The entrenchment of certain discursive strategies promotes public reception and political support for contested technologies, influencing the future prospects of the technology. Geoengineering, the idea of addressing climate change through large-scale technological projects, is a unique example of a contested emerging technology. It stands out in the degree to which both its scope of possibilities and its premise are characterized by global existential risks. Despite controversy due to inherent and perceived risks, this field has been shifting toward mainstream consideration. Drawing upon the concepts “politics of representation” and “the politics of unsustainability,” this research applies critical discourse analysis to three genres of geoengineering discourse: science policy reports, journalism, and Congressional hearings. In particular, discursive strategies and trends recurrent in these genres construct notions of normalcy, legitimacy, and imperative around the notion of geoengineering.
Science policy reports on geoengineering from distinguished and respected scientific societies have both reflected and promoted the mainstreaming of geoengineering. Discursive strategies used by scientists advocating support for geoengineering research construct legitimacy and contribute to the mainstreaming of geoengineering within scientific, political and public discourse. News coverage of geoengineering has increased since 2006, coinciding with important publications from the scientific community, with scientific publications used to indicate the mainstreaming of geoengineering as well as offering topical insight. Moreover, recurrent narratives within popular media contribute to the mainstreaming of geoengineering through presenting its trajectory as moving from fringe origins through serious consideration. As demonstrated through four congressional hearings on the subject, geoengineering has garnered political support from both major political parties in the United States, but for different reasons and with different interpretations of the role it might have to play in climate policy. Certain geoengineering researchers and advocates are particularly prolific and influential in affecting the deliberation and presentation of geoengineering within science publications, popular media, and policy discourse. These three genres of science policy reports, news media, and political hearings reinforce one another in reflecting and advancing the mainstreaming of geoengineering.