Conclusion to Part I

Around 2009, climate engineering gained policy traction as a ‘bad idea whose time has come’, as we have seen in Chapter 1.1 Instead of invoking positive visions of socio-technical innovation, it emerged as a controversial last resort option, a daunting Plan B that humanity must consider when facing the impending climate crisis. This conflicted status of climate engineering raises important questions for science and science policy scholarship: depending on where we stand, the question is either how these measures have earned a spot in policy agendas despite their enormous scientific complexities and fierce political contestation. Or the question is why these measures have only emerged as a last resort measure despite their much-reiterated promise to tackle one of the most pressing challenges of our time. By raising these questions, this book seeks to dissect this contested innovation process and to confront notions of choicelessness in dealing with this debate. Specifically, it retraces the ‘career’ of climate engineering as a product of historically grown science-politics interrelations. This book asks for the kinds of science-politics alliances that came to cast climate change as an engineering challenge and established the concept of technological climate intervention as the controversial policy measure that it is today.

In the first part of the book, we began this journey through the lens of politics. We saw how climate engineering began to materialise in the political realm in two distinct contexts. First, Chapter 2 illustrated how climate engineering became established as a political issue in its own right when experts and policymakers began producing an ‘official record’ on the topic around 2009. Climate engineering materialised here as subject to a kind of ‘staged advice’. Via congressional expert testimonies, legislative and scientific assessment reports, scientific experts essentially ‘assembled’ climate engineering as a potential policy measure.2 These records established climate engineering as matter of fact(s); they defined its status as a potential policy tool. As a result, these records essentially seem to de-politicise the emerging politics of climate engineering. Despite their political importance in determining the very stakes of the debate, climate engineering appears here in neat packages of relevant facts. These are apparently shielded from the future politics on this issue that merely loom over these accounts in the form of informed decisions that will follow somewhere down the line.

Secondly, Chapter 2 suggested how climate engineering became structurally internalised by the political system. Drawing on the ‘official record’ on the issue, climate engineering appeared as a category along which policymakers and scientific advisors ‘inventoried’ already existing expert capacities within and beyond the federal bureaucracy and respectively sought to steer their further development. Climate engineering in this context appeared as both already existing and entirely new: it provided a category that shed new light on a historically developed infrastructure of climate science expertise in the federal bureaucracy.

Making sense of the emerging politics of climate engineering is thus not merely a question of who or what managed to place a somehow predetermined issue on the political agenda. It is rather a question of how politics came to look at the issue of climate change in these terms of climatological intervention and control; how the state adopted this perspective; how it both cultivated and internalised this particular mode of observing, problematising, and tackling climate change. To quote Allan, making sense of the emerging politics of climate engineering requires considering how ‘the history of the governance object is bound up with the history of knowledge production in scientific disciplines and expert groups’.3 This first part of the book has set the stage for this endeavour, hinting at the complex interplay of science and politics in shaping this career of climate engineering. It has suggested how science comes to bear on politics, not primarily in an advisory role or as a robust and solid ground for political decision-making. Again, the politics of climate engineering cannot be merely boiled down to a discrete decision which needs expert guidance. Much more importantly, we have seen how the very notion of climate engineering essentially links various lines of scientific research to the political challenge of governing climate change. Climate engineering, in this sense, is neither simply a line of scientific research that has become politically relevant, nor is it simply a political project of control that has guided scientific research. Instead, climate engineering emerged precisely from the interrelation of science and politics. This suggests that in order to make sense of climate engineering as something new and controversial, we need to understand it as something historically contingent. That is, to reflect on how to move forward, we first must look back.