“Death is not an acceptable exit strategy.”  

I overheard this on a US Airways flight from Charlotte to St. Louis tonight:

The line was uttered by one insurance executive to another, in the row right behind me. The more knowledgeable of the two was explaining that when a “client” (that’s you or me) takes out a loan on his life insurance, he must pay off the loan within seven years. This particular insurance company won’t allow the loan term to be stretched any longer; otherwise, the odds increase that the person will die before the debt is fully paid. That would mean that the balance of the loan would have to be paid from the life insurance policy’s death benefit. And this insurance company doesn’t want that to happen. Hence, the “exit strategy” of paying the debt after one dies is “unacceptable.”

Well, thank you, insurance executive. You inspired an Earth Day post for the frogs. 

If death is not an acceptable exit strategy in the world of life insurance loans, then extinction is an unacceptable exit strategy for the 2,000-plus species of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians that are projected to disappear in our lifetime. If unchecked, this will be the most significant loss of animal life since the disappearance of the dinosaurs.

It would be easy to follow the example of the actuarians and simply present these frogs with a contract stipulating that they have to fix their problem in seven years. But frogs wouldn’t understand all the legal jargon. And, anyway, they really can’t be expected to get themselves out of the pickle jar we’ve put them in.

The truth is, we’re the ones who have taken out a massive loan. By living the way we live, we’ve been borrowing against the future sustainability of the planet and the creatures that live on it. And as frogs are regarded as the canaries in the coal mine for our planet’s health, their looming mass exodus has given us our clearest warning yet that we have to pay down our loan, and quickly.

So, on this Earth Day, think about signing a seven-year contract with yourself — and for the frogs — to fix all that you can.

A huge part of the debt to amphibians could be paid off in that timeframe. There is a no-nonsense plan, called Amphibian Ark, that will place the 500 most threatened species into the “protective custody” of zoos and other conservation organizations. Species are disappearing as you are reading this.

The Amphibian Ark plan will put these species into protective “arks” — i.e., biosecure containers that will:

  1. protect endangered species from environmental threats that include the frog-killing chytrid fungus, pollution, loss of habitat, and global warming

  2. help these “last frogs standing” to breed for their eventual return to the wild

  3. allow scientists to find a cure for chytrid through research conducted in the containers

  4. buy time for other conservation efforts to restore amphibian habitat around the world — so there’s a home to return to

You can sign the contract, in a way, by signing this online petition to protect amphibians. Then, stay tuned, because right after Earth Day we’re going to come back to you with a list of things you can do to save the frogs. If everybody would pick just one thing to do, it would add up to a lot. It would be like paying extra against the principal on the loan we’ve taken out.

Say it over and over to yourself: Extinction is not an acceptable exit strategy. Thanks to amphibians, we have a real opportunity to start paying off our debt. Let’s hop to it.

And, if those insurance executives are reading this, I hope I haven’t offended you. I meant no harm. In fact, we could use your talents to raise the $50-$60 million needed to complete the Amphibian Ark physical plan. Maybe you could come up with a seven-year strategy for that. 🙂