Kevin Surprise*, Mount Holyoke College
Topics: Political Geography, Anthropocene, Social Theory
Keywords: geoengineering, hegemony, climate, geopolitics, security, preemption
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Bonaparte, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As climate mitigation efforts continue to fail, solar geoengineering – intentional modification of planetary albedo to offset rapid climate change – is moving from fringe to fore in a range of key policy institutions. The potential capacity to alter the climate system is often understood as a threat to global security in that, because the technology is relatively cheap, the possibility of unilateral or rogue geoengineering looms. Yet, this understanding is predicated on realist and liberal theories of international relations, and thus elides fundamental facets of global power (e.g. U.S. hegemony). In contrast, I explore the geopolitics of solar geoengineering in the context of U.S. military supremacy, and through a confluence of recent phenomena: securitization of climate change within the U.S. military, militarization of U.S. foreign policy, and the Trump Administration’s discourse of “energy dominance.” Here questions concerning the geopolitics of solar geoengineering do not revolve around international anarchic competition, but the ways in which this technology may be deployed to bolster U.S. hegemony. While this potential is speculative, connections between the spatio-temporal qualities of solar geoengineering technology and current doctrines/goals of U.S. foreign policy are tightly aligned. That is, solar geoengineering holds the potential to slow the rate of climatic change, thus prolonging the fossil fuel economy buttressing U.S. hegemony, potentially blunting China’s position as an emergent “green superpower.” This speculative scenario is grounded through an analysis of recent work at The RAND Corporation, particularly three projects examining the doctrines of preemption, anti-fragility, and U.S. command of the commons.

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