Devising a project of climatological cultivation and control

We have now come full circle to where we started at the outset of this book: as we approach the second decade of the new millennium, climate engineering incrementally cemented its presence in US climate policy. By the end of 2009, Congress embarked on its formal inquiry into the issue, triggering the first peak in political attention to these controversial measures (see Fig. 2.1). In contrast to the early 2000s, this meant that climate engineering became established as an issue in its own right within the political realm. It continued its trajectory once again by shifting its status, evolving from a controversial techno-fix to a basic component of a national climate science policy agenda.

Part I of this book set the stage of our analysis in this context. It depicted the conflicted status of climate engineering during this important historical moment and thereby raised the guiding puzzle of this book. We saw, how, despite being framed as ‘a bad idea’1, climate engineering became programmatically assessed and was internalised into the federal infrastructure as a potential remedy against anthropogenic climate change during these years.

Building on the previous chapters, we can now return to this analytical starting point and address the puzzle raised here. Instead of explaining the controversial arrival of climate engineering on political agendas in 2009 with sheer urgency in the face of the daunting climate catastrophe – as a last resort or Plan B – we can make sense of how we got here by turning to the historically contingent science-state alliances, defining yet another chapter in the chequered career of these measures. With this frame of analysis, the apparently conflicted status of climate engineering can be understood as a kind of synthesis – one that reconciles two historically conflicting roles of climate science within the state. Framed as a ‘bad idea whose time has come’, climate engineering caters to visions of techno-scientific control over the climate all the while anticipating a critique of such measures. It builds on the promise of science as a tool for the state, all the while connecting to ‘green’ notions of environmental safeguarding. The contested status of climate engineering emerging in 2009 in this sense aligns the hopes for control that had shaped political interest in climate modification for the first half of the twentieth century, with the positions of climate scientists and environmental movements that questioned precisely these hopes for control during the second half of the twentieth century.

In this chapter, we will revisit and expand on the analysis provided in part I of the book. We will zoom into the science-state alliances that defined the career of climate engineering from the years leading up to the official inquiry into climate engineering in 2009 to around the end of the Obama administration in 2016. In doing so, we will contextualise the last resort narrative and see how science and politics came together during these years by formulating climate engineering as a project of climatological cultivation and control.

As in the previous chapter, we will begin by taking a brief glance at the political landscape of the time. We will turn to the incoming Obama administration as the defining political environment in which the career of climate engineering took shape during these years. For the remainder of the chapter, we then shift our gaze from the political environment to the experts and expertise that defined this stage in the career of climate engineering. We will explore the role of scientific expertise in devising this option of deliberately intervening in and controlling the Earth’s climate. We will see how natural and social scientific modes of observation have essentially assembled this project of climatological cultivation and control. The chapter then maps the corresponding expert infrastructure undergirding these expert modes of observation and introduces the experts and expert organisations that formulated this project of climatological cultivation and control.

Climate engineering becomes part of a national climate science policy agenda

The formal US political inquiry into climate engineering, beginning in November 2009, coincided with rather substantial political shifts in the United States. After eight years of a Republican government that was ‘officially sceptical’2 of climate change and opposed to regulating carbon emissions, the incoming Obama administration promised a change of direction. Even before the new administration took over the Oval Office in January 2009, policy change seemed imminent. Congressional hearings on environmental issues and climate change ‘virtually exploded’ two years earlier during the so-called Democratic wave of 2007, when Democratic majorities returned to both the Senate and the House of Representatives for the first time since 1995.3 And when John McCain and Barack Obama, two Senators who agreed on the urgency of the issue, were competing in the 2008 presidential campaign, bipartisan consensus and policy action on climate change appeared to many commentators at the time as ‘almost inevitable’.4 Domestic and international expectations for policy change and real action on climate change were high and many anticipated a potentially leading role for the United States in a newly concerted international effort to tackle this urgent issue.5

With the benefit of hindsight, however, the climate policy legacy of the Obama administration appears rather mixed.6 In the years that followed his inauguration, climate change regressed into the quintessential partisan issue – a development which would eventually reach its peak a couple of years later when Donald Trump was elected the 46th president of the United States.7 In their analysis of the Obama administration’s climate policy agenda, Graciela Kincaid and Timmons Roberts demonstrate that the topic of climate change lost political traction during Obama’s years in office and was instead replaced by references to energy issues or the environment in general.8 One reason for this was a somewhat forced fight for bipartisanship. As the Democrats lost control over Congress after Obama’s first two years as president, the administration had to foster bipartisanship on critical policy issues. In this fight for bipartisanship, the administration felt that climate change ‘needed some time off because it had gotten so tainted and polluted’.9 This increasing partisan contestation proved persistent and ongoing. By the time of the 2012 presidential debates, which would prepare Obama’s second term, there was no mention of the climate change issue at all for the first time since 1984.10 Fast forward another four years, and this dynamic further intensified. With the election of Donald Trump into the White House in 2016, the ambiguous status of the climate change issue escalated into outright denial of its existence. What followed since has been widely characterised as a full-fledged assault on climate science and even basic recognition of the urgency of this problem.

Against the backdrop of this dynamic political environment, we can now revisit and historically situate the emerging politics and contested status of climate engineering around 2009. Specifically, we can add another layer to the picture drawn in Part I of the analysis by turning to the status of climate science in politics that defined this particular historical setting in the career of climate engineering.

In contrast to the height of the Bush years, the political exploration of climate engineering followed a less blatantly techno-optimistic tone. On the surface, this produced a somewhat contradictory effect: the formal inquiry into climate engineering came with an openly critical assessment of its merit. Policymakers as well as invited expert witnesses appeared outright sceptical of climate engineering, as we saw in Part I of the analysis. Our glance at the political environment in which climate engineering took shape during these years suggests that this negative assessment of the proposed measures is not necessarily contradictory but might be explained as a response to a Democratic constituency that expected real action on climate change – that is, the mitigation of anthropogenic emissions and a respective change in behaviour.

