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Abstract

The project is an ethnographic study of engineering ethics as they intersect with professional work on “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) technologies. Amidst conceptual confusion over whether “sustainability” means human and environmental survival generally, or the continuity of specific industrial businesses, CCS may be positioned as a means towards either or both, intensifying its appeal. Australia has excelled at directing investment into research operations and demonstration sites that allow visitors to witness CCS science and its climate mitigation potentialities firsthand. Promissory, virtual representations of emergent technologies help construct climate change as “an engineering problem,” delegated away from other change agents. CCS is a quintessential “technical fix” (Boyer 2014; Weston 2012; Günel 2019; Moore 2015) imagined as obviating otherwise-necessary sociopolitical change. The social elevation of “technical fixes” casts engineering as a panacea, blurring its own contributions to violence and entrenching its participation in “economies of repair” (Fairhead et al. 2012). What types of responsibility are negotiated in energy engineers’ daily practices and circulated, advanced, and critiqued in their sites of work? Have the proliferating sociopolitical lines of awareness and intervention related to climate change in Australia have applied any pressures to the concepts of responsibility within these traditions of practice from which CCS’s workforce has derived? The most central fieldwork locations were a carbon capture and storage research organization, an engineering professional association, public events and conferences, and archival reviews for Australian concepts and evaluations of technology, expert education, expert professionalism, energy, carbon, and climate. By assembling archives beyond any one institution’s borders or beyond any one engineering or scientific discipline, I sought to contextualize the CCS research industry within the professional norms of “energy engineering.” This dissertation critiques carbon and energy engineering’s epistemic limitations, arguing that Australian CCS is a response to the threat of decarbonization (to some), presented as a response to the threat of climate change (to all). Via the codification of their professional ethics and the institutional preconditions of their rationality, Australian energy engineering professionals are invited to shed the socio-ethical awareness that generalized climate protection does not always align easily with more specific targets of responsibility and care. This blurriness between clients’ interests and generalized goods is resonant with Australia’s historical repositioning of “energy expertise” in the 1990s out of state utilities, and into flexible, decentralized businesses. At this time just before CCS’s flourishing, energy experts of many backgrounds became petitioners to investors and governments for private, financialized, and temporary work. Thus, regarding whether social awareness of climate change is changing energy engineering, this dissertation answers in the negative: it is not the socio-political interest in climate, but instead the structure of the businesses and credentialing regimes attempting to practically capture and enmesh representations of “responsibility” into expert work that matter the most for how responsibility is sited and negotiated.

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