Skip to main content Accessibility help

The hidden injustices of advancing solar geoengineering research

  • Jennie C. Stephens (a1) and Kevin Surprise (a2)


Advancing solar geoengineering research is associated with multiple hidden injustices that are revealed by addressing three questions: Who is conducting and funding solar geoengineering research? How do those advocating for solar geoengineering research think about social justice and social change? How is this technology likely to be deployed? Navigating these questions reveals that solar geoengineering research is being advocated for by a small group of primarily white men at elite institutions in the Global North, funded largely by billionaires or their philanthropic arms, who are increasingly adopting militarized approaches and logics. Solar geoengineering research advances an extreme, expert–elite technocratic intervention into the global climate system that would serve to further concentrate contemporary forms of political and economic power. For these reasons, we argue that it is unethical and unjust to advance solar geoengineering research.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      The hidden injustices of advancing solar geoengineering research
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      The hidden injustices of advancing solar geoengineering research
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      The hidden injustices of advancing solar geoengineering research
      Available formats


This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the same Creative Commons licence is included and the original work is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use.

Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Prof Jennie C. Stephens, E-Mail:


Hide All
Agamben, G. (2005). State of Exception. University of Chicago Press.
Aronoff, K., Battistoni, A., Cohen, D. A. & Riofrancos, T. (2019). A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal. Verso.
Banerjee, S. B. (2003). Who sustains whose development? Sustainable development and the reinvention of nature. Organization Studies, 24(1), 143180.
Belcher, O., Bigger, P., Neimark, B. & Kennelly, C. (2019). Hidden carbon costs of the ‘everywhere war’: logistics, geopolitical ecology, and the carbon boot-print of the US military. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 2019, 116.
Biermann, F. & Möller, I. (2019). Rich man's solution? Climate engineering discourses and the marginalization of the Global South. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 19(2), 151167.
Bozuwa, J. (2018). Public Ownership for Energy Democracy. The Democracy Collaborative. Retrieved from
Burke, M. J. & Stephens, J. C. (2018). Political power and renewable energy futures: a critical review. Energy Research & Social Science, 35, 7893.
Cairns, R. C. (2014). Climate geoengineering: issues of path-dependence and socio-technical lock-in. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 5(5), 649661.
Chemnick, J. (2019). U.S. Block U.N. Resolution on Geoengineering. Scientific American. Retrieved from
Chhetri, N., Chong, D., Conca, K., Falk, R., Gillespie, A., Gupta, A., …, Nicholson, S. (2018). Governing Solar Radiation Management. Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment: Report from the Academic Working Group on Climate Engineering Governance. Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment, American University.
Chomsky, N. (2003). Hegemony or Survival? Hamish Hamilton.
Claeys, P. & Delgado Pugley, D. (2017). Peasant and indigenous transnational social movements engaging with climate justice. Canadian Journal of Development Studies/Revue canadienne d'études du développement, 38(3), 325340.
Ehrenreich, B. (2019). Climate change is here – and it looks like starvation. The Nation. Retrieved from
Escobar, A. (2011). Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton University Press.
Faber, D., Stephens, J., Wallis, V., Gottlieb, R., Levenstein, C. & CoatarPeter, P. (2017). Trump's electoral triumph: class, race, gender, and the hegemony of the polluter–industrial complex. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, 28(1), 115.
Federici, S. (2004). Caliban and the Witch. Autonomedia.
FICER (2019). Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research. The Keith Group. Retrieved from
Flegal, J. A. & Gupta, A. (2018). Evoking equity as a rationale for solar geoengineering research? Scrutinizing emerging expert visions of equity. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 18(1), 4561.
Flegal, J. A., Hubert, A. M., Morrow, D. R. & Moreno-Cruz, J. B. (2019). Solar geoengineering: social science, legal, ethical, and economic frameworks. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 44, 399423.
Foster, J. B. & Clark, B. (2018). The expropriation of nature. Monthly Review, 69(10), 127.
Foster, J. B., Clark, B. & York, R. (2011). The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth. New York University Press.
