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The Price of Putting a Price on Nature

“Our oceans are worth at least $24 trillion, according to a new WWF report Reviving the Ocean Economy

Medium

“The Price of Putting a Price on Nature”

September 29, 2019

By Alexa Firmenich

Lacandon teenager, gazing at the Metzabok lake which has since gone dry // Alexa Firmenich

“The economic benefit of the rainforest if it’s conserved is $8.2 billion a year”

I read these sentences, and many similar ones frequenting headlines today, and I endear us to pause and consider their implications. Consider how this information actually makes you feel. Does knowing how much the oceans are worth evoke genuine care in you? I ask because when I care, my heart beats harder in my chest. When I “care”, I feel warmth, vitality, excitement, potential. When I care, my actions arise from a place deep within — the only place that sustains authentic long-term action. I don’t want my care to arise from an economic calculation of trade-offs.

I want to care because I actually care about the ocean.

The moment that my care has a price tag on it, I can be bought. What happens if the equation is subsequently calculated differently, and fish are now worth more dead than alive? What effect would that have on my care? What actions would that then justify?

If our civilisation and our leaders depend on the above metrics to convince us to protect the oceans — if we are even asking whether a forest is worth more alive or cut down — we are asking the wrong question in the first place.

Is our highest human potential really the ability to keep a forest on a life support machine just enough so that we can keep harvesting its organs appropriately to fuel our human world? Or, is our highest potential found in the myriad of ways we can collectively imagine how to live with that forest in right relationship, asking ourselves constantly how we can help enable the forest to thrive and evolve in all its splendour?

The outcome may look the same on the surface — the forest stays in the ground and trees don’t get cut down — but the guiding intention and energy behind both actions couldn’t be further apart.

It is to this intention I am called to draw attention to.

We should strive to be fully aware of the real motivations for doing what we do. Let’s not fool ourselves. The current breakdown in our systems is not really about short term versus long term profits, nor whether our cost benefit analyses accurately capture natural capital. It is not about shareholder versus stakeholder value, Business for Good or What is Our Purpose. These things are important, part of our journey, yes, but what is hurting lies a few layers underneath.

The real question for me is whether human beings have the right to put a price, a cap and trade, a bond or a derivative, on Nature and other sentient beings — ever. Is it in our place to put a price the joy of our children, as their faces light up in rapture watching a wave crashing on the beach or an eagle hunting at sunset? On the chorus of songbirds that rouse us from a summer slumber as a faint breeze tousles our blankets? On a forest so alive that to walk through it makes your very skin tingle with the crackling of dry leaves and the smell of pine?

I’ll state it simply. Nature never has been and never will be ours to own and measure, and as long as we continue do so, it is us who will pay a steep price. The world that exists ‘out’ there, right out there where the concrete breaks away, right there where the wet earth and vines tumble out, ‘out’ there, that world is of such exquisite and beatific complexity that it will forever defy human measurement. And Thankfully. No matter how well-intentioned our attempts to instrumentalise and quantify it, to reduce Nature’s complexity is to enter into dangerous territory. Let’s not mistake the woods for the trees.

And let’s remember, that when we debase someone or something, it is ourselves we debase.

Somehow, we have to make room and allow in for this other form of “care” that arises from deep within. Somehow, we must rediscover it, ready to come alive to pour through our veins. We must remember what we already know. I say we must, because otherwise we will forever be incomplete. I still believe with all my heart that every single person on the planet knows this care. The reduction of everything to objectified measurement is only part of our story. The question is not carbon credits or fossil fuel mitigation. Even if we succeed in staying under ‘two degrees’, let’s not stop there and rest on our laurels considering the book written. Something else is profoundly wrong in our relationship with the living world and those pages are still to be written.

Some might say that over time, utilitarian values crystallise into core life values. I don’t necessarily agree and history shows us otherwise. All I know is that I am much too heartbreakingly in love with this world not to at least try to push the edges of what I think is possible in our dormant potential to truly care.

