Visionary Science, Ethics, Law and Action in the Public Interest

Evaluating the Cumulative Impacts of the Decisions We Make

Cumulative Impacts analysis is needed whenever some new disturbance (new project, new process, new technology, etc.) is introduced into any of the three environments (natural, built, or social). But the suggestion to analyze cumulative impacts is met by a groan (or by silence as the whole issue is ignored).

Why is this so hard? I can think of four reasons:

1) We tend to think of events and actions as “one cause, one effect.” In my experience, humans seem hard-wired to think this way. Ask a person who has cancer, What caused it? More often than not, you’ll get an answer that assigns responsibility to a single agent. We don’t naturally ask ourselves about the cumulative effects of many seemingly-insignificant disturbances. Our inclination–like the inclination of “regulators”–is to assume that a seemingly-insignificant disturbance is just that–insignificant.

But we now understand that this perception is wrong. All problems are cumulative impact problems and it’s important that we get used to thinking about them in that way.

To read more of Dr. Peter Montague’s article, please click here: