Indigenous Peoples, Solar Radiation Management, and Consent

Engineering the Climate: The Ethics of Solar Radiation Management, Lexington Books, 2012

8 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2012 Last revised: 17 Jul 2014

Kyle Whyte

Michigan State University - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: February 10, 2012


Funding research on solar radiation management (SRM) is now a policy option for responding to climate change due to the perception that international abatement efforts are creeping along too slowly. SRM research presents a range of problems concerning consent for Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples’ landscapes may risk rapid, unforeseen changes that will force communities either to respond under great hardship or migrate elsewhere. Since the science and engineering behind SRM are esoteric to non-experts, legitimate concerns arise about transparency and procedural justice. Indigenous peoples may also contest the very idea of human “control” of global temperatures. In this paper, I will examine what it would take for parties interested in funding, designing, and carrying out early SRM research to fairly respect members and leaders of Indigenous peoples in their current discourses. Ethical concern is warranted. Indigenous peoples have yet to be addressed responsibly about their possible consenting and dissenting views on early SRM research. There is little to no identifiable commitment to establish substantive fora or events for Indigenous peoples to engage with others about whether such research should be conducted in the first place and, if so, what to research and how to conduct empirical inquiries. Policy makers, experts, and private citizens of the developed world have a heavy moral burden to bear if they progress toward early SRM research without engaging in consent processes with Indigenous peoples. I begin in section 2 by claiming that the (arguably dominant) lesser of two evils argument for early SRM research can be construed as invaliding any potential dissenting views of Indigenous peoples. I deepen this claim in section 3 by showing how this argument resembles an argument that has been used throughout history to silence Indigenous peoples from meaningful consent or dissent. I then move on in section 4 to cover the scant literature that suggests possible consent processes for early SRM research. The common theme in this literature is that any fora or events for convening Indigenous peoples regarding SRM research should occur after research has been planned and even begun — thereby defeating the purpose of consent processes altogether. Consent or dissent after the fact is meaningless. In section 5, I argue that consent processes acceptable to Indigenous peoples must be based on partnership and include the following two requirements. First, Indigenous peoples should contribute actively to conversations about how to structure the consent processes in which they would participate. Second, in their interactions with Indigenous peoples, proponents of early SRM research are responsible for addressing them as sovereigns of their territories — despite the colonial conditions in many nations that frustrate Indigenous peoples’ political independence.

Keywords: Geoengineering, Indigenous Peoples, Solar Radiation Management, Consent

Suggested Citation

Whyte, Kyle, Indigenous Peoples, Solar Radiation Management, and Consent (February 10, 2012). Engineering the Climate: The Ethics of Solar Radiation Management, Lexington Books, 2012. Available at SSRN:

Kyle Powys Whyte (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - Department of Philosophy ( email )

368 Farm Lane #503
South Kedzie Hall
East Lansing, MI 48824
United States
5174321034 (Phone)
5174321320 (Fax)


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