[Alexa Firmenich is the co-founder of Atlas Unbound // Journeys into the Wild, Systems Thinking & Regeneration, Weaving Stories and Paradigms // www.alexafirmenich.com ]

 

The Insane Nexus of “Natural Capital” & the Rights of Nature

The Insane Nexus of “Natural Capital” & the Rights of Nature

January 3, 2020

By Michael Swifte

 

To my mind, the concepts the ‘rights of nature’ and ‘natural capital’ are counterposed. To me, Rights of Nature thinking supports the recognition of nature’s pricelessness, its intrinsic value, its interdependentness; whereas Natural Capital thinking supports, as Clive Spash says, “the commensuration of all values”.

Natural Capital proponents will always say that their concern is with conserving and protecting nature, but it is the process of ‘commensuration’ that transforms responsible stewardship into opportunities to exploit nature for profit. Nature is transformed from something of intrinsic value to be preserved and protected, to an asset class delivering ‘services’ for humans and great returns on investment.

Natural Capital and ecosystem services are the products of what Derrick Jensen in his 2015 Open Letter to Reclaim Environmentalism calls the “Conservation Industrial Complex”.

It is in the intersection of environmentalism and corporate conservation that I encountered the insanity of trying to engage simultaneously with two counterposed ideas.

3 Moments

I will outline 3 moments that left my head spinning. I will highlight moments when individuals and organisations that are deeply committed to Natural Capital thinking engage with individuals and organisations that are committed to promoting the intrinsic rights of mother nature. In these moments the fundamental contradictions between these 2 types of thinking did not become apparent to those involved. My concern is particularly with the absence of a contest of ideas. Surely those advocating for the Rights of Nature should be shouting out about the risks posed by further integrating our care for nature into the sphere of financial reckoning?

Context: Rights of Nature

People's Agreement of Cochabamba

People’s Agreement of Cochabamba

 

In 2016 the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund – International Center for the Rights of Nature prepared an historical timeline presenting key moments in the development of the Rights of Nature ‘movement’. While ideas were posited as far back as 1972, it wasn’t until the late 2000s that Rights of Nature were formally recognised under the provisions of local, state or national governments. Ecuador is the most often cited example having recognised the Rights of Nature in its constitution in 2008, but it wasn’t till 2010 that a collective voice was heard. [SOURCE]

In April 2010 the ‘People’s Agreement of Cochabamba’ presented an historic formulation and assertion of The Rights of Mother Nature:

In an interdependent system in which human beings are only one component, it is not possible to recognise rights only to the human part without provoking an imbalance in the system as a whole. To guarantee human rights and to restore harmony with nature, it is necessary to effectively recognize and apply the rights of Mother Earth. [SOURCE]

Rights of Nature as a position of environmental advocacy has been carried forward over the last decade by various organisations including the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Australian Earth Laws Alliance and Mumta Ito’s Natures-Rights.org.

Context: Natural Capital

May 15, 1997

May 15, 1997

 

Natural Capital thinking finds its roots in the merging of economics and ecology that was started at the 1982 Wallenberg Symposium in Sweden which was themed ‘Integrating Ecology and Economics’. In attendance at the Wallenberg Symposium was before a brief stint with the World Bank where he advocated for “rights to pollute” within his ‘steady state’ framework. In 1997 Costanza had the dubious honour of being the first person to present a Natural Capital valuation of the whole earth’s “biosphere” at somewhere between US$16-54 trillion per year.

In her 2007 obituary of Ecological Economics co-founder AnnMari Jansson for the  International Society for Ecological Economics newsletter, Karin E. Limburg highlights the “chasm” between ecology and economics at the first Wallenberg Symposium:

Several days of intensive meetings brought home the philosophical chasm between these disciplines, but also made it clear that there was some common ground to be nurtured. [SOURCE]

All the most wealthy conservation organisations on the planet support Natural Capital thinking through various means; WWF, The Nature Conservancy, and Conservation International being prime among them. Collectively these organisations who are deeply engaged with corporations and governments, and in possession of unprecedented access to land and resources in the global south are represented by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Nature or Natural Capital is viewed by the Conservation Industrial Complex, embodied by the IUCN, as a “stock”, “producing value for people”. Under a policy motion prepared for the IUCN for the World Conservation Congress 2020 in Marseille the IUCN envisage their role as sustainable managers of nature to deliver “goods and services”. [SOURCE]

Mumta Ito, Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature

It’s hard to know what became of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature’s (GARN) efforts to get the IUCN to operationalise recognition of the Rights of Nature. The trail goes cold in 2017 after an event hosted by Nature’s Rights in the European Parliament in Brussels. [SOURCE]

Between 2012 when the first Rights of Nature resolution was presented at the IUCN World Congress, and 2017 when the IUCN Global Programme 2017-2020 came into action, Rights of Nature advocates led by Mumta Ito put in significant efforts imploring the IUCN member organisations to incorporate nature’s rights in “all its initiatives”.

