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Questioning the tunnel vision : Assessing the frames and governance of California’s WaterFix megaproject

Scarampi, Philip LU (2017) In Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science MESM02 20171
LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)
Abstract
Over the last century, large-scale water megaprojects have become a globally widespread method of addressing water scarcity by moving water from areas of water surplus to deficit. The U.S. state of California is a megaproject pioneer, having constructed two infrastructural systems in the mid-1900s that transfer water as far as 640 kilometers to satisfy agricultural and urban growth. While these projects have provided economic and social benefits, these gains have come at substantial ecological cost while being unevenly distributed across society. California’s recent proposal to build a new megaproject called WaterFix is therefore puzzling: why does the government continue to propose megaprojects despite their known social and ecological... (More)
Over the last century, large-scale water megaprojects have become a globally widespread method of addressing water scarcity by moving water from areas of water surplus to deficit. The U.S. state of California is a megaproject pioneer, having constructed two infrastructural systems in the mid-1900s that transfer water as far as 640 kilometers to satisfy agricultural and urban growth. While these projects have provided economic and social benefits, these gains have come at substantial ecological cost while being unevenly distributed across society. California’s recent proposal to build a new megaproject called WaterFix is therefore puzzling: why does the government continue to propose megaprojects despite their known social and ecological consequences? Looking through the lenses of political ecology, frame theory, and related concepts of governance, I answer this question via the WaterFix case to assess the sustainability outcomes potentially produced by the ideas (frames) and governance mechanisms underlying the project’s proposal. Via dual streams of investigation—frame and interview analysis—I conclude that the government’s very conceptualizations of problems and solutions are problematic for long-term sustainability. This is because they lead to a privileging of economic rather than environmental or collective interest, while they promote a techno-scientific logic that depoliticizes decision-making. Furthermore, unsustainable solutions like megaprojects are seen as economically and politically favorable due to the influence of financial incentives, undemocratic processes, and other mechanisms of governance. Government frames and governance mechanisms are therefore found to be both influential and interrelated, with frames having a more influential role in shaping not only governance arrangements, but how societal solutions are sought. Consequently, frames merit special attention in further academic research and practical decision-making, particularly in contexts in which similar large-scale infrastructure or governance arrangements exist or are planned. (Less)
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author
Scarampi, Philip LU
supervisor
organization
course
MESM02 20171
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
keywords
sustainability science, political ecology, water megaprojects, governance, frames, California
publication/series
Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science
report number
2017:044
language
English
id
8922532
date added to LUP
2017-08-18 01:43:55
date last changed
2017-09-04 13:21:31
@misc{8922532,
  abstract     = {Over the last century, large-scale water megaprojects have become a globally widespread method of addressing water scarcity by moving water from areas of water surplus to deficit. The U.S. state of California is a megaproject pioneer, having constructed two infrastructural systems in the mid-1900s that transfer water as far as 640 kilometers to satisfy agricultural and urban growth. While these projects have provided economic and social benefits, these gains have come at substantial ecological cost while being unevenly distributed across society. California’s recent proposal to build a new megaproject called WaterFix is therefore puzzling: why does the government continue to propose megaprojects despite their known social and ecological consequences? Looking through the lenses of political ecology, frame theory, and related concepts of governance, I answer this question via the WaterFix case to assess the sustainability outcomes potentially produced by the ideas (frames) and governance mechanisms underlying the project’s proposal. Via dual streams of investigation—frame and interview analysis—I conclude that the government’s very conceptualizations of problems and solutions are problematic for long-term sustainability. This is because they lead to a privileging of economic rather than environmental or collective interest, while they promote a techno-scientific logic that depoliticizes decision-making. Furthermore, unsustainable solutions like megaprojects are seen as economically and politically favorable due to the influence of financial incentives, undemocratic processes, and other mechanisms of governance. Government frames and governance mechanisms are therefore found to be both influential and interrelated, with frames having a more influential role in shaping not only governance arrangements, but how societal solutions are sought. Consequently, frames merit special attention in further academic research and practical decision-making, particularly in contexts in which similar large-scale infrastructure or governance arrangements exist or are planned.},
  author       = {Scarampi, Philip},
  keyword      = {sustainability science,political ecology,water megaprojects,governance,frames,California},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  series       = {Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science},
  title        = {Questioning the tunnel vision : Assessing the frames and governance of California’s WaterFix megaproject},
  year         = {2017},
}