Financing the preservation of the diversity of life on Earth in a capitalist system
Homi Kharas: With all the issues we face today – climate change, inequality, the pandemic, extreme poverty – is biodiversity a top global priority?
Jonathan Ledgard: The 2020s will probably be the most important decade for non-human life in recorded history. We are facing, in our lifetime, a sixth mass extinction event in the past 500 million years. Tens of thousands of species are threatened with total or local extinction. There are half as many wild animals alive today as there were in 1970. On the captive side, the biomass of chickens exceeds that of wild birds, and the biomass of humans and livestock is 25 times that of all terrestrial wild animals.
HK: In our capitalist system, only $24 billion is spent globally on nature conservation, while $97 billion is spent on pet food alone. What can be done?
JL: I propose a new central bank, something futuristic and beyond the WEF [Global Environment Facility] and other existing funding mechanisms: a Bank for other species in which the bank serves non-human life forms. The bank will be empowered to create central bank digital currency and pay it out to digital proxies of rare species of animals, trees, and even insects. This currency, the life mark (L marks), will gain regulatory approval in most countries around the world. It will be possible for poorer communities to earn L-marks as payment for the services they provide to other species.
HK: How do you decide what you want to keep? Do you prioritize where the risk of extinction is highest?
JL: There are cases where we can accurately calculate the value of existence of a given species in a given ecosystem and economy. For example, studies suggest that each African elephant brings a theoretical value of $1.75 million, while the tusks of a dead elephant fetch only $40,000, and other studies indicate that dugongs are worth $132,000 alive, compared to less than $1,000 for meat when killed. Similarly, the contribution of trees, soil biomes and whales to carbon capture can now be priced. However, our knowledge of the non-human world is far too patchy for a full allocation of resources. Only 2 million of the 8.7 million species on Earth are recorded by science. Only 45,000 of the approximately 1 million mites – and only 100,000 of the 3 million fungi – have been recorded. We know these beings have value within complex living systems – nature could contribute up to $40 trillion a year to the global economy – but issuing L-marks cannot be done alone. for economic reasons. At some point, the economics of biodiversity becomes as meaningless as the economics of the entire biosphere.
HK: How would cross-species money work?
JL: Interspecies money is made possible today because of the collapsing cost of collecting data in nature through low-cost sensors, drones and other robots, close-range observation. space and in particular to eDNA sampling, coupled with huge advances in artificial intelligence that can interpret this data. Taken together, this combination allows us to base interspecific money allocation on actual conservation outcomes. Primate facial recognition exceeds 95% accuracy, often advanced by algorithms used to recognize individual pigs and sheep. A secure digital identity based on distinctive animal markings is well advanced, as is the remote identification of whales at sea.
Once you can reliably identify individual species in their habitats, conservationists can self-organize around the new digital currency to dramatically expand their knowledge. For example, the International Barcode of Life wants to identify 2 million more species over the next decade. Observation of new species can be rewarded with L-marks exchangeable for US dollars. Instead of mining numbers, as in Bitcoin, they will mine the discovery of life.
HK: Can you give a more specific example of how this might work in practice?
JL: I use the giraffe as an example of Sesame Street. There are 117,000 giraffes left alive in the wild, up from 163,000 in 1985. Another 1,700 live in captivity. In some places, giraffe numbers have plummeted by 95% due to habitat fragmentation, incursion by farmers and bovine tuberculosis. Giraffes are also hit by cars, killed for their meat, bone marrow and for their tails (which are used for ceremonial purposes).
Imagine that each giraffe holds a wallet with the equivalent of $32,000 in L-marks (I base this amount on the modeled economic value referenced above). With community rangers, sensors, and AI providing data, it will be possible to autonomously unlock payments from the giraffe (or its digital twin) for observation and other services: in this case, the giraffe could pay herders to keep their cattle away from the watering hole. Holes; paying villagers to plant more acacia trees for grazing; and pay a bond to protect him from poachers. In short, the additional payments will create a dataset of unprecedented frequency and resolution, not only useful for giraffes, but for a healthy ecosystem more broadly.
This perhaps illustrates another point: if funds are allocated to keystone species (like the literal watchtower giraffe), many other species in those ecosystems will also be supported. The giraffe will help oxpecker birds and weaver birds; bees, moths and other pollinators; and the trees and grasses that are the building blocks of the ecosystem.
Giraffes will issue L-marks as long as the results are validated. Very poor local communities will generate the data and provide the services. Of course, real services must be paid for with real money – so villagers must be able to cash in the L-marks they earn.
HK: Who benefits?
JL: Biodiversity is richest in the poorest countries in the world: Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo benefit the most. I find it interesting that a quarter of the world’s languages are found in the rainforests of New Guinea, Congo and the Amazon – a wealth of nature supports a wealth of human diversity. Interspecific silver can help these cultures maintain their knowledge and surrounding ecosystems.
HK: Where will the liquidity come from?
JL: The Other Species Bank will bring together various donors. Initially, philanthropists. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has created a $10 billion Earth Fund focused on solutions to climate change and biodiversity. The fund’s boss, Andrew Steer, says “there is no silver bullet, it’s like a puzzle”. The Other Cash Bank, with advanced AI, data management, as well as liquidity, could be a key piece of the puzzle. Next, governments: the European Union’s Horizon 2021-27 research fund, endowed with 95 billion euros, has biodiversity as a priority; similar US and Chinese initiatives exist. Personally, I expect private investment in biodiversity to explode in the 2020s. Consider that investment in biodiversity is estimated between $6.6 billion and $13.6 billion per year, while loans and the subscription is worth $2.6 trillion go to industries causing biodiversity loss. This paves the way for institutional investors to purchase many types of biodiversity offsets, similar to carbon offsets, but these can only work if there is enough data acquisition in nature to build biodiversity vehicles. regenerative investments in nature that are salable on Wall Street.
HK: What are the challenges for that to happen?
JL: What really matters is to act quickly to rewrite the economic rules in favor of non-human life in a transparent and precise way. We must immediately fund and execute pilot projects to test the validity of AI and IT governance elements of cross-species money in the wild. Scientists should be encouraged to research relevant issues such as species predation, vagility and carrying capacity. The correct bank architecture for other species is essential. Obviously, it should resemble a central bank in terms of stability and trust, but cryptocurrency treasuries are likely to move faster than central bankers. For example, 0.3% of the largest crypto treasuries directly into L-brands will generate the equivalent of several billion dollars every year, and the value of the L-brand will likely increase. The greatest challenge is not creating something that collapses under its own weight, or inadvertently introducing a state of panoptic surveillance into the natural world, nor having unintended or damaging side effects for communities. .