06 January 2016

Please comment on my new paper on desalination!

The editors of A Multidisciplinary Introduction to Desalination (River Publishers) asked me to write a chapter on "Society, Politics and Desalination."

The audience for the book is probably going to come from technology or engineering backgrounds, so it is supposed to be clear enough for any educated reader.

I'd love to get your feedback and suggestions for improvement.

You can download the PDF here.

Please feel free to mark up or comment on that PDF, email me comments or leave them on this post.
This chapter discusses how existing conditions a ect the decision to increase desalinated water supplies and the resulting social and political impacts of that decision. On the one hand, desalination can strengthen the bonds within or between communities. On the other, it can damage these bonds, weakening relations with local and global neighbors.

Success or failure will arrive on two margins. On the intensive margin of relations within a community, desalination will be helpful when costs are allocated in proportion to bene ts and harmful when they are not. On the extensive margin of relations between neighboring communities, desalination will be helpful when shared, collective goods are augmented or strengthened and harmful if they are weakened.

We will explore these themes in this chapter by sketching a basic theory of how to manage goods, outlining the role of political mechanisms in classifying and managing waters as di erent types of goods, and evaluating the social impacts of allocating the costs and bene ts of water. These three sections form a framework for discussing good (fair, e cient, sustainable) water management by clarifying where political decisions create the rights and responsibilities that social groups must claim or bear. Once this framework is in place, we will consider whether technology can be "innocent" of its impacts before exploring a few case studies in which desalination brings a mix of helpful and harmful social, political and economic impacts. The chapter will conclude with some suggestions for "no regrets" desalination.


  1. Hi Dave,
    I'll mail you some detailed comments in markup on the PDF. Good coverage of the 'soft' issues around desal. I don't entirely agree with your interpretation of public/common/club/private goods, and would argue that there's not enough emphasis on solutions other than price for reducing consumption. And a desalination plant is a very expensive way to put prices up high enough to have a noticeable effect on consumption.

    1. I probably agree with you on most of these matters, and I'm taking "desal as given" for the chapter, but please send them, so I can improve/clarify the paper!


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