Saturday, March 06, 2010

Henry: We've only just begun (to properly value the environment)

Treasury boss Ken Henry has taken a swipe at the work of his own department as well as others on valuing the environment saying much of it is flawed and fails to give proper weight to the importance of retaining Australia's unique biodiversity.

Fresh from producing the as-yet-unreleased Henry Tax Review and in the midst of preparing the 2010 Budget Dr Henry told an environment conference in Sydney that the part of his Intergenerational Report that had received the least attention was the section on environmental sustainability.

But not only did the well-being of future generations depend in large part on the environmental resources left to them from this generation, the environment was likely to become more important to them than it is to us.

"It is very likely that improvements in our material wealth and our understanding of the environment will enhance our appreciation and enjoyment of the environment over time," he told the conference. "There seems great scope, for example, for developing new or improved food crops, medicines and industrial products from our biological diversity."

Market valuations of forests and farmland underplayed their real value because many of their benefits were too far in the future to be taken into account in prices. Asking people how much they would be prepared to pay to preserve parts of the environment had been found to result in bizarre conclusions including that preserving blue whales is more important than preserving all whales...

"The idea of blue whales evokes a richer mental image than the idea of whales in general," he said.

A practical conservationist, Dr Henry helped draft the Henry Review's tax discussion paper while on working holiday in central Queensland caring for northern hairy nosed wombats. In 2008 in a personal capacity he is reported to have helped draft a submission opposing plans to cull 500 kangaroos on urban grassland in Canberra.

He told the conference the problem with consulting experts was that they too often gave advice on areas beyond that expertise. In Canberra a panel of grassland ecologists had been asked to "offer advice on the difficult ethical question of whether it is more humane to kill a kangaroo than it is to relocate it."

"Ethics too requires expertise," he told the conference. "And it is an expertise that should not be assumed to be positively correlated with scientific training."

"We in the Treasury, who are often called on by governments to offer such assessments are very aware of the risks in claiming too much," he said.

Published in today's SMH and Age

Ken Henry Speech to the Environment Business Australia Forum

And here's the much loved and missed Karen Carpenter: (She had only just begun)

And don't doubt that she could perform live -- what a precious, tormented talent:

Related Posts

. Ken Henry: Tax, wombats and me

. Treasury Secretary takes a holiday

. Ken Henry's call to arms