14 Apr 2008

Hijacking the Everglades?

This is how the Corps of Engineers "restores" nature:
Construction crews are blowing up rocks and gouging out an area bigger than Manhattan as they work to build the world's largest above-ground manmade reservoir -- 25 square miles. It will eventually hold 62 billion gallons of water and is a key component to restoring the River of Grass.
Natural Resources Defence Council is suing -- claiming that the reservoir will be used to divert water to agriculture and housing.

Knowing the parties involved, I am inclined to agree that this is a risk. Florida has built a lot of housing in former swamp-land. As is the case everywhere (Malibu, the Outer Banks of N.C., New Orleans, Sacramento Delta, etc.) encroaching on "Nature's buffer zones" is bad for people and bad for nature. Trying to "fix" nature is unlikely to work, because big fixes screw things up elsewhere and small fixes don't work.

Consider our human ancestors. "Hampered" by a lack of big machines and big money (but not big visions), they built where there was water (not in the desert), away from the floodplain (not behind levees), on solid ground (not landfill or artificial islands), etc. Although engineers have "conquored" many of these barriers, a price must be paid -- either by us (Katrina, etc.) or Nature (sick ecosystems).

Bottom Line: The ecologists say "Nature moves last," which gets at the idea that Nature should be treated with respect -- with rights. Working with Nature preserves our environment and saves us from many troubles.

In economic terms, failing to consider Nature as a player in our game increases unexpected costs and ignores important benefits -- leading to bad policies, wrong actions and worse outcomes in terms of efficiency (surplus) and equity (distribution).