By Brad Walker, Rivers Director December 11, 2015
How do we value a river system? What should we count? What should we prioritize? If we decide to place dollars on everything, will that further commodify a river? If we don’t place dollars on everything, will it lead to bad decisions? All of these, and many others, are interesting questions that need consideration.
At the request of river interests, economic studies separately profiling the Lower and Upper Mississippi River basins have been completed by Industrial Economics, Incorporated over the last several years. The motivation for preparing these profiles is to attempt to document the volume of economic activity generated near the river in order to justify additional governmental spending on infrastructure, theoretically then increasing economic growth in these regions.
There are unstated underlying assumptions implied within these profiles that include:
- The economic numbers are accurate
- Greater economic growth is always better
- Economic growth will provide increased human wellbeing
- Increased economic growth will not have damaging impacts
- By showing these economic numbers to decision makers we can properly increase investment in and near the river
Although the numbers are likely accurate, because these studies were based upon the erroneous philosophy of infinite resources, as reflected in our national development policies, the above assumptions are largely false. The studies admit that they do not quantify all of the values associated with the river. In fact, they do not document the primary value of a river system, its ecosystem services. By doing this they relegate the river value largely, though not completely, to the exploitation of its natural resources for economic gain, while ignoring the environmental and associated economic losses caused by these exploitative activities. This problem is discussed in a recent article titled Time to Stop Worshiping Economic Growth and more recently in an interview on National Public Radio – Questioning our Growth Fetish.
This is a distortion of our values because it not only allows, but encourages, us to destroy river environments for short-term and unequally distributed economic gain. By doing this we also impoverish future generations.… Read the rest