Climate intervention: Solar geoengineering, fractions of capital, and hegemonic strategy

Authors: Kevin Surprise*, Mount Holyoke College
Topics: Political Geography, Environment, Social Theory
Keywords: geoengineering, capitalism, billionaires, ecomodernism, humanitarianism
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 28
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores the solar geoengineering funding network in the United States. Early funding for solar geoengineering research was rooted in conservative, climate denying think tanks with ties to fossil fuel industry, but since 2010 the majority of funding originates from environmental philanthropies, billionaire philanthropists or their boutique foundations, all with strong ties to finance and technology capital. This shift in political-financial alignment in the solar geoengineering field can be explained by shifts in the capitalist power bloc between “fossil capital” and “climate capital.” The original inclination of fossil capital to support geoengineering research did not disappear (solar geoengineering will likely provide a boon to fossil capital). Rather, solar geoengineering research is responding to broader shifts in political economy as more power accrues to Silicon Valley. Alignment with “climate capital,” allows the solar geoengineering field to develop a “progressive” vision of cost efficiency, technological innovation, and humanitarianism that is steeped in the ideologies of ecomodernism and philanthrocapitalism. This “progressive” discourse has created the conditions for federal funding of geoengineering research, enabling allows the capitalist state to “intervene” in the climate crisis by intervening not in the core functions of the capitalist economy – which could pose a threat to capitalist class power – but in the climate system itself.

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