Following this line of reasoning, climate engineering was rejected as a political project that might delay action on climate change. It was no longer explored as a controversial technological apparatus to control the Earth’s climate as technological weaponry at the hands of the state (see Chapter 5). Instead, climate engineering now became formulated as ‘just science’. Beginning already with the Democratic wave of 2007, climate engineering began to move from highly contested and politicised debates that we explored in the previous chapter to rather technical scientific debates. It became increasingly normalised as a basic component of a national climate science agenda – an agenda that would not only help to decipher, but also govern and cultivate the climate. An agenda, in other words, that saw climate science as a relevant governance tool.

In the years leading up to the 2009 official inquiry into climate engineering, this shift became particularly evident in the political exploration of ocean fertilisation measures (see also Chapter 5).11 Climate engineering was formulated here as part of a science policy agenda that sought to make climate science more relevant to the needs of political decision makers. Cast in this light, climate engineering hardly seemed to propose a politically controversial or radically new approach, but rather appeared as the next logical step in developing a comprehensive national climate science agenda.

In May 2008, for example, the Democratic-controlled Senate suggested a comprehensive assessment of ocean fertilisation measures as part of a proposed bill that was meant to update the national global climate change program of the United States. Although it was never enacted, the so-called Global Change Research Improvement Act of 2007 sought to improve the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) from 1990. This was a program that for the first time had set out to coordinate climate change research across federal agencies in the United States, as we saw in Chapter 4. The goal of this improvement was to foster federal research capacities that would ‘produce information’ that could ‘better meet […] the expressed needs of decision-makers’.12

Climate engineering became formulated in this context as part of a climate science agenda that sought to develop climate science as a central ‘information-base’ or ‘decision-making tool’ for political decision-makers. These political decision-makers were addressed here as ‘resource managers [that] require accurate, relevant, timely, and user-friendly data on climate change […]’.13 Climate science, in other words, was envisioned as critical governance knowledge; it appeared as providing a perspective that would ‘assist the Nation and the world to better understand, assess, predict, mitigate, and adapt to the effects of human-induced and natural processes of global change’.14 The scientific deciphering of climate change promised its political manageability.

At the heart of this document thus laid the call for a better scientific understanding of climate change as a distinctly national-political concern. And this included not only higher resolved observations, improved measuring, and monitoring of climate change, but also an assessment of ‘existing research, potential risks […], and the effectiveness’ of fertilising the oceans to counteract climate change.15 Chapters 1 and 2 furthermore suggested how between 2009 and 2011, policymakers began internalising climate engineering into the federal climate science infrastructure. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other scientific and independent agencies were being tasked with advancing climate engineering research, effectively integrating these approaches into the national climate science agenda. We have seen how climate engineering appeared here in the form of basic scientific challenges and became a direct policy concern.

To sum up, around 2009, climate engineering became part of a climate science agenda that envisioned climate change as a project of cultivation by human rationality, ingenuity, and reason.16 As we will explore in more detail in the following sections, these measures became established and institutionalised as a means to decipher, cultivate, and control the climate.

When we brighten the clouds, we see that the planet cools: Expert modes of observation

Wind-driven spray vessels will sail back and forth perpendicular to the local prevailing wind and release micron sized drops of seawater into the turbulent boundary layer beneath marine stratocumulus clouds. The combination of wind and vessel movements will treat a large area of sky. When residues left after drop evaporation reach cloud level they will provide many new cloud condensation nuclei giving more but smaller drops and so will increase the cloud albedo to reflect solar energy back out to space.

Salter et al. 2007, qtd. by Lee Lane, testifying before the House Science Committee17

In the following, we turn to the kinds of expertise that made the project of climatological cultivation and control politically ‘legible’.18 We will unpack the expert modes of observation which the political record on climate engineering, the congressional debate and political internalisation of this issue, rested on.19 In doing so, we will see how two such modes of observation established this project of engineering the climate in the political sphere – namely, climate models and so-called natural analogies. These two modes of observation effectively assembled the abstract notion of climate engineering into a potential technology; they realised climate engineering as a set of interventions that are technically working. And they generated strikingly specific and concrete observations regarding the effects of deploying such interventions.

Climate models, to begin with, have not only been paramount to scientific endeavours to understand and predict climate change, but they also provided the essential grounds for the political problematisation of this issue for at least half a century.20 The policy documents examined in this book suggest how the expansion of modelling efforts have become a national strategic matter, answering to ‘emerging national needs’ such as the building up of national resilience and adaptation capacities against potentially catastrophic climate change.21 To use a concept by Bentley Allan, climate models have provided an essential device to ‘translate’ the issue of climate change ‘into a portable, global object’ which could be communicated and problematised in various societal contexts.22 Climate models in this sense serve to abstract; they transform the tremendously complex and multi-layered phenomenon of a changing climate into an observable process. They provide formalised transcriptions which isolate distinct properties of this multi-facetted phenomenon.23 In this capacity, climate models have proved critical in furnishing observations of a changing climate with hopes of its deliberate intervention and control. In such models, a changing climate not only becomes observable, but it appears as a set of deciphered causal connections, accessible to deliberate manipulation and control.

Climate models have therefore come to provide the core epistemological ground for examining climate engineering – and especially solar radiation management – as a potential approach to counteracting climate change. They appear as an essential political decision-support tool in this context.24 Prominent examples such as the Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP) or the Carbon Dioxide Removal Model Intercomparison Project (CDRMIP) demonstrate how, over the years, rather isolated modelling studies grew into increasingly complex and internationally coordinated simulations including multiple models.25

Alongside models, so-called natural analogues have provided an essential expert mode of observing and assessing climate engineering. In contrast to climate models, these natural analogues are expert observations that compare climate engineering measures to ‘naturally occurring’ phenomena.26 In the context of solar geoengineering, these analogues are typically volcanic eruptions – Mt. Tambora27, Mt. Kasatochi28, Mt. El Chicón29, and most prominently, the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. Over the years, the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo has reached symbolic status in terms of suggesting how solar radiation management would work.30 Carbon dioxide removal measures, on the other hand, have been compared to trees and other ‘natural’ processes of carbon sequestration.31

