Politics, Hubris and Energy Security
Technological devices and systems possess an inherent flexibility; there is no singular way of viewing or using them. Telephones were not originally meant for enjoyment and early vendors berated consumers for “frivolous” and “unnecessary” social calls, believing that idle conversation and gossip eroded the phone as a rational business tool.1 Automobiles represent icons of freedom for some, resource waste for others.2 Railroads emerged as symbols of progress and mastery over nature during their first few decades of operation, but by the turn of the nineteenth century came to be seen as colossal failures due to their inability to make money. In 1909, the railroad mogul James J. Hill even joked that “You might put a railroad in the Garden of Eden, and if there was nobody there but Adam and Eve, it would be a failure.”3 Like telephones, automobiles, and railroads, energy megaprojects represent different values to different stakeholders, and can be utilized in different ways to accomplish different—often competing—goals. For their designers they may represent the pinnacle of human engineering and technical achievement; for displaced communities and disgruntled workers, they may represent potent symbols of corruption and environmental blight. Megaprojects may also, like Hill’s quip about railroads, be prone to certain types of failure wherever they go; failure becomes an inevitable and intrinsic part of their existence.
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