Environmental Accounting
There is an increasing global awareness of the value of a healthy environment. This is apparent in the number of eco-tours now available; tourism with a soft impact on the landscape. Intact, bio-rich environments are increasing in economic worth and replacing the extractive industries as income generators and sources of community wealth. This is apparent in Hyams Beach, as property values have rapidly escalated, functions of scarcity and the declaration of adjoining bushland as a national park.

Proponents of extractive activities are finding that the increased community awareness of the environment as an economic asset, a cost-effective way of jeopardising their projects. Environmental issues can generate considerable emotion and hostility between the differing factions. Stimulating the debate lies the need for the global community to continue to improve the standard of living. Petroleum products are still needed which continues to pose a threat of drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. Paper pulp and timber is still needed and the extraction has generated very strong anti-forestry responses. We can see this across a number of global needs; power generation (uranium mining), food (overfishing), clothing (cotton chemical’s), water (increasing world shortage), environmental warming (carbon and other emissions): we are at a critical stage in our evolution. Continue extracting and kill the earth, stop extracting and return to the caves, or find an intelligent balance so that the global bio-diversity continues to evolve and develop positively. Environmental accounting is a useful way to measure the impacts and decide on courses of action.

The diagram presents one model of environmental accounting bringing balance to environmental economics. The model is somewhat glib in that terms such as ‘community re-engineering’ can become unpleasant. The Eden (NSW) community re-engineered during the Harris-Daishowa wood chipping controversy and the outcome was sometimes violent.

Some of the economic benefits of caring for the environment are substantial. The NPWS estimate that: 

  • The contribution of koalas to the tourism industry is … $1.1 billion per year or 9,000 jobs.

  • Whale watching is a $50 million a year industry in Australia, while on a global scale, whale and dolphin-based tourism is worth US$550 million.

  • The annual economic value of Dorrigo National Park is $5.4 million contributing to 8.4 % of regional employment.

  •   In Queensland, it has been estimated that the average hectare of mangrove habitat is worth $8,000 annually in fish production.

  • The financial benefit of water supplied to Melbourne from forested catchments has been valued at $250 million per year.
    (NPWS, 1999: 4-5)

Contrast these with some of the costs:

  • Approximately 72% of NSW is affected by some form of land degradation.

  • Dryland salinity costs $243 million per year in lost agricultural production.

  • Soil structure decline is costing Australian farmers around $200 million annually.

  • The cost to Australia of lost agricultural production, decreased quality and control measures due to weeds is estimated at $3.3 billion per annum.
    (NPWS, 1999: 5)

Australia is experiencing declining regional and agricultural economies. Remnant populations isolated in shrinking country towns are faced with unsympathetic urban communities refusing the rural subsidies. Self-help and intelligent strategies are replacing the older call for subsidies. Hyden in Western Australia initiated a community improvement of the local economy and is a useful role model.

The economic benefits listed above all touch on Jervis Bay and Hyams Beach. It is the habitat of three endangered fauna species and a number of flora species, which if fostered and marketed well, will attract eco-tourists. The clean water of the Bay is world famous for skindiving. There is a growing porpoise watching fleet. The combined economic value of Booderee and Jervis Bay National Parks is substantial. There are 12 sites listed in the Register of the National Estate. The proximity to Sydney adds value to an already richly endowed area. However, there are other places in Australia with their unique natural attributes and using the environmental accounting model, appropriate environmental strategies can be developed to replace the degradation.