Between 2012 and now many IUCN member organisations have accelerated their efforts to push forward with the ‘natural capital approach’. The Natural Capital Coalition was formed in 2012 and the Natural Capital Protocol was launched in 2016.

Here is a quote from Conservation International CEO Peter Seligmann upon the launch of the Natural Capital Protocol:

The urgency of addressing climate change requires innovations across all sectors of society. This is why Conservation International strongly supports the innovations of the Natural Capital Protocol. Their breakthrough methodology provides Businesses with the tools to understand their dependency on nature and their impact on nature. This is essential if they want to achieve sustainability. It is a challenge that enlightened business leaders should undertake for their bottom line, as well as for the interest of humanity and the preservation of the benefits we all receive from nature: fresh air, clean water and food production. [SOURCE]

2012

The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN) asked for nothing less than a deep commitment from IUCN member organisations. Here’s a selection from the resolution presented to the IUCN at the 2012 World Conservation Congress:

RECALLING that the Peoples’ World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in April 2010, resulted in a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, announced and supported by indigenous peoples and social movements, who, as representatives of an active civil society call on their governments and the United Nations to include this topic in key debates such as those on climate change and biodiversity; [SOURCE]

2016

At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in 2016 the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature again asserted the need for a deep commitment from the IUCN.

We ask for your support in urging the IUCN to implement its 2012 Resolution on nature’s rights. WCC-2012-Res-100, “Incorporation of the Rights of Nature as the organizational focal point in IUCN’s decision making,” calls on the IUCN to adopt a Declaration of the Rights of Nature and incorporate nature’s rights into all its initiatives. Help us ensure the IUCN makes implementation of this Resolution a key action item in its 2017-2020 work program. [SOURCE]

In a TedXFindhorn talk in 2016 Mumta Ito argued for the implementation of the Rights of Nature “in law”. My concern is that her argument that implementing Rights of Nature is a “counterbalance to corporate rights” puts the cart before the horse. Corporate rights are being advanced through Natural Capital projects supported by the IUCN and its member organisations. GARN and Mumta Ito have implored the IUCN and its members to operationalise the Rights of Nature while the architecture supporting Natural Capital has rapidly expanded.

Rights of Nature proponents do not challenge Natural Capital thinking in their advocacy. Rights of Nature cannot act as a counterbalance against corporate rights unless it is operationalised. Merely promoting Rights of Nature without at least attending to the possible threats posed by Natural Capital thinking does nothing to contest the appropriateness of measuring and managing nature into the sphere of financial interests rather than into the interests of priceless nature. If Natural Capital thinking can coexist or supplement the operationalisation of the Rights of Nature then Mumta Ito and GARN ought to be on record somewhere making that case. The reality is that Natural Capital thinking, and the projects initiated and supported by IUCN members like The Nature Conservancy, WWF and Conservation International are barely given any consideration by Rights of Nature advocates.

Here I’ve transcribed a quote from Mumta Ito’s TedXFindhorn talk:

Establishing rights of nature in law is the first step to moving us to a holistic paradigm of ecological governance, and it’s also a very powerful counterbalance to corporate rights. It’s a game changer.[SOURCE]

The response by the French representatives to the inclusion of “the rights of nature” in the IUCN Programme 2017–2020 makes clear that no additional Rights of Nature have been conferred.

