Let's Make a Deal!

Several posts of mine have sought to put the value of Earth’s biodiversity in context. The first of these leveraged the cute coincidence that all the animals on the planet are about the same weight as all the gold within 5 km of the land’s surface to make the case that animals are worth more than their weight in gold.

The next installment made a similar case for insects (arthropods, more generally), placing a premium economic value of at least $10,000 per kilogram of bug mass.

In this post, I ask: what would you be willing to trade for all animal life on this planet? It may seem like a forced and false choice, as nobody is proposing to eliminate all animal life on the planet. Despite this, we’re doing a dazzlingly good job of marching toward that very goal, whether explicitly intending to or not. Typical decline rates among vertebrates and insects are in the 1–2% per year ballpark; average decline in vertebrate populations is 70% since 1970; and a sixth mass extinction appears to have kicked off with extinction rates about 1,000 times the background rate. So, the prospect of losing Earth’s biodiversity is not purely hypothetical, thus deserving serious attention. I’ll have more to say about the validity of this approach at the end.

Meanwhile, are you ready to play the game?

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