Advanced

The irresistible solution: rationale and risks of extending water limits through desalination in the case of Gotland, Sweden

Speckhahn, Sophia and Isgren, Ellinor LU (2019) In Journal of Political Ecology 26(1). p.128-149
Abstract
Water resources are under increasing pressure, and there are tensions between increasing demand and the natural limits to potable water supply. Authorities must find solutions that fulfil societal demands without compromising environmental integrity. As one way to counteract water deficits, desalination has evolved as an attractive solution. This technology is contested and associated with a variety of social, environmental and economic consequences; yet it is increasingly used. In Sweden, the technology is rare but recent droughts have spurred interest. On the island of Gotland, where Sweden's first larger desalination plant was inaugurated in 2016, we examine the perceived benefits and drawbacks of desalination as well as the... (More)
Water resources are under increasing pressure, and there are tensions between increasing demand and the natural limits to potable water supply. Authorities must find solutions that fulfil societal demands without compromising environmental integrity. As one way to counteract water deficits, desalination has evolved as an attractive solution. This technology is contested and associated with a variety of social, environmental and economic consequences; yet it is increasingly used. In Sweden, the technology is rare but recent droughts have spurred interest. On the island of Gotland, where Sweden's first larger desalination plant was inaugurated in 2016, we examine the perceived benefits and drawbacks of desalination as well as the decision-making process that led up to its implementation. Through qualitative analysis of public documents and stakeholder interviews, we identify mechanisms that contributed to desalination becoming a favored solution. We find that it is associated with a number of benefits that are in line with broader development goals, against which its drawbacks are considered to be acceptable or externalized. Desalination extends natural limits to permit development, delaying deeper social and economic restructuring. Rather than arguing against desalination per se, we emphasize the risk of the depoliticization of water supply through technocratic decision-making, the normalization of scarcity and certain technologies, and the urgency that builds around increasing water supply 'at any economic cost.' These tendencies obscure drawbacks, limitations and conflicting interests. They foreclose the questioning of resource intensive development. In order to invoke transformation towards long-term sustainability of Gotland's water supply, policy-makers should seek to diversify their sources of knowledge and encourage more open democratic debate around alternative regional development pathways. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Desalination, Natural limits, water scarcity, Gotland, Political ecology, Technocracy, Depoliticisation, Normalisation
in
Journal of Political Ecology
volume
26
issue
1
pages
22 pages
publisher
University of Arizona
ISSN
1073-0451
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
7cb96f8e-d87a-44e7-927c-d76577a73474
alternative location
https://journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/JPE/article/view/22984/21910
date added to LUP
2019-03-22 13:07:49
date last changed
2019-03-22 13:38:44
@article{7cb96f8e-d87a-44e7-927c-d76577a73474,
  abstract     = {Water resources are under increasing pressure, and there are tensions between increasing demand and the natural limits to potable water supply. Authorities must find solutions that fulfil societal demands without compromising environmental integrity. As one way to counteract water deficits, desalination has evolved as an attractive solution. This technology is contested and associated with a variety of social, environmental and economic consequences; yet it is increasingly used. In Sweden, the technology is rare but recent droughts have spurred interest. On the island of Gotland, where Sweden's first larger desalination plant was inaugurated in 2016, we examine the perceived benefits and drawbacks of desalination as well as the decision-making process that led up to its implementation. Through qualitative analysis of public documents and stakeholder interviews, we identify mechanisms that contributed to desalination becoming a favored solution. We find that it is associated with a number of benefits that are in line with broader development goals, against which its drawbacks are considered to be acceptable or externalized. Desalination extends natural limits to permit development, delaying deeper social and economic restructuring. Rather than arguing against desalination per se, we emphasize the risk of the depoliticization of water supply through technocratic decision-making, the normalization of scarcity and certain technologies, and the urgency that builds around increasing water supply 'at any economic cost.' These tendencies obscure drawbacks, limitations and conflicting interests. They foreclose the questioning of resource intensive development. In order to invoke transformation towards long-term sustainability of Gotland's water supply, policy-makers should seek to diversify their sources of knowledge and encourage more open democratic debate around alternative regional development pathways.},
  author       = {Speckhahn, Sophia and Isgren, Ellinor},
  issn         = {1073-0451},
  keyword      = {Desalination,Natural limits,water scarcity,Gotland,Political ecology,Technocracy,Depoliticisation,Normalisation},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {1},
  pages        = {128--149},
  publisher    = {University of Arizona},
  series       = {Journal of Political Ecology},
  title        = {The irresistible solution: rationale and risks of extending water limits through desalination in the case of Gotland, Sweden},
  volume       = {26},
  year         = {2019},
}