France supports the IUCN Programme 2017–2020. Concerning the inclusion of “the rights of nature” in Programme Area 2 (Objectives 14 and 15), France interprets the terminology used in the Programme as creating no additional rights to those that France recognises in its national legislation and within the framework of the United Nations.[SOURCE]

The ‘IUCN Programme 2017-2020 Draft 2’ suggests that the IUCN will spread the word about the Rights of Nature. The text of the only reference to the “rights of nature” in the 2017-20 programme  suggests that Rights of Nature will be used to inform certain approaches to conservation, but it does not suggest anything like operationalisation. Aiming to “secure” Rights of Nature is not the same as adopting the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Nature’.

IUCN also aims to secure the rights of nature and the vulnerable parts of society through strengthening governance and the rights-based approach to conservation. Knowledge is disseminated widely and is taken up widely by the Union itself, the international system, governments, the donor community, the business sector, individual scientists and practitioners. [SOURCE]

2017

In March of 2017 Nature’s Rights held an event at the European Parliament in Brussels titled ‘Nature’s Rights Conference: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle’. This event seems to be the last hurrah for the Rights of Nature.

I keep coming back to this particular moment in my research and I wonder where the battle went from here. I suspect Rights of Nature have been disintegrated into the “rights-based approach” referred to in the 2017-2020 programme.

Luc Bas, Director, IUCN European Regional Office was non-committal in his response to pressure to support a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Nature:

Being a science-based and evidence-based organisation, IUCN will continue to explore and evaluate the benefits of such an initiative, [SOURCE]

2020

The IUCN have 128 motions listed for their 2020 World Conservation Congress. None contain any reference to the “rights of nature”. [SOURCE]

Here is a quote from ‘IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020 – Motion 062: Towards a Policy on Natural Capital’.

Natural capital is defined in these Principles as the stock of natural ecosystems on Earth including air, water, land, soil, biodiversity and geological resources. This stock underpins our economy and society by producing value for people, both directly and indirectly. Goods and services provided to humans by sustainably managed natural capital include a range of social and environmental benefits including clean air and water, climate change mitigation and adaptation, food, energy, places to live, materials for products, recreation and protection from hazards. [SOURCE]

Robert Costanza and NENA 2017

Robert Costanza was one of the guests at the New Economy Network Australia (NENA) annual conference 2017. NENA was founded and is directed by the founder and convenor of Australian Earth laws Alliance (AELA), Dr Michelle Maloney. AELA are the most active proponents of Rights of Nature in Australia having partnered with Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) on a 2018 campaign for Rights of the Great Barrier Reef. [SOURCE]

Costanza sits on the Earth Economics – Advisory Group along with Herman Daly, Annie Leonard (Greenpeace USA) and former Gund Institute colleague Joshua Farley. The Gund Institute are members of the New Economy Coalition and played a leadership role in the development of the Natural Capital Approach that is at the heart of the Natural Capital Project which is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, WWF, and Stanford University. The Natural Capital Approach is defined here with crucial input from Natural Capital Project partners and the Gund Institute:

A means for identifying and quantifying the natural environment and associated ecosystem services leading to better decision-making for managing, preserving and restoring natural environments. [SOURCE]

I sat outside The Edge conference hall in Brisbane as Robert Costanza presented to the New Economy Network Australia conference in 2017. I tweeted furiously to the conference hash-tags while Costanza offered his 1997 valuation of the earth’s biosphere. I received zero replies.

I cannot comprehend how the conference organiser Dr Michelle Maloney reconciled herself with the imperatives and networks behind Natural Capital thinking while trying to promote Rights of Nature thinking.

You can view Costanza’s slide presentation here:

The Reforms Needed to Build an Ecological Economy

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Deep Green Resistance and Spencer Beebe

"After a century as a hub for the goods of the industrial economy, our building has become a focal point for a new economy in which “Natural Capital” — the flow of goods and services from nature — is our measure of prosperity and resilience."The 70,000-square-foot Natural Capital Center also houses Ecotrust's headquarters and a mix of nonprofit and business tenants gathered around the themes of ecological forestry and fisheries, green building, technology and financial investment. Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company known for its environmental ethic, is our retail anchor, working in its largest retail outlet anywhere."

