Promises of Technical Fixes: Geoengineering Justifications of Defensive Spatio-Temporal Fixes

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal II (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Nils MARKUSSON, Lancaster University, United Kingdom
Mads DAHL-GJEFSEN, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
Jennie STEPHENS, University of Vermont, USA
David TYFIELD, Lancaster University, United Kingdom
The term ‘technical fix’ is frequently used by academics and activists to describe the application of a technological solution to a social problem, where a reductive problem definition leads to only a partial and superficial solution. However, the term is often used without much analytical precision. This paper uses the case of geoengineering to develop a critical, theoretically grounded conceptualisation of the term. We draw on notions of technological promises and black boxing from Science and Technology Studies, and spatio-temporal fixes and innovation regimes from Marxian political economy.

We map the promises of geoengineering as proposed solutions to the problem of climate change since the 1960s, including notably the rapid rise and subsequent slow-down of interest and investment in CCS in the 1990s and 2000s, and the more recent growth of interest in technologies like sulphate aerosol injection and ocean fertilisation – and their uptake, or lack of it, in climate policy over time. To analyse the fit with innovation regimes, this historical review pays particular attention to articulations of the role of markets and the state in delivering and implementing these innovations, as well as the time-horizons envisaged. Geoengineering promises are compared with ideal-typical neoliberal and liberal innovation regimes, and the fit with the evolving actual political regimes is discussed.

The analysis suggests that geoengineering has fit badly with the neoliberal innovation regime of the last few decades. Moreover, the recent relative weakening of neoliberal framings of geoengineering might indicate a limit of the neoliberal political regime.

Technical fixes correspond to defensive spatio-temporal fixes, which, whilst creating new opportunities for investment and entrepreneurship, aim primarily to defend investments already undertaken. Defining the use of technical fix promises as attempted justifications of new defensive spatio-temporal fixes, provides a theoretical foundation for the concept, and gives it a stronger critical edge.