Julie Peters


Environmental Accounting "proves" Democrat policy

Julie Peters

The economic irrationalists value forest at the cost of reducing it to wood-chips. It is frustrating to us that people don't see the "intrinsic" value of a species or our unique native forests. Howard Odum's book `Environmental Accounting' (Wiley 1996) gives us a valuable tool for measuring the value of very different elements such as a forest, a species, a computer program or money. And he does so in terms that even an economic irrationalist could understand.

Solar energy from the sun drives all earth's systems; organic, wind, rain and tides. Photosynthesis upgrades the quality of energy from light to organic matter, but it is a very inefficient process; 1000 joules of sunlight produce 1 joule of energy in plant matter. And this plant matter may be eaten by animals who are eaten by others. And so it takes 4,000,000 joules of sunlight to produce 1 joule of protein food. And it takes as much as 5,000,000,000 joules of sunlight to produce 1joule of work from a Scientist. To arrive at these figures Odum adds all the energy either directly or indirectly needed to produce a product be it an apple or a bridge. He calls this embodied energy and uses it as a far better tool than money to place a value on something. But like money it has the advantage of quantifying that value.

So when we look at a rare species and try to value it, we don't just look at how we can profit from it, we look at the embodied energy that was needed to create the species and obviously this gives it an extremely high value. And as you can imagine this system would give a much higher value again to the ecosystem in an old growth forest. And when you compare these values to the embodied energy value of money no one on earth would be able to buy a forest for wood-chipping. And so this tool supports Democrat policy.

There is no denying that this is a complicated way of looking at the environment and society. And it still doesn't include a measure of creative value. But embodied energy provides us with a tool that enables us to quantify that which we consider important and so enables us to integrate our policies. And it is certainly worth the effort.

© Copyright Julie Peters 1998
Contact julie@natasha.ironbark.id.au