Accepted paper:

The historical evolution and political dimensions of geoengineering terminology


Stefan Schäfer (Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies)

Paper short abstract:

I present a historical review of the evolution of geoengineering terminology and associated concepts, followed by an analysis of the political dimensions of this history and their manifestation in the contemporary geoengineering discourse.

Paper long abstract:

In recent years, terminology has become an increasingly contested matter in the geoengineering discourse. While several suggestions for umbrella terms that cover the range of geoengineering proposals exist - from the most widely used duo of "geoengineering" and "climate engineering" to lesser-used terms such as "climate intervention", "climate remediation", or "climate management" - the most controversial debate currently concerns whether or not these umbrella terms should be disaggregated into the individual proposals that form their constituent parts. I trace the historical evolution of geoengineering terminology and associated concepts through an analysis of formative publications, including policy documents, assessment reports, and scientific publications. I then argue that the historical evolution and contemporary configuration of geoengineering terminology have politically active dimensions, and that increasing controversy over terminology is the result of underlying political alignments. Spelling out the political dimensions of geoengineering terminology thus plays an important role in developing an understanding of what lies at the core of contemporary controversy over geoengineering. An appreciation of the political dimensions of terminology can also assist in developing deeper understandings in other science and technology debates, such as those on genetic engineering and nanotechnology, and can assist in situating geoengineering vis-à-vis them.

panel T133
Tackling climate change by other means: opening up geoengineering governance