Geoengineering’s Past: From Mastery to Taboo

  • Jeremy BaskinEmail author


This Chapter explores the history and understandings of geoengineering in the period prior to 2005 and draws out the continuities and discontinuities between how geoengineering, and especially solar geoengineering (SGE), have been understood and imagined at different times. It identifies three phases in geoengineering’s history prior to its recent re-emergence: Mastery, Unimaginability and Taboo. It tracks the enthusiastic embrace of geoengineering as an idea after 1945 and shows how this formed part of a larger Cold War imaginary. In the West this involved the triad of modernity: a belief in progress, the invention of development, and a faith in science and the technologies it could generate, and with all three underpinned by an assumption of human entitlement, even obligation, to mastery over nature. These had almost identical counterparts in the Soviet sphere. Geoengineering was embraced because it was possible, and as part of US-Soviet Cold War techno-rivalry, and not because there was a climate problem needing a solution. The Chapter examines the hiatus period, an interregnum in which geoengineering was seen as unnecessary and unwise and was no longer commonly imagined, before coming to be regarded as taboo. It was a taboo that persisted even during an unsuccessful attempt by some US scientists to revive the idea in the early 1990s. This Chapter seeks to understand the reasons for geoengineering’s effective disappearance from the climate policy table, and to explore its relationship to the rise of neo-liberal globalisation from the 1980s. It reveals some of the specific thinking about science, climate and nature that made geoengineering essentially (although not literally) unimaginable.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Melbourne School of GovernmentUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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