London's forgotten river and the barrister who saved it

When Paul Powlesland moored his boat on the Roding in 2017, the river was choked with slime and garbage. Now the community that sprung up around is keeping its waters clear - and Powlesland is turning to the next challenge: securing rivers their human rights. Jon Moses reports.

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Hasnain says:

“The fact there isn’t stems, for Paul, from a deeper problem. Despite underpinning the viability of life itself, nature’s contributions are absent from most economic modelling. And unlike corporations, nature has no legal standing: a river can neither sue its polluters, nor charge for the many services it provides. This has allowed it to become a “free” externality: something neither capitalism or the state has to account for, or take seriously.

“It’s effectively stealing from nature”, Paul says. “Thames Water don’t have to pay when they do an overspill into the river. The Highways authorities don’t have to pay when they discharge stormwater into the river. They don’t pay when they extract from the river.” If the full actual cost of what companies like Thames Water take from, and put back into, the Roding were actually accounted for, Paul believes “we could easily pay for dozens of people to look after the river.”

While the idea of a river being paid for its services might seem radical, it is gaining ground. Natural capital - the idea that nature provides intrinsic economic value, either through services it provides (e.g. the pollination of crops by bees) or the preservation of life (e.g. through the carbon dioxide it absorbs) is slowly becoming more normalised in policy circles.”

Posted on 2022-11-14T04:58:03+0000