Stratospheric imperialism: The militarization of solar geoengineering

Authors: Kevin Surprise*, Mount Holyoke College
Topics: Political Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Social Theory
Keywords: Geoengineering, imperialism, militarization, climate, capitalism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Roosevelt 6, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Hitherto considered a reluctant “plan B” in the event of climatic emergency, solar geoengineering via Stratospheric Aerosol Injection (SAI) – injection of sulfur dioxide into the lower stratosphere to backscatter solar radiation – is now being discussed at the highest levels of climate policy. In the context of the militarization of climate change, SAI's capacity to deliberately change the climate is itself being militarized, in at least three registers. First, while nascent, there is a steady and coherent stream of interest in SAI emanating from the U.S. military and intelligence establishment, including CIA and DARPA funded research, SAI scenarios in “climate war games,” and reports from defense think tanks. Second, frameworks for SAI governance invariably draw from Realist conceptions of international relations, presupposing conflict, national interest, and geopolitical contestation as inherent in the research and deployment of the technology. Third, SAI fits within the “logics” of two key prongs of U.S. military strategy: it can enable preemptive intervention into the climate system to stem the climate “threat,” and potentially bolster the U.S. military’s “command of the commons” (raising questions around competing interests in the stratospheric commons, e.g. drones). In this context, I argue that – rather than a reluctant “emergency” measure – SAI would constitute an imperial strategy intended to expand the scope of capital accumulation in an otherwise finite climate system, and maintain (however temporarily) U.S. hegemony predicated on fossil fuel infrastructure and the imperial basing posture this enables. This analysis can inform strategies for resisting or appropriating SAI.

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