By zooming into some of the expert testimonies on climate engineering, we will unpack how both modes of observations – climate models and natural analogues – essentially served to assemble an abstract techno-scientific concept into a concrete piece of applicable technology. This means that even though most of the discussed climate engineering approaches may not have existed as pieces of material hardware at the time of these assessments, these modes of observation have served as a kind of expertise that effectively envisioned these technologies within the political process, making them accessible to political decision-making. These modes of observation, in other words, served to create a vision of the ‘global thermostat’ that climate engineering promises to provide.32

Establishing a technology that works

Climate models and natural analogues first served to establish causal closure in the congressional exploration of climate engineering. This means these modes of observation have served as empirical evidence that climate engineering – and especially solar radiation management – technically works:

[…] both observations of the response of climate to large explosive volcanic eruptions […] and all modelling studies conducted so far […] show that with sufficient stratospheric sulfate aerosol loading, backscattered insolation will cool Earth.33

Climate models and natural analogues thus effectively translate the complex issue of anthropogenic climate change into distinct climatological mechanisms. And by isolating these mechanisms, the issue of climate change appears as amenable to targeted intervention and control. The multifaceted societal roots of the problem, the economic structures and industrial processes, as well as its diverse consequences, are all boiled down to a set of climatological mechanisms.

Natural analogues have primarily served as a ‘natural’ ‘proof of concept’ in this context.34 They have served to translate the otherwise abstract notion of climate engineering into something that already happens ‘naturally’. In these observations, solar radiation management, for example, becomes ‘[…] the identical process that happens when volcanoes erupt and they cause cooling’.35 By translating the abstract into such ‘naturally occurring’ phenomena, natural analogues establish climate engineering as both harmless and plausibly effective. In this mode of observation, climate engineering emerges as ‘working’ for everyone to see.36 One of the expert witnesses, for example, explained to Congress that

There are questions about how good a short-term eruption is as an analogue for a continuous injection of material into the stratosphere. Nevertheless, the natural experiment of volcanic eruptions gives us confidence that the approach will basically work, and while there might be negative consequences, the world will not come instantly to an end, and that after stopping a short-term deployment, the world is likely to return to its previous trajectory within years.37

Drawing from analogous observations, experts suggested that ‘we know this [climate engineering] basically works’.38 The epistemic authority of analogous observations was presented as greater and more conclusive than the effectiveness of mitigation efforts:

[…] because these techniques mimic natural phenomena, we know more about how quickly and well they work than we do about the efficacy of attempting to reduce greenhouse gases. We have measured the effects of the natural processes and can state with considerable certainty, bordering on complete certainty, that they will produce the result sought. 39

Natural analogues furthermore serve to suggest the possibility of enhancing nature in this context. Climate engineering appears not only as mimicking ‘natural’ cause and effect mechanisms; it is devised as optimising these mechanisms, it appears as ‘optimised nature’:

The sulfur-containing particles thrown out by eruptions are probably less than optimal. It appears reasonable to believe, however, that humans could improve on nature substantially by refining the type of particles used and minimizing other possible environmental side effects with a little research and development.40

This suggestion to ‘enhance’ nature was also applied to carbon removal approaches:

Left to its own devices, nature will take on the order of a hundred thousand years to reabsorb and fixate the excess carbon that human activities have mobilized and injected into the atmosphere. The purpose of mineral sequestration in managing anthropogenic carbon is to accelerate these natural processes to the point that they can keep up with human carbon dioxide releases.41

Modelling observations complement these ‘natural’ proofs of concept by suggesting the possibility of targeted application. Simulating a targeted climate intervention implies not only being able to identify and isolate the relevant physical mechanisms for climatic change, but it implies being able to purposefully reproduce these mechanisms. Climate models, in this sense, are essential to this project of climatological intervention and control. They make the concept of climate engineering into a ‘technology’ in the sense that they not only suggest understanding, but also the possibility of control.42

Experimenting with an engineered climate

Secondly, climate models and natural analogues serve to provide seemingly controlled empirical observations regarding the hypothetical deployment of climate engineering. While natural analogies serve as ‘natural experiments’, climate models are mobilised as theoretical ones.43 Both modes of observation allow trials without actually deploying the technology; they provide a virtual testing ground for a technological concept that remains ‘too dangerous, too expensive, or perhaps impossible to perform with the real thing’, to use Schneider’s words.44

In fact, following these expert observations, models and volcanoes become ‘the real thing’. There is no meaningful epistemological difference in the way that these observations are mobilised: ‘[I]n climate models when we brighten the clouds, we see that the planet cools. When we inject an aerosol like volcanoes do, we see that the planet cools’.45

Climate models and natural analogues thus make the hypothetical application of climate engineering accessible to strikingly concrete and specific empirical observations. In these observations, climate engineering becomes evident not only in its basic climatological mechanisms, but even in its future consequences. Drawing from these modes of observation, experts suggest specific insights into the consequences, side effects, and potential risks of a future climate engineering deployment. The risk of draught or acid rain46 becomes as observable as a sudden cessation of a SRM scheme47, its potential impacts on the Indian monsoon, on droughts in Africa, or on the oceanic biosphere:48

There are also undesirable things that happen. We see that even though we might make the average temperature of the planet about right, the rainfall patterns would change some from today, and some places become warmer and some places become cooler.49

Climate models in this context allow observations of a hypothetical climate engineering deployment. Models, for example, seem to make the experimental replication of a Mt. Pinatubo eruption every other year precisely observable:50

While the aerosols are located above the poles, they would shield the sea ice to keep the poles cooler in summer, and then allow the aerosols to disappear during winter when there is no sunlight at the poles anyway. Robock (2009) has shown that the particles actually spread and produce a cooling beyond the Polar Regions.51

Following this line of reasoning, one expert implied that his experiments suggested

[…] that clouds injected into the Arctic stratosphere would be blown by winds into the mid-latitudes and would affect the Asian summer monsoon. Observations from all the large high latitude volcanic eruptions of the past 1500 years, Eldgjá in 939, Laid in 1783, and Katmai in 1912, support those results.52

These observations very much illustrate the ‘uneasy epistemic space’ of models, as described already in the 1990s by Sergio Sismondo.53 Models cross the boundaries of measuring device and data, of theory and experiment. Models, in this sense, work as analogues. They are ‘[…] studied in the way that natural systems might be:’54 their insights are mobilised as quasi-empirical.

