Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

CSTPR Noontime Seminar

CSTPR Noontime Seminar

Addressing Climate Change as an Engineering Challenge: Scientific Expertise in U.S. Geoengineering Politics

by Julia Schubert
Forum Internationale Wissenschaft, Bonn, Germany

Abstract: The political construction, exploration and addressing of anthropogenic climate change as an engineering challenge is indicative of what some scholars have called a ‘scientization’ of modern politics. Exemplified by the emerging political discussion of so-called Geoengineering technologies, what so far has been predominantly addressed as a problem of international coordination, is, in one of its variations, being transformed into a technological challenge.

This talk examines the specific role of quantified expertise (in form of climate models and numeric indicators) for political decision-making on Geoengineering technologies in the U.S. A corpus of analysis, comprising all official documentation of U.S. American state affairs regarding Geoengineering technologies (1990 – 2015) serves as the database. The analysis proceeds along two dimensions. By means of qualitative document analysis, the talk will first retrace the general ‘problem-career’ of Geoengineering in U.S. politics – capturing the shifting problem frames in which the topic is politically addressed over time (1). Secondly, it will establish the distinct role of quantified expertise for political decision-making on these technologies by asking how reference to climatic indicators and models contributes to the respective addressing of Geoengineering in U.S. politics (2).

The analysis shows that Geoengineering is addressed in five distinct problem frames, alternating through three historical phases of the U.S. decision-making process. Across these five problem frames, quantified expertise is substantially aiding in defining and addressing Geoengineering as a problem, although both climate models and numeric indicators play a starkly diverging role in this context. By illustrating the complex and reciprocal interrelationship of science and politics in this case, the analysis aims at contributing to understanding the political relevance of scientific expertise more generally.


Julia Schubert is visiting CSTPR on a PhD Fulbright Fellowship from Bonn, Germany. In Germany, Julia is a Research Associate at the Forum Internationale Wissenschaft (FIW) in Bonn, where she is working on her dissertation project on "Scientific Expertise in Politics. The Case of Climate Engineering in the U.S." within the Junior Research Group “Discovering, Exploring, and Addressing Grand Societal Challenges” funded by the Mercator Foundation. Her main areas of research are sociological theory (with an emphasis on differentiation- and communication-theoretical approaches), political sociology and the sociology of science with a focus on the science-politics relation.

Before joining the FIW in 2014, she obtained her B.A. in Social Sciences from the Philipps-University of Marburg (2010) and a M.A. in Sociology from the Ruprecht-Karls-University of Heidelberg (2014) with a thesis on the "Conditions and Prospects of Science-Based Political Decision-Making". In 2011 she completed a Traineeship at the Consulting Department of the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest (GACCoM) in Chicago. She was awarded the "Alumni Preis 2014" for outstanding achievements in the Masters-Studies of Sociology by the Max-Weber-Institute for Sociology of the University of Heidelberg.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017
12:00pm to 1:00pm


CSTPR Conference Room