Geopolitics, geopower and geofutures: power and pathways in geoengineering governance

Authors: Duncan McLaren*, Lancaster Environment Centre, Olaf Corry, Department of Politics, University of Leeds
Topics: Political Geography, Global Change
Keywords: Geoengineering, geopower, geofutures, imaginaries
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


Co-produced conceptions of governance and knowledge about geoengineering are here explored as expressions of ‘geopower’– a new dimension of world politics oriented to governing and responding to Earth systems. We outline the construction and implications of competing world-making imaginaries (or geofutures) in which socio-material techniques, including geoengineering, are both constitutive of and tools to exercise ‘geopower’. We outline parallels and contrasts between geopower and Foucault’s biopower, highlighting the ways in which each rearticulates (and interacts with) sovereign and disciplinary power.

We consider how the exercise of biopower within and between liberal societies and institutions is shaping geofutures and the emergence of instruments and mechanisms of geopower in forms of globalised liberal governmentality. Empirically, we draw on interviews and deliberations with modellers, scientists, UN negotiators, civil society activists and security practitioners, comparing and contrasting their imaginaries of geoengineering governance with those emerging in institutional settings such as the Carnegie Climate Governance initiative, the National Academies of Science and the UN.

We highlight the current dominance of a rationalist, idealised geofuture shaped in part by academic, publishing, and disciplinary incentives, and examine the role of futures scenarios in shaping governance expectations and mechanisms. We find particular disjunctures between those imaginaries and scenarios rooted in an assumed negotiated world order, and those which envisage a fractious planetary order, fuelled by increasing competition and geopower dynamics against a backdrop of climate instability.

In conclusion we speculate on future developments in geopower and geopolitics, and offer some suggestions for the responsible governance of geoengineering research.

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