5. 7 Mall Culture

Figure 5.7: Which spot is valued more? West Point Park on the Eno River holds the Eno Festival in July. Note the dozen cars at some random time. Compare that to the relatively new “Streets at Southpoint” mall with hundreds of vehicles (images provided by Durham County GIS, courtesy of Duane Therriault). (Note the lower-albedo reflective white-ish roof, surrounded by darker asphalt.)

Despite what people might state in a survey, in the end they reveal their preferences through their purchasing and recreational choices. The two images from Durham shown in Figure 5.7 demonstrate modern preferences by the number of parked cars. One image shows West Point Park on the Eno River, a park with natural and historical elements, and the other shows the relatively new Streets at Southpoint Mall (see Figure 2.1). Preserving and creating urban open space has two facets. On the one hand, open space preservation means having undisturbed natural spaces to enjoy, but, on the other hand, people appreciating those spaces must accept unfulfilled shopping desires.[26]

The need for ecosystem valuation really began with the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker grounding in Alaska, combined with a 1989 court decision that allowed compensation for the loss of passive use values.[27] Despite the difficulties ascertaining passive use values, many such examples exist. In some situations, researchers set up “experimental markets”: They describe and explain a nonmarket good, then have participants exchange the good in a laboratory setting. People’s valuation of environmental features (in 1988 U.S. dollars) include $10.96 for farmland viewsheds, 36 cents per additional tree in a public park, $435 to increase air quality from “fair” to “good,” and $273 to increase water quality to “boatable, swimmable, fishable.”[28]

Other valuation approaches seek dollar estimates for what nature provides humans in terms of market goods and services. On a worldwide basis, annual valuation estimates for 17 ecosystem services include $17 trillion for nutrient cycling, $3 trillion for cultural value, $2.3 trillion for waste treatment, $1.7 trillion for water supply, and $1.4 trillion for food production. In total, the economic value of the world’s ecosystems  sits around 33 trillion annual productivity, though with a range of $16 to 54 trillion.[29] In comparison, sources estimate the world’s gross product at around $18 trillion.[30] These ecosystem services, whether valued correctly or not, represent the interest gained on the world’s natural capital. Sustainability concepts reflect the best of conservative values — preserving natural capital for future generations and not overspending it today.[31] Putting more and more stress on poorly understood ecosystems, to the point of major change, risks abruptly losing the services of this natural capital if ecological issues aren’t addressed.[32]

Pushing the preservation of natural spaces primarily based on their economic value needs careful consideration, I think, simply because other uses will likely generate greater, more tangible, and shorter-term economic payoffs.[33] Living by the economic sword might mean further environmental setbacks by the economic sword.[34]


[26]I fear any democratic appeal pitting the environment against new commercial or residential developments: comparing the popularity of a natural park and a mall, a new commercialdevelopment seemingly wins by a landslide!

[27]Carson et al. (2003) provide background on economic valuation, and a great summary article explaining many issues is Bingham et al. (1995), reporting the results of a 1991 forum of experts in the area sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

[28]Bergstrom (1990) reviewed examples of economic valuation.

[29]Costanza et al. (1997) and Rojstaczer et al. (2001) provide thorough coverage of valuing ecosystem services. Many citations to these papers provide full coverage.

[30]Boumans et al. (2002) used an enormous model to estimate that the services provided by ecosystems was about 4.5 times the gross world product in the year 2000.

[31]Costanza and Daly (1992) provide an early discussion of natural capital and sustainability.

[32]An excellent discussion of value, services, and ecological processes is provided in Farber et al. (2002, 2006). Dukes and Mooney (2004) discuss the disruption of ecosystems, including their services, due to invasive exotic species. Once values are determined in one place, transferring values determined from one place and time to the benefits provided by the environment in a different time and place is problematic. Nothing says the values are the same, and Spash and Vatn (2006) provide a discussion of this issue.

[33]The pros and cons of economic valuation are discussed by McCauley (2006), and further discussed by several others in response: Marvier et al. (2006), Reid (2006), and Costanza (2006).

[34]A recent example: A case before the U.S. Supreme Court involved power plant cooling systems that use huge volumes of water for cooling their systems, simultaneously heating the water. This water could come from “closed-loop” reservoirs designed solely for cooling, or large rivers, lakes, or oceans. In the latter case, anything living in the natural waters either gets mashed by the tremendous pressures against screens over the intake pipes, or cooked in the cooling system when the water heats up.

Chapter 26 of the U.S. statutes (number 33) on navigable waters, section 1326(a) titled “Effluent limitations that will assure protection and propagation of balanced, indigenous population of shellfish, fish, and wildlife,” reads, “With respect to any point source…, whenever the owner or operator of any such source … can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Administrator (or, if appropriate, the State) that any effluent limitation proposed for the control of the thermal component of any discharge from such source will require effluent limitations more stringent than necessary to assure the projection and propagation of a balanced, indigenous population of shellfish, fish, and wildlife in and on the body of water into which the discharge is to be made, the Administrator (or, if appropriate, the State) may impose an effluent limitation under such sections for such plant, with respect to the thermal component of such discharge (taking into account the interaction of such thermal component with other pollutants), that will assure the protection and propagation of a balanced, indigenous population of shellfish, fish, and wildlife in and on that body of water.” In different legislation, Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act reads: “Any standard established pursuant to section 301 or section 306 of this Act and applicable to a point source shall require that the location, design, construction, and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact.”

On April 1, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6–3 that power plants can cook up aquatic wildlife because the costs of protecting them exceed the benefits. The majority opinion states “that the EPA permissibly relied on cost-benefit analysis in setting the national performance standards.” Dissenting, Justice Stevens, with Justices Souter and Ginsburg joining, write: “the EPA estimated that water intake structures kill 3.4 billion fish and shellfish each year,” but “instead of monetizing all aquatic life, the Agency counted only those species that are commercially or recreationally harvested, a tiny slice (1.8 percent to be precise) of all impacted fish and shellfish. This narrow focus in turn skewed the Agency’s calculation of benefits. When the EPA attempted to value all aquatic life, the benefits measured $735 million. But when the EPA decided to give zero value to the 98.2 percent of fish not commercially or recreationally harvested, the benefits calculation dropped dramatically—to $83 million.” Justice Stevens continues, “The Agency acknowledged that its failure to monetize the other 98.2 percent of affected species ‘could result in serious misallocation of resources’ because its ‘comparison of complete costs and incomplete benefits does not provide an accurate picture of net benefits to society.’” Nature dies on the economic sword.