Whales could be worth $1 trillion in the fight against climate change, according to economists

(Image credit: drewsulockcreations/iStock)

Economists want you to save the whales.

In an analysis from the International Monetary Fund, great whales are estimated to be worth $2 million each — $1 trillion total — in the fight against climate change. In other words, one whale is worth thousands of trees.

Great whales combat climate change by capturing carbon. The nutrients in whale excretion stimulate the growth of photosynthesizing algae, which take carbon from the air, reports National Geographic. Whales also capture carbon by harboring it in their fat. Then, when they die, the carbon stays in their body on the sea floor, removed from the atmospheric cycle for hundreds to thousands of years.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Economists concluded the monetary value by applying the market price of carbon dioxide to the whales' carbon capture, and included economic benefits of the creatures such as ecotourism, per National Geographic.

There are currently about 1.3 million great whales, but if they were protected and restored to their pre-commercial whaling numbers of 4-5 million, economists estimate they could capture more carbon dioxide each year than the annual emissions of Brazil.

But even that just scrapes the surface of annual global carbon emissions, and economists say the concept should not be oversold. "It's not like we save the whales and we save the climate," Steven Lutz of GRID-Arendal, a foundation that works with the United Nations Environment Program, told National Geographic.

The framework of the analysis is intended to start a conversation with policymakers who "don't buy into saving animals for the sake of animals," said the lead economist, Ralph Chami. Read more at National Geographic.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.