Bioethics Blogs

Earth: Priceless

Christmas is the season when prices, costs and value are on everybody’s mind. At least when trying to estimate how much a present is worth to a friend or family member (and the value of our own happiness at their happiness): is it really worth the price in the store? Lee Billings recounts a fascinating discussion with the astronomer Greg Laughlin and natural capital expert Taylor Ricketts about How Much Money Would an Earth-Like Exoplanet Really Be Worth to Us? A closely related question is of course: what is Earth worth?

The price is right?

Greg Laughlin once developed a valuation formula based on solar mass, planet mass, temperature, age, visibility etc., calibrated by the land price of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Applied to Earth it gives a price of 5 quadrillion dollars, which is about 100 times the Earth’s current yearly GDP. This was largely an ad hoc estimate to show how valuable exoplanet searches could be rather than an attempt at estimating the real value of Earth.

Robert Costanza et al. estimated the value  of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital in a 1997 Nature paper. They concluded “For the entire biosphere, the value (most of which is outside the market) is estimated to be in the range of US$16–54 trillion (1012) per year, with an average of US$33 trillion per year. Because of the nature of the uncertainties, this must be considered a minimum estimate.”

This estimation is very much based on instrumental value: the value the ecosystems have to us, and what we are willing to pay to sustain them.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.