Putting a Price on Life

Written by Nicole Barker, ESLLC 2016-2017

Economists and ecologists have recently come together to put a price on the loss or gain of a plant species in an ecosystem. This creates an economic argument for preserving plant biodiversity and in today’s world, it seems that money is the only thing that will change people’s minds.

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The system was based off an organism’s service to humans, carbon storage, as it is difficult to quantify an intrinsic value. There is currently a $175 billion global market for activities that remove carbon from the atmosphere in response to climate change. The key question that researchers asked when assigning these values was will changing the number of plant species in an ecosystem affect the amount of carbon it stores over time?

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For over 50 years, researchers in Minnesota collected data from grasslands that measured how plant and soil carbon changed with the number of plant species in a plot. The result from this experiment showed that the biggest benefits in carbon storage came from adding species to the least diverse plots. For example, adding a sixth species to a plot that used to have five is more beneficial than adding a twenty first species to a plot that had twenty. On 2.47 acres of land, going from one plant species to two over the 50 years results in saving $804 and store an additional 9.1 metric tons of carbon. On a larger scale, adding another species to 29.5 million acres could save over $700 million.

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While the dollar values sound nice, there are so many other benefits to preserving biodiversity. This includes ecosystem services such as water and soil protection, recovery from unpredicted events, nutrient storage and recycling, food, and resources. Some social benefits include cultural values, research, and recreation. One cool discovery came from this past year when a new species of pistol shrimp was discovered. The scientists that found it named it Synalpheus pinkfloydi, after Pink Floyd. If we do not take care of species, discoveries like this will not be possible, along with many other, arguably more important, contributions. Also, I do not agree at all with putting a price on a life, no matter if it is a plant or an animal. It seems unethical, however like I said before, money is the language that everyone speaks.

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