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  • 2017mclarenphd

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Mirror, mirror: fairness and justice in climate geoengineering

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2017
Number of pages242
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


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.