In the face of unpredictability-- disappearing resources, economic crises, shifting politics, and climate change-- energy reform models attempt to anticipate and coordinate risks. When we invest in new infrastructures, size mechanical systems, engineer new atmospheres and count carbon, we respond to unknown hazards and contribute to new ones at the same time. Risk management unleashes conflict when it sets priorities, and demands a coordinated response. Without the certainty of ‘the facts,’ risk response defines new collectives by identifying populations in harm's way and distributing liability among them.
Central to this debate is the question of cost/benefit analysis (CBA), which asks whether the cost of revamping our energy systems is worth the benefit gained from curbing global warming. CBA weighs competing interests—private property, market expansion, energy independence, human health, and social equity, among others—and in the process determines which risks we are willing to take. Risk assessment provokes: Which costs and benefits must we count? Is it even possible to put a price on life, human and otherwise? Where are there winners and losers in the contest among biosphere, human health, and market growth, and where do these interests reap mutual gains?
As these priorities are measured and determined, we come to the question of mitigation. Architects might, for example, engage in risk-averse or risk-taking measures such as building weatherization, conservation ecology, or geo-engineering. Each of these energy schemes takes a stand on a number of risk-related issues: They determine the scale of risk sharing (from the scale of the individual homeowner to cross-national atmospheric zones) by building new networks of entangled interest. They determine who should be responsible for the results of the gamble, both expected and unexpected. And, by determining what risks we are willing to take, they decide whether to restore some aspect of the status quo, or experiment with untested arrangements among organisms and environments.