A note on interdisciplinarity

This particular formulation of climate engineering as a project of climatological cultivation and control is thus not only built on detailed and precise climatological observations, but importantly, it also perpetuated the need for them. As the politics of climate engineering directly translated into basic challenges in the atmospheric sciences, the political capacity to decide and act on climate change seemed to directly rest on better modelling and measuring capacities.55 Such modelling and measuring capacities were not only seen as essential for exploring technological viability,56 but also for crafting sensible governance and providing monitoring and management capacities.57 The emerging politics of climate engineering in this sense entailed addressing ‘the holy grail’ of climate science – that is, ‘using present observations to predict future climate states’ or ‘the science of fingerprinting’.58

This prominence of climatological expertise and the respective modes of observations, however, should not imply a lack of social scientific expertise in these politics of climate engineering. In fact, assembling this project of climatological cultivation and control essentially rested on social scientific and ethical expertise.

This is maybe most clearly displayed in the prominent role of economic expertise throughout the career of climate engineering. Economic expertise has played a critical role in assessing the potential of climate engineering as a policy tool throughout the years, as we have seen in previous chapters. It has provided one of the most prominent sources of expert advice and is a critical mode of evaluating, comparing, judging, and deciding on the merit of these measures as a potential policy approach to tackling climate change. Reference to ‘cost’ has served as a critical mode of both promoting and contesting climate engineering measures in this context (see also Chapters 1, 3 and 5).59 Experts argued, for example, that ‘the only reason that we are considering doing geoengineering […] is because the consequences of not doing anything might be more costly’60. Or they explained, ‘it makes sense for us as American taxpayers to invest some of our hard-earned dollars in exploring ways to cost-effectively reduce the environmental threats that are facing us’61. Such observations effectively devised the issue of climate change as a challenge of ‘cost-effective risk management’.62 With the official inquiry into climate engineering, economic observations began providing a central mode of elaborating on and differentiating the distinct challenges that climate engineering would entail.

In Chapter 1 we saw that experts deemed cost as particularly relevant in assessing the political viability of carbon dioxide removal methods, even arguing that ‘cost is likely to be the primary consideration governing deployment’ of these approaches.63 But also for solar radiation management approaches, uncertainty in future costs appeared as a core challenge. ‘Cost’ in this context concerned monitoring expenses and liability issues, but also ‘social costs’ such as risks or ‘the cost of public opinion’.64 Game-theoretical perspectives that have grown increasingly prominent within climate policy beginning in the 1990s, served to compare conventional mitigation measures with the techno-scientific ‘making’ of climate in this case of solar radiation management. Risk of free-riding or suboptimal coordination of behaviour, on the one hand, was confronted with substantial and unpredictable technological risks as well as the danger of unilateral action with global consequences, on the other. The figure of a ‘rogue state’ also played a critical role in this context.

Apart from these economic observations, experts and policymakers continuously emphasised the need for regulatory, ethical, and political or social scientific expertise more generally: ‘it is important to acknowledge that climate engineering carries with it […] ethical and political concerns’65 or that ‘the legal, governmental, socio-political and ethical issues may ultimately be greater challenges to deployment’.66 Yet, this continuous emphasis on the need for interdisciplinarity hardly meant that policymakers invited a diversity of critical, competing, or challenging perspectives. Instead, social scientific, economic, and ethical observations largely followed climatological observations (and not the other way around). In other words, this social scientific expertise served as accompanying research – as essential expertise to advance and realise this project of climatological cultivation and control.67

In the accounts of the experts, such social scientific expertise would be essential, for example, for deciding ‘whose hand would be on the thermostat’68 or ‘what temperature [...] we want the planet to be’. For example, ‘do we want it to stay constant? Do we want it to be at 1980 levels, do we want it at 1880 levels’? and ‘who decides? What if Russia and Canada want it a little bit warmer and India wants it a little bit cooler’?69 Such questions hardly confront, but rather reinforce and give shape to this notion of an engineered and technologically controlled climate. They confine the scope of ethical, normative, and social scientific concerns to the question of governing the already assembled global thermostat.

This escorting or accompanying role of social scientific and ethical perspectives is also suggested in the common reference to ‘public engagement strategies’ as a meaningful remedy to tackling normative concerns regarding climate engineering.70 One expert witness, for example, argued that ‘we need to find a way to engage the opinions of a very diverse group of people on the planet so that this can be done in an orderly and acceptable manner’.71 What ‘this’ is seems already clear and predetermined.

Social scientific modes of observation thus have not systematically challenged the very notion of targeted climate intervention, but rather served to elaborate and differentiate its pursuit.72 By qualifying regulatory, governance, and legal challenges in the development and deployment of targeted climate intervention, they, too, have proved essential in advancing this project of climatological cultivation and control.

To sum up, these observations substantiate what the first part of this book could only hint at, namely that science and politics is not only coupled via organisations and experts, but also via relevant expertise. These expert observations illustrate how the political ‘career’ of climate engineering is directly bound to processes of scientific knowledge production. The trajectory of this concept as a policy measure is coupled with observational and measuring devices; it is linked to scientific modes of observing and making sense of climate change. This outlook suggests that the consequences of climate engineering research hardly amount to environmental impacts. We should pay attention to these modes of observation for gaining a more differentiated understanding of how research shapes future technologies and defines likely trajectories. While it is obviously crucial to anticipate potentially harmful environmental side effects of climate engineering field studies, this should not curtail a more comprehensive understanding of the various dimensions in which climate engineering research matters societally.

