and Justice (PhD)

Mirror, mirror: fairness and justice in climate geoengineering

My PhD, completed in 2017, explored the justice implications of climate geoengineering, raising serious concerns that the development of geoengineering in the current political setting would add to climate procrastination, and sustain wider social and economic injustice. 


Climate geoengineering seems an increasingly likely prospect as the gap between current mitigation action and that needed to avoid dangerous climate change remains substantial. Climate change raises fundamental questions of justice with respect to future generations, the poor and vulnerable in the contemporary world, and its relationship with processes of historically uneven development. The implications of geoengineering for prospects of justice in climate policy and politics are therefore critical. This thesis examines ways in which geoengineering might contribute to or undermine climate justice. It illustrates the co-productive, indeterminate, and inherently moral nature of technologies such as those proposed for geoengineering. It particularly highlights interactions between proposals for geoengineering and the politics and practice of climate mitigation and climate risk management, and explores some of the implications of different conceptions of fairness and justice and of different social and political imaginaries. The thesis locates this exploration of justice concerns in a case for a relational care-based imaginary of the future, rather than in (neo)liberal administrative, risk-managerial imaginaries based on autonomous subjects. It also defends a plural approach to justice rooted in environmental justice scholarship, arguing for the consistent inclusion of understandings of restorative and corrective justice alongside distributional, procedural and recognitional justice. 

The body of the thesis consists of five papers. Paper 1 locates the threat (and moral concern) of mitigation being deterred by climate engineering in a common but problematic definition of climate change as an issue of ‘climate risk’ rather than one of climate justice. Paper 2 suggests that even though climate engineering modellers sometimes broaden the understanding of the goals of climate policy to questions of distribution they tend to deploy a risk-analysis imaginary which imposes culturally, politically and ideologically narrow constructions of justice on the debate. Paper 3 finds that, in contrast, deliberative publics draw on a much broader set of justice concepts with regard to the uncertainties of climate change and geoengineering (including the prospects of mitigation deterrence). Paper 4 explores ways in which discourses of climate geoengineering are rooted in an administrative, risk-management social imaginary and support the maintenance of (neo)liberal capitalist economies through ‘post-political’ framings that increase the risk of mitigation deterrence. Paper 5 offers some alternative imaginaries through an examination of ethics of repair in potentially analogous arenas with relevant experience and debate. It illustrates how ethics of care, integrity and legibility, and the integration of restorative justice, would radically reframe ways of thinking about or practicing geoengineering. 

To indicate a pathway towards such a reconfiguration of imaginaries, the thesis proposes a new synthesis of approaches to justice as recognition that develops and further politicizes the account applied in environmental justice scholarship, transforming political subjectivity. In turn this underpins a conclusion that climate geoengineering, as currently proposed and framed, is inherently unjust and unfair, primarily because of the ways in which it could be expected to act to sustain neo-liberal administrative imaginaries and politics. In the worst case many existing injustices would be maintained and exacerbated, while the risk of actually catastrophic climate change increased.

The full text can be accessed at the Lancaster PhD Repository.

During the course of the PhD I presented the various papers, and summaries at many different conferences and events, including a Keynote on the ethics of Geoengineering at the SRM Science Conference in Cambridge in 2015. My text from that was published in the Guardian online. In the linked files below I provide the presentations (slides and scripts) from the AAG in 2015, and from the Environmental Justice in the Anthropocene conference at Colorado State University, where I presented the final and overall arguments as I was completing writing up.


Whose climate and whose ethics? Conceptions of justice in solar geoengineering modelling. Energy Research & Social Science 44 (2018) 209-221

In a broken world: towards an ethics of repair in the Anthropocene. Anthropocene Review 5:2 (2018) 136-154

Mitigation deterrence and the ‘moral hazard’. Earth’s Future 4(12): (2016): 596–602

Public Conceptions of Justice in Climate Engineering: Evidence from secondary analysis of public deliberation. Global Environmental Change 41 (2016):64-73 (with K. Parkhill, A. Corner, N. Vaughan & N. Pidgeon) 

‘Framing out justice: the post-politics of climate engineering discourses’. Chapter in C. Preston (ed) Climate justice and geoengineering: ethics and policy in the atmospheric Anthropocene. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

'Recognizing the injustice in geoengineering: Negotiating a path to restorative climate justice through a political account of justice as recognition'. Chapter in Sapinski, Buck and Malm (eds): Has It Come to This? The Promises and Perils of Geoengineering on the Brink, Rutgers University Press, 2020.

Where’s the justice in geoengineering. The Guardian online, March 14, 2015. Long-read on the problems of geoengineering.

Guns do kill people: reasons to worry about moral hazard in geoengineering - Feb 02, 2015 Guest post at the Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment

Linked Files