Sulfur in the Sky with Diamonds: An Inquiry into the Feasibility of Solar Geoengineering

Image credit: Ashwin Kumar via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Solar geoengineering (SG) is considered a promising, albeit controversial, climate engineering technology to help reduce predicted global warming. However, the complexity of SG raises serious doubts about its political practicability. The objective of this article is to investigate this technology's feasibility, a fundamental dimension of said practicability. Feasibility is here understood as a political property: the higher the feasibility of a state of affairs ranks, the greater its eventual political practicability. According to this perspective, the less SG clashes with economic, institutional, and moral soft constraints, the more feasible it becomes, and hence the greater its political practicability. An analysis of economic and institutional soft constraints points to a high degree of SG feasibility. This feasibility is, however, limited by the perceived non‐bearable moral costs which SG involves. Given the greater weight of moral soft constraints, SG's overall feasibility is therefore low. Based on these indications, the article offers suggestions for lessening SG's friction with soft constraints, especially with the highly sensitive moral ones, with the aim of increasing this technology's feasibility. On the basis of this heightened feasibility, the paper concludes with policy recommendations which improves the practicability of SG.

Policy Implications

  • Particular attention should be paid to the many ethical concerns raised by solar geoengineering (SG) since these greatly limit its feasibility.
  • In order to improve SG feasibility its governance should consider concerns about legitimacy and procedural justice.
  • To obtain SG politically practicability it is crucial to: (1) improve the overall morality of its governance; (2) include intergenerational and international distributive justice in its governance; and (3) carry out this technology in a context of international trust and widespread collaboration.
  • Existing international institutions working on climate change, science and education, environmental issues, justice, peace and security, development, international law, health and nutrition and financial matters should be leveraged for supporting the feasibility and political practicability of SG.
  • Coordination is necessary at the regional scale between said international institutions and states, the relevant national and sub‐national institutions and the appropriate formal and informal governance mechanisms.