Unpacking the expert infrastructure

As we have seen throughout the previous chapters, climate engineering did not (re)gain political traction around 2009 simply because experts or policymakers placed it on the agenda. Instead, the emergence of this new governance object, the ‘politicisation’ of climate change as an issue of climatological cultivation and control, followed a complex translation process in which the political system internalised perspectives and expert modes of observations from its societal environment. Against this backdrop, I want to suggest that the political selection of expertise is a critical part of the above-mentioned translation process. To quote Reiner Grundmann, expertise is always delivered ‘at the request of someone else’.73 In this final section of the chapter, we will revisit the two arenas in which climate engineering materialised in US politics around 2009 and unpack how scientific expertise precisely connects to politics here. We will turn to the climate engineering expert infrastructure, i.e. the routes and channels that the political system established to ‘request’ expertise – that is, to internalise, consider, and quite literally, hear scientific experts.

Staged advice: Scientists as political spokespeople?

In Chapter 2, we saw how scientific expertise has come to shape the emerging politics of climate engineering by being invited to do so. The political system has established a number of different channels that effectively guide the selection and flow of external expertise into the political system in this context. Policymakers have invited experts to testify before Congress; they have requested experts to inform the legislative assessments and federal inventory and they have commissioned scientific assessments. Table 7.1 provides an overview of all experts that were invited to provide advice on climate engineering in the context of establishing an ‘official record’ on the issue between 2009 and 2017.

I have suggested that this invited expertise serves as a kind of ‘staged advice’ (see Chapter 2). Now we can further unpack the role and status of this ‘staged advice’ as a particular component of the climate engineering expert infrastructure and as a distinct setting in which scientific expertise shapes politics.

The notion of ‘staged advice’ seeks to emphasise the double-sided character of this particular form of advice. On the one hand, the congressional inquiry, as well as the scientific assessments, represent critical nodes of linking scientific observations to political observations. Table 7.1 suggests that both formats have provided critical mechanisms to channel expertise from academic research contexts to the political realm. On the other hand, scientific expertise connects to policy making in this arena of staged advice precisely by reinforcing a clear boundary between science and politics. Science studies scholarship has suggested that this, in fact, is a key dimension in the provision of scientific advice in general: trust in expert judgement is precisely generated by suggesting a clear divorce between the evidence base that scientific expertise provides, on the one hand, and the decision that policymakers take, on the other.74 The advisory process then becomes an arena of boundary-work between science and politics.

Table 7.1 Staged Advice (2009–2017). Overview of experts who have been invited to inform the establishment of an ‘official record’ on climate engineering in US climate policy between 2009 and 2017 (see Table 3.1) in at least two different contexts. The experts are ranked according to the frequency of their appearance.

The so-invited experts occupy a particularly prominent role in the emerging politics of climate engineering. Be it via congressional testimonies, commissioned reports, or scientific assessments, these experts are invited to co-define the stakes of the issue and set the terms of the debate. In particular, the congressional experts who are invited to testify and inform the legislative assessments appear as highly visible. They have shaped the emerging politics of climate engineering by quite literally ‘speaking’ to politics. In this speaking capacity, they essentially also shape the second arena (as suggested in Chapter 2) because by co-defining the stakes of the debate over climate engineering and determining the technicalities and feasibility of the issue at hand, these congressional experts essentially guide the political inventory and structure the political internalisation of climate engineering into the federal bureaucracy. And what is more, in their capacity to assemble climate engineering as an epistemic object, they also serve as a kind of gatekeeper for determining relevant expertise. By adding papers or position statements to the record or otherwise referencing expert observations, these congressional experts effectively decide which kinds of evidence are relevant for the issue at stake.

In the following, we will take a closer look at who gets to speak in this arena of staged advice. To do so, we will distinguish between the selection of experts via scientific assessments and via the congressional inquiry.

Selection of experts via scientific assessments

In the case of scientific assessment reports, science connects to politics through particular organisational procedures. Scientific assessment reports are usually the product of a highly formalised, almost ritualistic process which seeks to make sure that scientific insights can be harnessed for national needs all the while safeguarding the integrity of the scientific process.75 Accordingly, the scientific assessments on climate engineering have been generated by a rather big pool of different expert voices. Table 7.1 suggests that there is only one scientist who informed both of the featured assessment reports. The remaining experts contributed to just one of the here considered publications. This picture generally attests to a rather impersonal selection procedure.

Gupta and Möller argue that these scientific assessments ‘leverage and reflect the scientific eminence associated with the institutional context from which they emerge, which serves to endow them with epistemic authority and legitimacy […]’.76 National scientific academies provide one particularly important institutional context in this regard. These academies essentially pool scientific expertise that is generated by a decentralised national scientific system of universities and research institutes. The mission of the US National Academy of Sciences, for example, has been

to improve government decision making and public policy, increase public understanding, and promote the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in matters involving science, engineering, technology, and health.77

Sponsors, such as the federal government, can request studies on subjects they wish to be informed on.78 The Academy’s board members then suggest pertinent experts for the compilation of the assessment reports. While the production process of these reports is somewhat similar to scientific publications, such as peer-reviewed papers or monographs, the goal of the respective study is usually clearer than would be the case in academic research or in the writing process. This predetermined goal and the distinct scope of the study are defined by both the report’s sponsor and the Academies’ board. They are formally determined in a ‘statement of task’.79

In the case of the Royal Society, the British counterpart to the National Academies, the connection to the policy process is less directly pronounced with a more general emphasis on scientific ‘excellence’ and its benefit for humanity. Dating back to the 1660s, the Royal Society of London is the oldest national academy of science ‘in continuous existence’ in the world.80 Its mission is ‘to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity’.81 In addressing the highly contested suggestion of climate engineering, the Society’s self-proclaimed aim was to present an ‘authoritative’ assessment, and indeed, the report left an irrefutable mark on the emerging debate over climate engineering, especially in advancing the ‘Plan B’ narrative.82

Finally, in the world of climate policy making, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) takes up a particularly prominent place in providing scientific assessments. In contrast to both the US National Academies and the Royal Society, the IPCC is set up as an international, representative parliamentary body. This formal integration of political representation and scientific assessment has helped the organisation to prominence within science and science-policy studies; it has provided social scientific research with a textbook example of a ‘boundary organisation’.83 The IPCC’s so-called Summaries for Policy Makers (SPMs) have been dubbed ‘the frontline of negotiations between climate science and climate policy’ in this sense.84 The organisation is, as Spencer Weart put it, ‘neither a strictly scientific nor a strictly political body, but a unique hybrid’.85 And what is more, in contrast to the National Academies, the IPCC is a specialist organisation, focusing specifically on the issue of anthropogenic climate change.