“After a century as a hub for the goods of the industrial economy, our building has become a focal point for a new economy in which “Natural Capital” — the flow of goods and services from nature — is our measure of prosperity and resilience.” “The 70,000-square-foot Natural Capital Center also houses Ecotrust’s headquarters and a mix of nonprofit and business tenants gathered around the themes of ecological forestry and fisheries, green building, technology and financial investment. Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company known for its environmental ethic, is our retail anchor, working in its largest retail outlet anywhere.”

Image: [Source] [Source] [Source]

When the Community Legal Defense Fund and Deep Green Resistance lawsuit against the State of Colorado was summarily dismissed in October 2017 I started to look at the environmental organisations that engage Natural Capital thinking in regard to the Colorado River Basin. I found that Earth Economics had completed an assessment of “nature’s value” in the Colorado River Basin in 2014. The identified/key stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin were utilities and irrigation companies. Here is a quote from ‘Nature’s Value in the Colorado River Basin’:

Based on the ecosystem services examined and treated like an asset with a lifespan of 100 years, the Colorado River Basin has an asset value between $1.8 trillion and $12.1 trillion at a 4.125 percent discount rate. [SOURCE]

When I looked at the staff and advisory board membership of CELDF I found connections to both Derrick Jensen’s ‘Open Letter to Reclaim Environmentalism’, and the Conservation Industrial Complex. I also wondered how it was possible that DGR and CELDF did not give consideration to environmental organisations that employ Natural Capital thinking in the Colorado River Basin. Surely a key component of the risk assessment for a significant law suit would include consideration of the economic stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin?

Thomas Linzey is the founder and senior legal counsel of CELDF as well as a signatory to Jensen’s open letter. On the advisory board with Jensen is Spencer Beebe, the founder of Ecotrust. It is Beebe’s career in the Conservation Industrial Complex that I will unpack here.

Beebe could be said to be the embodiment of the Conservation Industrial Complex. He spent 14 years working with The Nature Conservancy before becoming the founding president of Conservation International.

He developed the Ecotrust headquarters in Portland with a 2 million loan from the Ford Foundation and named it the ‘Natural Capital Center’.

our building has become a focal point for a new economy in which “Natural Capital” — the flow of goods and services from nature — is our measure of prosperity and resilience [SOURCE]

Ecotrust clearly treat nature as an asset class, a set of ecosystem services to be valued, data captured, and capital to be managed. A biography written by Aaron Reuben in 2014 outlines the engagement of the financial sector in the work of Ecotrust:

Early on, Ecotrust partnered with ShoreBank to form a community development bank, ShoreBank Pacific (now Beneficial State Bank), to support small and natural resource-based businesses with sustainability goals, including fishing, farming and redevelopment enterprises. Beneficial State now manages $500 million in sustainability-minded assets across the Pacific Northwest. Ecotrust also started the world’s first forest ecosystem investment fund, with the goal of generating profits for investors through the sale of forest products, like timber, and ecosystem services, like wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration. In all, according to the organization, Ecotrust has “converted $30 million in grants into more than $1 billion in capital assets at work for local people, businesses, and organizations from Alaska to California.” [SOURCE]

In 2016 Ecotrust partnered with Earth Economics on a ‘Pure Water Partnership’ with Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) who have dams and power stations on the McKenzie River.

The following quote is from a news item titled ‘Eugene’s Incentive Based Approach to Protecting Water Supply’ posted to the Earth Economics website in November 2016:

The work has involved partnership with other key organizations – Ecotrust, our primary partner, provided all of the GIS mapping and biophysical data, including collecting shade and carbon data.

Early in 2017 the utility EWEB announced that it was beginning a rehabilitation and modernisation project. It’s clear to see that the utility was the primary beneficiary of Ecotrust’s work in collaboration with Earth Economics.

The Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) announced beginning March 27, and continuing for the next five years, it will begin a US$100 million rehabilitation and modernization project at its 114-MW Carmen-Smith hydroelectric facility along the upper McKenzie River, about 70 miles east of Eugene, Ore. [SOURCE]

Long term plans for the McKenzie River are to be led by the utility. Here are 2 quotes from a document titled ‘McKenzie River Sub-basin Strategic Action Plan for Aquatic and Riparian Conservation and Restoration, 2016-2026’:

McKenzie Collaborative: This group was formed in 2012 to develop new programs that protect water quality and protect and restore habitat. The Voluntary Incentives Program (VIP) and the McKenzie Watershed Stewardship Group are products of the Collaborative. Member organizations are CPRCD, Earth Economics, Ecotrust, EWEB, LCOG, MRT, MWC, MWMC, OSU, The Freshwater Trust (TFT), UO, USFS, and UWSWCD. The group is led by EWEB and meets monthly on the second Friday.

