Sunday, September 2, 2012

Countdown To CAOmageddon: Flaw #31 - No Price Tag

When de Groot et al. described the Ecosystem Services Model a decade ago, regarding ecosystem values, he concluded:
The importance (or ‘value’) of ecosystems is roughly divided into three types: ecological, socio-cultural and economic value.
Since then, there has been increasing emphasis on economic valuation as the way to capture the importance of values associated with ecosystem functions. By 2009, when de Groot co-authored another paper on the value of ecosystem services, his entire focus was on economic valuation.

In fact, the National Research Council considers economics to be essential to protection of ecosystem values.
Until the economic value of ecosystem goods and services is acknowledged in environmental decision-making, they will implicitly be assigned a value of zero in cost-benefit analyses, and policy choices will be biased against conservation. The National Research Council report, Valuing Ecosystem Services: Toward Better Environmental Decision-Making, identifies methods for assigning economic value to ecosystem services—even intangible ones—and calls for greater collaboration between ecologists and economists in such efforts.
With greater economic emphasis has come greater clarity on what "ecosystem values" means. The National Research Council report on Ecosystem Services says:
Fundamentally, these debates about the value of ecosystems derive from two points of view. One view is that some values of ecosystems and their services are nonanthropocentric —that nonhuman species have moral interests or value in themselves. The other view, which includes the economic approach to valuation, is that all values are anthropocentric. While acknowledging the potential validity of the first point of view, the committee was charged specifically with assessing methods of valuing aquatic and related terrestrial ecosystems using economic methods, an approach that views values as inherently anthropocentric. For that reason, this report focuses on the sources of ecological value that can be captured through economic valuation ... 
Although this report focuses on the subset of values that can be captured through economic valuation, it is important to emphasize that this subset of values is quite broad; indeed, it is much broader than is often presumed. There are many misconceptions about the term “economic valuation.” For example, many believe that the term refers simply to an assessment of the commercial value of something. In fact, the economic view of value actually includes many components that have no commercial or market basis (Freeman, 1993a; Krutilla, 1967), such as the value that individuals place on the beauty of a natural landscape or the existence of a species that has no commercial value. Thus, although economic valuation does not include all sources of value that have been identified or that are potentially important, it encompasses a very broad array of values. In addition, it provides a systematic way in which those values can be factored into environmental policy choices ...
The reason economic valuation is more comprehensive than generally recognized is that economists recognize two basic types of value, use and nonuse values. In brief, use values are those that derive from using a good or service provided by an ecosystem, such as using a lake for fishing or swimming, lake water for drinking or irrigation, or an estuary for boating. On the other hand, an example of a type of nonuse value is an existence value; a person may value the existence of a species even though he or she will never make any use of this species or of any of its members. 
Therefore, based on the current state-of-art interpretation of the Ecosystem Services Model, the CAO requirement to protect functions and values means protecting the regulatory, provisioning, supporting, and cultural functions that ecosystems provide to mankind, and it also requires using economic valuation to establish protection priorities for the use and nonuse values that ecosystem functions provide to mankind.

But how does one perform an economic valuation of use and nonuse values? That will be the subject of the next post, but suffice to say, our County ain't done it.

So far, our County is batting 0 for 3. First, it never performed a risk assessment (it never even collected any valid relevant data) to examine whether current development activities pose an unacceptably high ecological risk to ecosystem structure or functions. Second, in the event that unacceptably high risk should be discovered, it never identified which functions (and associated goods and services) might become impaired. Third, it never identified whether those potentially impaired functions would result in economic damage to use and nonuse values, an analysis of which would be necessary to set an economic context for protection based on cost/benefit analysis.

We believe, based on the record, that phantom ecological problems are being used to cause an economic shift in the county to favor functions that discriminate against the use of property, using trumped up qualitative claims of the exaggerated importance of nonuse values (or it may be more accurate to say "they" have been entirely dismissive of the importance of use values to this community).


  1. I think that the County is 0 for 4. The County staff and its esteemed consultants apparently wouldn't know a "risk assessment" if it bit them.

  2. Think of a matrix to visualize this easily for the public. Columns and rows.
    The four functional areas are the columns. The two rows represent economic valuation: use and non-use. Look at the cells/boxes of this matrix. Two questions to ask to mark the boxes. First, has the County Council publicly considered & deliberated both use and non use valuation of the function? Yes or no. Second question: You could rate this on a scale of say, 1-5. Does the box seem to represent a strong policy priority (or bias) in the way the draft ordinance is coming together? That actually leaves a third question for the County Council to face: Remember that inconvenient Comprehensive Plan for San Juan County and its vision statement? How does the draft CAO stack up in the required balancing act with all those other goals our community has set forth in our Comprehensive Plan, all of which concern the overall health and vibrancy of our communities and rural character? We will start to see that this CAO is nothing more than a Death Star visited upon us by the Evil Empire. Not about the environment, but about control and the destruction of our rural character.

  3. Speaking of price tag, does the County know what this CAO is going to cost yet?

  4. With the David Hyde report telling us that almost anything we Islanders do means not much. The report says we are simply a bump in the road for Canadian and the mighty Pacific Ocean waters; this may have been known and certainly should have been known by the pushers and shoving people behind this CAO debacle connected as they seem to be to all such "experts."

    Have they no shame? They certainly have no social responsibility. This nonsense like the guest house nonsense has cost San Juan County a small fortune. We need to end this stuff.

  5. I think we all know what this CAO cost us,
    The "Right to use our Property" be it a critical area and or a buffer
    this administration has allowed a PA to tell us as long as they give us the right to use even a very small portion of our properties nothing has been taken. Well are we really that foolish to buy that crock of you know what?

  6. We need a new PA!