Selection of experts via the congressional inquiry

In contrast to the scientific assessments, the focus of the kind of advice that is provided upon congressional inquiry is more directly policy oriented. Congressional inquiries, including hearings as well as legislative assessments, provide a critical political platform to establish newly emerging topics, as we have seen in Chapter 2: they are an arena of ‘purposive’ communication as we saw earlier.86

Hearings and legislative reports are forms of expert advice which are set up within the legislative branch, primarily catering to the needs of Congress. They provide the opportunity to invite pertinent experts from beyond the federal bureaucracy to determine critical evidence on issues of policy concern. It is the policymakers who get to select witnesses or task congressional research agencies with the provision of advice. The selection of expert witnesses is therefore a highly strategic undertaking which primarily furthers particular political goals.87 Expert testimonies thus can be understood as politically mediated expert observations. They appear as a kind of ‘ideologically and politically reliable’ kind of expertise, according to Sabine Maasen and Peter Weingart.88

Similarly, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) or the Government Accountability Office (GAO) are congressional support bodies which provide information and research needs directly to Congress. The Research Service dates to an initiative from 1914, which was driven by progressive-era ideals, emphasising the relevance of the ‘acquisition of knowledge for an informed and independent legislature’.89 The initiative first led to the establishment of a Legislative Reference Service, which was then turned into the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in 1970. Both the Government Accountability Office and the Research Service are research support agencies, and as such, are established to provide nonpartisan and objective expertise. CRS in this sense institutionalises a clear division between evidence base and policy making. According to CRS itself, the agency

makes no legislative or other policy recommendations to Congress; its responsibility is to ensure that Members of the House and Senate have available the best possible information and analysis on which to base the policy decisions the American people have elected them to make.90

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) in contrast specialises more specifically on government oversight and auditing services for Congress.91 It provides Congress with reports and analyses of activities within the executive branch.

If we take a closer look at the invited experts that the congressional inquiry on climate engineering has rested on, it is the decided focus on scientists that sticks out. Table 7.1 suggests that it is primarily scientists – and academic scientists at that – who have most prominently been selected as congressional experts on the issue of climate engineering. Roughly half the experts who have been selected to inform the congressional inquiry have also contributed to one of the examined scientific assessment reports. This is also reinforced by GAO’s declaration that the agency selected relevant experts based on their ‘participation on a geoengineering panel, the number of articles authored in peer-reviewed literature, and recommendations from other experts’.92 With regards to their institutional background, the congressional experts who have been selected to inform an official political record on climate engineering thus stand in stark contrast to those expert witnesses who brought the issue onto the congressional agenda before this official inquiry. As we have seen in Chapter 5, these ‘masked agenda setters’ primarily came from think tanks instead of universities and research institutes.

This decided focus on scientific (and even academic) selection criteria seems remarkable if we consider the fact that the experts were invited to inform a policy agenda on climate engineering and not a scientific argument. This means that scientific experts appear here to not merely speak on the science; they are invited to define political stakes, envision feasible futures and ‘to decide public meanings’.93 The apparent lack of alternative perspectives or competing forms of invited expert voices suggests that, in this case of climate engineering, policymakers see scientists as the respectively crucial experts, as the fact bearers, and as the critical ‘problem solvers’.94 These congressional experts become politically relevant for the issue at hand precisely in their role as prominent researchers. This means that they claim epistemic authority on climate engineering in both science and politics; they connect scientific with political visibility.

The literature further complements this picture, adding another realm to the epistemic authority of these scientific experts – namely the media. Holly Buck, for example, found that between 1990 and 2010, ‘36 per cent of assertions made in the media’ about climate engineering were presented by only nine scientists.95 And seven of those nine scientists have also been invited to inform the congressional inquiry on climate engineering. These findings thus emphasise just how small the world of climate engineering was in the early 2000s.96 Eli Kintisch had coined the term ‘geoclique’ for these experts to stress that the issue of climate engineering – its research, presentation in the media, and assessment in politics – was essentially defined by a small group of individuals. The congressionally selected experts thus occupy a particularly prominent and powerful position. Not only are they structuring and informing the US political inquiry into climate engineering, but they also shape the scientific debate and the discussion on the issue in the media.

Against this backdrop, we can revisit Ann Keller’s observation that ‘there are strong disincentives for academic scientists to testify before Congress’, mainly because of the risk of being perceived as politically biased.97 The selection of expert witnesses who took the stage in this arena of ‘staged advice’ paints a different picture. It suggests that scientists are able to reinforce their epistemic authority precisely by formulating distinct policy issues in scientific terms. Even academic scientists might effectively utilise congressional hearings to advance the relevance of their research in defining or addressing societal challenges and potential response measures.98 We can observe a similar dynamic in the early politicisation of climate change and biodiversity loss (see Chapter 4).99 There is hardly any account of the politicisation of climate change that does not build on the driving role of either individual experts, groups, or networks of scientists – ‘non-sinister conspiracies’, ‘rainforest mafias’, ‘geocliques’ – that pushed the issue into the political realm. Scientists appear in these cases as spokespeople, bringing issues from science to the attention of politics.

This, in turn, raises a question for future research: namely, how emerging political agendas might influence inner scientific differentiation. How, in other words, does reference to political agendas structure the scientific selection of research topics or the formulation of emerging research programs? Many of the relevant climate engineering experts, for example, emphasise that they have initially worked on the issue of climate engineering in their ‘spare time’.

To sum up, ‘staged advice’ provides an expert setting which channels scientific expertise from academic research contexts into the political system. Although the two channels of scientific assessments and congressional inquiry do in fact entail a respectively different selection of experts, both have effectively selected and invited primarily academic scientists to establish an official record on climate engineering. The experts that take stage in this arena of staged advice can claim political visibility precisely based on their scientific, even academic credentials. Their political authority in co-defining the stakes of climate engineering rests on their scientific authority.

