Both short-lived and long-lived residuals can affect economic activity over a number of years through their effects on other economic assets, in particular produced capital goods such as buildings and equipment. For example, acid precipitation can cause deterioration of buildings. Accumulated greenhouse gases can result in coastal flooding and higher storm surges, thereby adversely affecting the value of existing coastal structures. Pollutants such as lead can cause long-lasting health consequences, impacts on intellectual functions, and premature death.
The previous section addressed the major ways in which natural resources and the environment interact with economic activity. Depending on the intended uses of the data, there are different approaches to structuring environmental and natural-resource accounts. The most complete accounting structure would treat all the relationship in Figure 4-1. However, constructing such a complete set of accounts is infeasible today, and governments must choose areas for investigation strategically in accordance with their national economic and environmental goals and interests. This section delineates some possible approaches to accounting for natural and environmental resources and activities.
A complete set of production accounts would identify all the cross-relationships among industry, household, government, and natural sources of emissions or residuals, as well as the nonmarketed current account input services provided by nature and the productive contribution of nature to final demand. Current-year activities would include production of residuals, just as traditional economic accounts include production accounts. A complete set of accounts would incorporate flows of residuals from abroad, similar to imports of goods and services. It would also be necessary to calculate the "price"—negative or positive—indicating whether the effect was adverse or beneficial. The accounting for current-year activities would include final uses of residuals, identifying effects on final consumption, flows abroad, and contributions to capital stocks, just as traditional accounting frameworks identify final consumption of goods and services, exports, and gross capital accumulation.