 

Ecosystem Valuation and the Economic Benefits of Source Protection EWEB recognizes that the McKenzie Watershed is an extremely valuable asset. Although the natural services that it provides are not financially accounted for in traditional economic models, new methods are being developed attempt to place value on this ‘natural capital.’ In 2010, EWEB hired Earth Economics to conduct a watershed valuation, which estimated the annual value of McKenzie Watershed ecosystem services at between $248 million to $2.4 billion. Services include things such as water supply, flood mitigation, soil erosion control and many other ecosystem services. [SOURCE]

No Contest

The proponents of the Rights of Nature are failing to contest the greatest threat to the achieving their objectives. The integration of the measurement and the management of nature and natural resources,  and watersheds and carbon sinks into our existing systems of corporate finance continues unabated. Promoting the Rights of Nature through entreaties to collective bodies and legal actions against governments does not necessarily function as a challenge to Natural Capital thinking. Former Managing Director at JP Morgan and Capital Institute founder John Fullerton has integrated Natural Capital thinking in his ‘regenerative capitalism’ concept. John Elkington, B Corporation boss and corporate responsibility ‘leader’ has a new book coming out called ‘Green Swans: The Coming Boom In Regenerative Capitalism’. The commensuration of all values is taking place at speed under the #NaturalClimateSolutions hash-tag underwritten by the leading lights of the Conservation Industrial Complex. Proponents of the Rights of Nature need to take account of the language of ‘assets’, ‘investments’ and ‘services’ used by the proponents of Natural Capital thinking and their clients.  Rights of Nature proponents need to name the problem and contest the ideas presented by those individuals and entities who are promoting dangerous and counterposed thinking. The Rights of Nature is a revolutionary demand requiring a clear and uncompromising response. Natural Capital thinking only offers capitalist reform which only ever leads to business as usual.

 

Notes:

*The following notes provide some background to the work of Conservation International in its first year of operation under the leadership of Spencer Beebe and Peter Seligmann. Debt-for-nature swaps were a vital tool for the penetration of conservation organisations into the developing world and establishing the groundwork for the implementation of Natural Capital thinking.

1.‘Eco Rover: It’s Hard to Pin Down Spencer Beebe’ By Aaron Reuben

1987, in search of a more nimble organization, he and fellow Yale alum Peter Seligmann co-founded Conservation International (CI) to pursue the same goal, global biodiversity conservation, through more innovative means. (One of CI’s first actions was to complete the world’s first “debt for nature swap,” buying foreign debt from Bolivia in exchange for the creation of a three million acre nature reserve).

https://environment.yale.edu/news/article/eco-rover-its-hard-to-pin-down-spencer-beebe/

2.‘Tropical Rain Forests: Bolivia’

In 1987 Conservation International initiated the first “debt-for-nature” swap when it purchased $650,000 worth of Bolivian debt for only $100,000.

https://rainforests.mongabay.com/20bolivia.htm

3.‘A Challenge to Conservationists’ By Mac Chapin

*It took Conservation International 1 year to engineer the world’s first debt for nature swap.

Conservation International began in dramatic fashion in 1986. During the previous several years, TNC’s international program had grown rapidly, and tension with its other programs had mounted. When TNC’s central management tried to rein it in, virtually the entire international staff bolted and transformed itself into CI. From the start, the new organization was well equipped with staff, contacts, and money it had assembled before-hand.  In  1989,  it  brought  in  yet  another  group  of defectors—this time from WWF—and began expanding with the help of an aggressive fundraising machine that  has  become  the  envy  of  all  of  its  competitors. However, a substantial portion of its funding comes from just  four  organizations:  the  Gordon  &  Betty  MooreFoundation,  the  MacArthur  Foundation,  the  World Bank,  and  the  Global  Environment  Facility  (GEF).