Science for national needs

Beyond this publicly orchestrated layer of staged advice, we have seen that scientific expertise came to shape the emerging politics of climate engineering from within the federal bureaucracy. Acronyms such as NASA, NOAA, EPA, NCAR, NSF, but also DOE, USDA, DOD, DOS or USGS provide central nodes via which the political system began internalising climate engineering into the federal bureaucracy (as we have seen in Chapter 2).100 Specifically, these acronyms stand for scientific and regulatory bodies within the federal bureaucracy. They institutionalise original research capacities within the state, both within particular departments and via independent agencies. This means that scientific expertise connects to the political realm in this context not by being externally invited to provide scientific advice, but by internalising the research capacities themselves.

These agencies, then, can be understood as the targeted and formal organisation of ‘science for national needs’.101 They essentially gear research capacities (more or less formally) to the national strategic goals of the federal government. Their research programs are aligned to political priorities, for example, via funding structures, such as executive and congressional budget decisions, or via organisational and inter-agency program missions. The specific scope and overall direction of their research is thus subject to congressional politics and executive budget decisions.

These agencies became relevant in a notably different capacity than the invited experts who provided what I have called, ‘staged advice’.102 Instead of shaping the emerging politics of climate engineering by actively framing the debate and official record on the issue, these expert agencies seem subject to political efforts to steer the development of climate engineering expert capacities. These agencies were tasked with addressing the technicalities established by the official record as the recipients of federal funds, charged with advancing research on the issue, or with devising a regulatory infrastructure. These agencies thus reflect how politics has structurally internalised climate engineering; they suggest how politics has translated and adopted this issue and made it legible to national strategic concerns.

In the following, we will take a closer look at how precisely these expert agencies have articulated and given concrete shape to this notion of engineering the climate within the United States. I focus here on five agencies: the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Energy.

The National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF), to begin with, is the US government’s central agency for supporting basic research. In contrast to the other agencies that we will turn to in the following, NSF has advanced climate engineering research by providing grants, not by hosting in-house research or governing particular measures. Climate engineering thus appears in this context as an emerging topic of research. NSF was seen to play a critical role in advancing both social scientific, as well as natural scientific research on climate engineering. According to the Science Committee, the agency has essential expertise for guiding questions into ‘domestic and international governance, economics, and risk assessment and management’, as well as ‘ethical considerations’.103 Experts and policymakers therefore agreed that, on the one hand, NSF should contribute to ‘informing public engagement strategies’ around climate engineering.104 On the other hand, based on its observational and modelling expertise, the Science Committee suggested that the agency should continue playing a leading role in supporting solar radiation management research.105 The agency has already funded critical modelling studies, for example, conducted by Alan Robock and others at Rutgers University.106

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a scientific agency within the Department of Commerce. Together with the Department of Energy, NOAA has been one of the most talked about, referenced, and prominent expert agencies within the US political exploration of climate engineering.107 The very idea of climate engineering crucially rests on the modes of observation that NOAA provides.

Through the lens of NOAA, anthropogenic climate change primarily emerges as an issue of ever more precise climatological observation and measurements. The agency makes this issue legible in the motion of particles, in air and ocean temperatures, in vegetation or atmospheric humidity. Since its inception in 1970, NOAA has specialised in precise observations and ‘impeccable measurements’ of these data points.108 The first report of what is now called NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division celebrated the historical importance of this mission. The authors argued that this report ‘has as its genesis the unknown observer of antiquity who, realising that an observation unrecorded was an observation lost, inscribed a record on stone or clay’.109 In the eyes of experts and policymakers alike, this climatological observational infrastructure and expertise made NOAA the logical home for any efforts to advance a coordinated agenda on climate engineering.110 The Science Committee, especially, highlighted NOAA’s ‘ground-truthing equipment and software’ in this context.111 This kind of observational expertise was deemed relevant to any approach that would involve ‘chemical inputs into the environment that would directly or indirectly impact ocean waters, e.g. stratospheric sulfate injections and ocean fertilization’.112

The organisational precursors of NOAA date all the way back to the very beginning of the United States of America. The agency was formed through the integration of ‘America’s first physical science agency, America’s first agency dedicated specifically to the atmospheric sciences, and America’s first conservation agency’.113 This namely includes the US Coast and Geodetic Survey (initiated in 1807 by President Thomas Jefferson), the Weather Bureau (founded in 1870), and the US Commission on Fish and Fisheries (established in 1871). To quote Zeke Baker once again, NOAA’s organisational history illustrates how the agency has persistently matched scientific challenges of precise climatological measurement to shifting political agendas over the years – from commercial and agricultural challenges to the challenge of the ozone hole, to global warming, to assessing the potential of fertilising the oceans or reducing incoming sunlight. NOAA’s history connects the project of climate engineering to a long line of different science-state configurations in which precise climatological observation became of direct political relevance. NOAA’s history thus suggests how intricately interwoven knowledge production and problem observation, or the ‘discovery’ and the tackling of climate change is.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) implies a comparable, yet different, institutional home for the pursuit of climate engineering. NASA’s mission had been grand from the very start.114 The agency was born in the midst of the Cold War, charged with rising to the challenge of ensuring global pre-eminence by means of science. The decision to create NASA was driven by the launch of Sputnik in October 1957. According to a former chief historian at NASA, ‘a country that aspired to global pre-eminence could not let that challenge pass’.115 In July 1958, President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act into law, formally establishing NASA. Apart from its more direct space-related remits, the final Space Act lists ‘the expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space’ as a core task of NASA.116

As in the case of NOAA, NASA’s critical role in providing policy-relevant climate change expertise, too, was articulated and institutionalised in the formation of the US Global Change Research Program and its predecessors. Both agencies work closely together in many respects yet follow a rather clear division of labour. For example, while NASA’s satellites provide extensive observational coverage, NOAA’s Earth-based observations provide precision where needed. While NASA focuses on experimentation and technology development, NOAA ensures operational continuity. It was the combination of these foci which made NASA relevant to political efforts in terms of developing climate engineering expert capacities. Like the case of NOAA, policymakers and experts agreed that the agency’s observational expertise and its airborne and satellite-based monitoring capacities would be critical not only for studying solar radiation management, but also for monitoring and managing any such scheme, once deployed and in place.117