Frumhoff, P. C. & Stephens, J. C. (2018). Towards legitimacy of the solar geoengineering research enterprise. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 376(2119), 20160459.
Goldman, M. (2007). How ‘Water for All!’ policy became hegemonic: the power of the World Bank and its transnational policy networks. Geoforum, 38(5), 786800.
Gunderson, R., Stuart, D. & Petersen, B. (2019). The political economy of geoengineering as plan B: technological rationality, moral hazard, and new technology. New Political Economy, 24(5), 696715.
Hagel, C. (2014). Quadrennial Defense Review. Department of Defense.
Hamilton, C. (2013). Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering. Yale University Press.
Horton, J. & Keith, D. (2016). Solar geoengineering and obligations to the global poor. In Preston, C. J. (ed.), Climate Justice and Geoengineering: Ethics and Policy in the Atmospheric Anthropocene (pp. 7992). Rowman & Littlefield International.
Horton, J. B., Keith, D. W. & Honegger, M. (2016). Implications of the Paris Agreement for carbon dioxide removal and solar geoengineering. Harvard Project on Climate Agreements. Retrieved from
Horton, J. B., Reynolds, J. L., Buck, H. J., Callies, D., Schäfer, S., Keith, D. W. & Rayner, S. (2018). Solar geoengineering and democracy. Global Environmental Politics, 18(3), 524.
Hourdequin, M. (2018). Climate change, climate engineering, and the ‘global poor’: what does justice require? Ethics, Policy & Environment, 21(3), 270288.
Huber, M. (2019). Ecological politics for the working class. Catalyst, (3)1, n.p.
Hulme, M. (2014). Can Science Fix Climate Change? A Case against Climate Engineering. John Wiley & Sons.
Irvine, P., Emanuel, K., He, J., Horowitz, L. W., Vecchi, G. & Keith, D. (2019). Halving warming with idealized solar geoengineering moderates key climate hazards. Nature Climate Change, 9(4), 295299.
Jones, T. C. (2012). America, oil, and war in the Middle East. Journal of American History, 99(1), 208218.
Keith, D. (2013). A Case for Climate Engineering. MIT Press.
Keith, D. (2017). Toward a responsible solar geoengineering research program. Issues in Science and Technology, 33(3), n.p.
Keith, D. W. & MacMartin, D. G. (2015). A temporary, moderate and responsive scenario for solar geoengineering. Nature Climate Change, 5(3), 201.
Kenner, D. (2019). Carbon Inequality: The Role of the Richest in Climate Change. Routledge.
Klein, N. (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Simon & Schuster.
Kravitz, B., MacMartin, D. G., Mills, M. J., Richter, J. H., Tilmes, S., Lamarque, J. F., …, Vitt, F. (2017). First simulations of designing stratospheric sulfate aerosol geoengineering to meet multiple simultaneous climate objectives. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 122(23), 1261612634.
Lehmann, T. C. (2019). Honourable spoils? The Iraq War and the American hegemonic system's eternal and perpetual interest in oil. The Extractive Industries and Society, 6(2), 428442.
Liebelson, B. & Mooney, C. (2013). Climate Intelligence Agency: The CIA is now funding research into manipulating the climate. Slate. Retrieved from
Low, S. (2017). Engineering imaginaries: anticipatory foresight for solar radiation management governance. Science of the Total Environment, 580, 90104.
Lutz, C. (2002). Making war at home in the United States: militarization and the current crisis. American Anthropologist, 104(3), 723735.
Lynch, M. J., Long, M. A., Stretesky, P. B. & Barrett, K. L. (2019). Measuring the ecological impact of the wealthy: excessive consumption, ecological disorganization, green crime, and justice. Social Currents, 6(4), 377395.
MacMartin, D. G., Ricke, K. L. & Keith, D. W. (2018). Solar geoengineering as part of an overall strategy for meeting the 1.5°C Paris target. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 376(2119), 20160454.
Malm, A. (2016). Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming. Verso.
Markusson, N., Dahl Gjefson, M., Stephens, J. C. & Tyfield, D. (2017). The political economy of technical fixes: the (mis)alignment of clean fossil and political regimes. Energy Research & Social Science 23, 110.
McCarthy, T. (2009). Race, Empire, and the Idea of Human Development. Cambridge University Press.
McCoy, A. W. (2017). In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power. Haymarket Books.
McLaren, D. P. (2018). Whose climate and whose ethics? Conceptions of justice in solar geoengineering modelling. Energy Research & Social Science, 44, 209221.
Mercado, A. (2019). The youth climate movement is just getting started. The Nation. Retrieved from
Miéville, C. (2005). Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law. Haymarket Books.
Mitchell, T. (2002). Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. University of California Press.
Morton, O. (2016). The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World. Princeton University Press.
National Research Council (2015). Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth. The National Academies Press.
