Sustainability Dialogue: Desirable climate futures? The geoengineering dilemma


Geoengineering, the idea of actively manipulating large-scale planetary systems to counter climate change, has long been discussed by scientists across the globe. Until recently, it was too controversial: most wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. In recent years, however, geoengineering has been making headlines. Many of our researchers would undoubtedly (and justifiably) prefer to reject such speculative technologies as dangerous or hubristic, but geoengineering can no longer be ignored. Given the direness of climate change, one could also argue it shouldn’t be ignored. In our upcoming Sustainability Dialogue, we want to discuss one such set of technological interventions, a set specifically addressing global warming: solar radiation management (SRM). In the dialogue we want to address scientific, political, and normative questions around solar radiation management, departing from observation that these can never be meaningfully disentangled.

In this sustainability dialogue, we will discuss three dilemma’s that we, as Pathways, as Utrecht University, and as individual researchers find ourselves faced with:

  • Dilemma 1 - Should Solar Radiation Management even be part of the scientific agenda? And should there be a UU/PtS position on SRM research?
  • Dilemma 2 - Not all research is equal: what sort of SRM research is acceptable? Can we countenance outdoor experimentation?
  • Dilemma 3 - How does SRM fit into environmental politics and science? Under which circumstances could implementation be considered? And what circumstances would disqualify implementation altogether?

We approach these questions based on several basic commitments:

  • SRM is not, and cannot be, an alternative or solution to climate change – it can (maybe) be an addition to climate policy;
  • The debate surrounding SRM and geoengineering is geophysical and technical but always also political, normative, and social;
  • Questions of justice, political legitimacy, and Earth system governance are central to discussions about SRM;
  • Scientific interest in SRM does not in any way, shape, or form signify a lack of commitment to the Paris Agreement: rapid decarbonization should remain the central aim of climate policy.

Join us for an interdisciplinary discussion!


The strategic theme Pathways to Sustainability organises a series of dialogues around interdisciplinary topics that play a role in the theme and in society. With this we want to facilitate the discussion and stimulate new collaborations.

Next Sustainabilities Dialogues:

  • 18 May - Energy in Transition
  • 8 June - Sustainability Dialogue meets UU Sustainability Programme
  • Date to be decided - Transdisciplinary Fieldguide
    Start date and time
    End date and time