Through the lens of NASA, tackling climate change not only emerges as a challenge to observational precision, but as a task of properly monitoring and managing particles. It also appears as a grand project of mind-boggling, techno-scientific innovation. Climate engineering came on NASA’s radar through its innovation-driven mission. The agency had explored ‘the practicality of using a solar shield in space to deflect sunlight and reduce global temperatures’ through its former independent Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC).118 NASA’s goal with NIAC was to foster ‘innovation that stretched the imagination of the technical community and encouraged revolutionary creativity’.119 The program was terminated in 2007. In contrast to NOAA, NASA thus represents a much more public relations-oriented national vision of technological innovation; its tasks, missions, and programs are selected very strategically. The fact that NASA has not committed to pushing climate engineering more publicly might thus be read as suggesting just how controversial the issue remains until today.

The Environmental Protection Agency

In contrast to both NOAA and NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) became relevant to the emerging politics of climate engineering via its regulatory and governance capacity. Tackling climate change appears here as an issue of environmental safeguarding. The agency had been established by President Nixon together with NOAA in 1970 in an effort to respond to rising pressure from a growing environmental movement (see also Chapter 4).120

In the context of the climate engineering ‘inventory’ of 2009 and 2010, EPA appeared as one of the few agencies with expertise and authority to regulate and govern any emerging climate engineering activities.121 The House Science Committee therefore deemed the EPA as imperatively involved in the regulation of any testing or deployment of climate engineering activities. And indeed, EPA has already ‘initiated rulemakings to regulate certain geoengineering activities’.122 In 2010, for example, the agency established a rule that qualifies the technical requirements necessary for long-term capture and storage of CO2 in injection wells to ensure safe drinking water.123 And five years later, EPA put forth emission guidelines in the form of a Clean Power Plan,124 which was proposed to be established under the Clean Air Act.125 Paralleling the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which explicitly disqualified ocean fertilisation approaches as a legitimate form of carbon sequestration,126 the EPA explicitly ruled direct air capture (DAC) measures as a non-option for counteracting climate change. In its final rule on Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines, the EPA listed DAC technologies as an example ‘of measures that may not be counted toward meeting a CO2 emission performance level’.127

Through this lens of the EPA, tackling climate change becomes an issue of environmental safeguarding. As a potential response measure, climate engineering is thus observed and regulated according to its environmental impacts and its pollution and health hazards.

US Department for Energy

Finally, the US Department of Energy (DOE) emerged as a critical home for climate engineering within the federal bureaucracy, particularly in the context of carbon dioxide removal measures. The House Science Committee envisioned that the DOE ‘should lead any federal research program into air capture and non-traditional carbon sequestration’.128 As we have seen in Chapters 2 and 5, over the first two decades of this millennium, Congress tasked the department with ‘kickstarting’ carbon dioxide removal and especially direct air capture technology. Via the DOE, the political system sought to steer not only research, but technology development and commercialisation in a number of ways and formats – from research and development programs to cash prize initiatives and direct investments, to demonstration facilities. Apart from these energy-related climate engineering approaches, DOE has supported solar radiation management research through both its Sandia National Laboratories and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.129 The Congressional Research Service (CRS) pointed out that such a diverse involvement in climate engineering activities might lead to conflicts of interest along the way.130

The agency makes climate change politically legible as a technological issue to effective energy generation. Climate engineering – and especially Carbon Removal – appears as a critical answer to this issue. Through the lens of DOE, climate engineering is thus less the result of an agenda of better climatological understanding, of measuring, monitoring, and eventually managing climatological dynamics, as is the case for NOAA and NASA. In this case of DOE, climate engineering rather emerges in its engineering dimension. Over the years, the department politically internalised and institutionalised climate engineering as a critical building block of national ‘clean’ power generation and climate change technology development.131

To sum up, this section has anchored the emerging politics of climate engineering to what I suggested calling a corresponding expert infrastructure. It has shed light on the various expert settings via which science and politics came together in shaping the career of climate engineering in the United States and formulated this project of climatological cultivation and control. By illustrating these expert settings as critical components of the climate engineering expert infrastructure, the section qualified different forms in which scientific research and political agendas are reciprocally coupled. Not only do the congressional experts and expert agencies inform the political process, but conversely, it is also this political process that ‘makes’ these researchers, agencies, and departments into experts, consequently shaping research agendas in one way or another.

Returning to Grundmann’s point that expertise is always delivered ‘at the request of someone else’ 132, this section illustrated just how complex this notion of ‘request’ becomes empirically. We have seen how differently these expert voices connect to politics, that is, how differently scientific expertise becomes relevant to the political process. And we have seen how these expert voices point us to very different, even conflicting, timescales in the trajectory of climate engineering. Congress provides a relevant platform for the politicisation of issues by inviting scientific experts to set the agenda on controversial issues – such experts then formulate, qualify, and contest climate engineering as a legitimate policy measure. Federal agencies, in contrast, stabilise the generation of problem-relevant expertise within the state. As a result, climate engineering appears as a new and contested issue through the lens of congressional politics, while through the lens of federal agencies, climate engineering appears as merely another chapter in the much longer-standing history of the federal institutionalisation of climate relevant expertise (particularly in the form of the US Global Change Research Program). Both conflicting temporalities are relevant to an understanding of how this notion of climate engineering became ‘serious politics’. And the picture would get even more complicated if we systematically considered the scientific papers that have structured the techno-scientific struggles, described in Chapter 2. We cannot make sense of the interrelation of science and politics in climate engineering by merely studying the provision of expert advice on a supposedly new and controversial topic on the political agenda. Rather, this expert infrastructure suggests how the emergence of political issues and their respective response measures are bound up with the emergence of research agendas and expert perspectives.