Necheles, E., Burns, L., Chang, A. & Keith, D. (2018). Funding for Solar Geoengineering from 2008 to 2018. Harvard Solar Geoengineering Research Program Blog. Retrieved from
Parker, A. & Irvine, P. J. (2018). The risk of termination shock from solar geoengineering. Earth's Future, 6(3), 456467.
Parker, A., Horton, J. B. & Keith, D. W. (2018). Stopping solar geoengineering through technical means: a preliminary assessment of counter-geoengineering. Earth's Future, 6(8), 10581065.
Peet, R. (2002). Ideology, discourse, and the geography of hegemony: from socialist to neoliberal development in postapartheid South Africa. Antipode, 34(1), 5484.
Proctor, J., Hsiang, S., Burney, J., Burke, M. & Schlenker, W. (2018). Estimating global agricultural effects of geoengineering using volcanic eruptions. Nature, 560(7719), 480.
Pulido, L. (2016). Flint, environmental racism, and racial capitalism. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 27(3), 116.
Rabitz, F. (2016). Going rogue? Scenarios for unilateral geoengineering. Futures, 84, 98107.
Reynolds, J. L. (2019a). The Governance of Solar Geoengineering: Managing Climate Change in the Anthropocene. Cambridge University Press.
Reynolds, J. L. (2019b). Solar geoengineering to reduce climate change: a review of governance proposals. Proceedings of the Royal Society A, 475(2229), 20190255.
Roberts, D. (2018). The trouble with Trump leaving climate change to the military. Vox. Retrieved from
Robinson, W. I. (2018). Accumulation crisis and global police state. Critical Sociology, 45(6), 845856.
Schmitt, C. (2005). Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. University of Chicago Press.
Shepherd, J. G. (2009). Geoengineering the Climate: Science, Governance and Uncertainty. Royal Society.
Showstack, R. (2019). Study will examine risks and benefits of climate interventions. Earth and Space Science News. Retrieved from
Sillmann, J., Lenton, T. M., Levermann, A., Ott, K., Hulme, M., Benduhn, F. & Horton, J. B. (2015). Climate emergencies do not justify engineering the climate. Nature Climate Change, 5(4), 290.
Smith, J. & Patterson, J. (2019). Global climate justice activism: ‘the new protagonists’ and their projects for a just transition. In Frey, R., Gellert, P. K. & Dhams, F. H. (eds), Ecologically Unequal Exchange: Environmental Injustice in Comparative and Historical Perspective (pp. 245272). Palgrave Macmillan.
Smith, W. & Wagner, G. (2018). Stratospheric aerosol injection tactics and costs in the first 15 years of deployment. Environmental Research Letters, 13(12), 124001.
Stephens, J. C. (forthcoming). Diversifying Power: Why We Need Antiracist, Feminist Leadership on Climate and Energy. Island Press.
Surprise, K. (2018). Preempting the second contradiction: solar geoengineering as spatiotemporal fix. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 108(5), 12281244.
Surprise, K. (2019). Stratospheric imperialism: liberalism, (eco)modernization, and ideologies of solar geoengineering research. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. Epub ahead of print. DOI: 10.1177/2514848619844771.
Surprise, K. (forthcoming). Gramsci in the stratosphere: solar geoengineering and capitalist hegemony. In Buck, H., Sapinksi, J. P. & Malm, A. (eds), Has It Come to This? The Pitfalls and Promises of Geoengineering on the Brink. Rutgers University Press, in press.
Szerszynski, B., Kearnes, M., Macnaghten, P., Owen, R. & Stilgoe, J. (2013). Why solar radiation management geoengineering and democracy won't mix. Environment and Planning A, 45(12), 28092816.
Tahir, M. (2019). In Somalia, the climate emergency is already here. The world cannot ignore it. The Guardian. Retrieved from
Tollefson, J. (2019). Harvard creates advisory panel to oversee solar geoengineering project. Nature. Retrieved from
Trisos, C. H., Amatulli, G., Gurevitch, J., Robock, A., Xia, L. & Zambri, B. (2018). Potentially dangerous consequences for biodiversity of solar geoengineering implementation and termination. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2(3), 475.
Victor, D. G., Morgan, M. G., Apt, F. & Steinbruner, J. (2009). The geoengineering option: a last resort against global warming. Foreign Affairs, 88, 64.
Wagner, G. & Weitzman, M. L. (2015). Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet. Princeton University Press.
Wainwright, J. & Mann, G. (2018). Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future. Verso
Watts, J. (2018). Geoengineering may be used to combat global warming, experts say. The Guardian. Retrieved from
Watts, M. J. (2006). Empire of oil: capitalist dispossession and the scramble for Africa. Monthly Review, 58(4), 1.
Whyte, K. P. (2016). Is it colonial déjà vu? Indigenous peoples and climate injustice. In Adamson, J. & Davis, M. (eds), Humanities for the Environment: Integrating Knowledge, Forging New Constellations of Practice (pp. 102119). Routledge.


The hidden injustices of advancing solar geoengineering research

  • Jennie C. Stephens (a1) and Kevin Surprise (a2)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed