Capitalism and Conservation
His Royal Highness rightly says that our rainforests are worth more alive than dead. This is absolutely true. Leaving aside the immeasurable value offered by our rainforests’ diversity and water conservation functions, we are facing an almost unfathomably large business opportunity, one which we can share with the Rainforest nations of the world . . .With an estimated 610 billion tonnes of CO2 sequestered by our tropical rainforests, a vast $18 trillion business opportunity is before us . . . [I]t is increasingly clear that the solution to this problem lies not only within a free market system but also within our field of expertise. What the people of Rainforest nations need is a system that values the services locked up in their land . . . The rainforests are at the very centre of these countries’ identities; they seek to preserve them even as they struggle against them . . .With capitalism at the centre of OUR identity, we must be bold enough to see the world at its widest, even as we struggle in our own way . . . To seize this $18 trillion business opportunity, valuing the services of our rainforest will not only require innovation in market-based mechanisms but also unprecedented global cooperation between the brightest minds of the nations of our world. Many structures and mechanisms will need to be created, but it should be our expertise that defines them, and our appetite for these markets that forces political support for them.1 With these words Stanley Fink, a former leading hedge fund manager, replied to Prince Charles at a banquet held at the Mansion House, in the symbolic and cultural heart of the financial district in the City of London. Prince Charles had arranged the event to communicate the work of his Rainforest Project to the financial community.2 His purpose, simply put, is to make rainforests worth more alive than dead through fostering novel financial mechanisms that properly value the ecosystem services rainforests provide.
Fink, and Prince Charles’ event, rather neatly capture the phenomenon with which this book is concerned: the current alliances between capitalism and conservation. These alliances are characterised by an aggressive faith in market solutions to environmental problems. They are actively remaking economies, landscapes, livelihoods and conservation policy and practice and they are partying in the symbolic heartlands of capitalism. Corson (this volume) provides the best summary of the shared basis of these chapters. She suggests that, by providing an avenue by which corporations and politicians can become “green”, as well as through new enclosures and conservation-based enterprises, conservation fuels processes of capital accumulation. The net result is that “international biodiversity conservation is creating new symbolic and material spaces for global capital expansion” (Corson, this volume: 578). The purpose of this book is to explore the origins, manifestations and consequences of these unions.
A close relationship between capitalism and conservation is nothing new. Neoliberal conservation is but the latest stage in a long and healthy relationship between capitalism and conservation (Adams 2004; Brockington, Duffy and Igoe 2008; Neumann 1998). Rich elites have been promoting conservation of particular species for their pleasure and enjoyment long before capitalism even began; capitalist elites adopted these same privileges (Rangarajan 2001). Capitalist interests strongly advocated the first national parks in North America, and the first conservation NGOs. Indeed it is arguable that what is remarkable about the environmental NGOs and environmentalism of the 1960s and 1970s is that it took such a strong anti-capitalist line. The spirit ofEdward Abbey and his Monkeywrench Gang are the exception, not the rule.3 The practices that link conservation and capitalism therefore are old. There is, however, something new going on. Critics and analysts of conservation are observing an increase in the intensity and variety of forms of capitalist conservation. Underlying that is a shift in the conservation movement’s own conception of these practices. As the detailed histories that MacDonald and Corson trace in this book show, the idea that capitalism can and should help conservation save the world now occupies the mainstream of the conservation movement. There is still resistance (Walker et al 2009) but it is becoming increasingly marginal in the corridors of conservation power. This is producing changes in the imagery and rhetoric of conservation aswell as its policies and practices.
The challenge for analysts has been how to observe these shifts. The task of observing conservation at work has migrated from remote rural locations where conservation policy happened to massive international meetings (the Earth Summits and World Parks Congress, World Conservation Congress, Conferences of the Parties to Conventions on Biodiversity or Climate Change), marketing seminars, elephant festivals, fundraising events in Washington, plush offices in metropoles throughout the world, film festivals, banquets and analyses of advertisements and glossy magazines. Studying conservation policy, organisations and natural resource management frequently requires multi-sited ethnographic research as well as long hours becoming familiar with the strange new languages of macroeconomics or conservation biology and the peculiar lifeways of exotic tribes of international bureaucrats and corporate sustainability officers.
|October 15, 2017
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