https://redd-monitor.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/WorldWatch-Chapin.pdf

4.‘Profiles of Impact: Swapping Debt for Nature in Bolivia’ By Maria Rodriguez

In 1987 — the year that both Conservation International (CI) and Vanguard Communications were founded — CI undertook the first-ever “debt-for-nature” swap between Citicorp and the government of Bolivia. Vanguard publicized the groundbreaking deal, wherein CI purchased a portion of Bolivia’s foreign debt in exchange for the protection and management of nearly 3.7 million acres in the Beni Biosphere Reserve.

[]

Conservation International is also turning 30 this year, and now employs more than 1,000 people and works with more than 2,000 partners in 30 countries. Vanguard President Maria Rodriguez caught up with CI’s CEO, Peter Seligmann, to discuss how this groundbreaking deal paved the way for CI and the work it does today. 

  1. What’s your best memory of that July day back in 1987 when you announced the first debt-for-nature swap?

 “A couple of things stand out. First, it was so powerful to demonstrate that foreign debt accrued by countries impacted the health of tropical forests and there was a way to solve that problem. We were able to do something truly worthy that impacted the ultimate health and well-being of a nation.

 “Second, the announcement was essentially the coming-out party for Conservation International, since we’d just opened our doors at the end of January of that same year. What an impactful way to gain attention for our mission to link conservation of nature with finance and economics. Through the incredible media attention garnered by the debt-for-nature swap, we illustrated that solutions to environmental problems have to be sensitive to the livelihoods of people.”

https://www.vancomm.com/2017/02/01/swapping-debt-nature-bolivia/

5.’Overview of Debt for Nature Swaps and Description of the Structure of Debt for Nature Swaps’ By Romas Garbaliauskas

Why do NGOs like Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy, KEHATI, and WWF participate? There is a cost here. We pay 20% of the debt forgiveness. One is that, invariably, we always work in the countries where we participate in these debts for nature swaps. I believe that has always been the case. It would be hard to understand why an NGO would participate in a debt swap for a country where they are not working. We get to basically help establish conservation priorities.

http://redd.ffpri.affrc.go.jp/events/seminars/_img/_20150203/234_D2S2_04_Mr.%20Garbaliauskas%20_final.pdf

6.‘New impact investment instrument aims to restore degraded cloud forests and improve energy security in Latin America’

“Cloud forests are among the most water-productive of any tropical forest ecosystem, are uniquely biodiverse and deliver a multitude of clear benefits, but finance for conserving and restoring forests has fallen short of the need,” said Justus Raepple, Conservation Finance Lead for TNC’s Global Water division. “There aren’t many connections in nature like this, where the benefits are so profound to a single beneficiary that the restoration actions can potentially pay for themselves.”

“Restoring cloud forests helps hydropower operators reduce significant sedimentation management costs, and also prolongs the life of the plants, so it avoids having to build more dams, or finding the energy in less environmentally friendly ways,” explained Romas Garbaliauskas, Senior Director of Conservation Finance at Conservation International.

https://www.conservation.org/press-releases/2018/09/27/new-impact-investment-instrument-aims-to-restore-degraded-cloud-forests-and-improve-energy-security-in-latin-america

7.‘Hydropower threatens Bolivian indigenous groups and national park’ by Eduardo Franco Berton/RAI

Torewa in the Tsimané (also called Chimane) language means “place of enchantment.” This is a community of 46 indigenous families, located in an area of 300 hectares within the forests of the Integrated Management Natural Area and Madidi National Park. Combined, the natural area and the park cover nearly 1.9 million hectares. Torewa is one of 17 communities that could potentially be affected by the construction of two dams planned in the El Bala and El Beu canyons on the Beni River.

https://news.mongabay.com/2016/10/hydropower-threatens-bolivian-indigenous-groups-and-national-park/

8.‘Bolivia announces plans to develop hydropower in Grande River basin’

In October 2018, HydroWorld reported that Bolivian energy authorities were in the process of identifying about US$2 billion in financing for early stage hydro and wind power generation projects. This included Rositas.

https://www.hydroreview.com/2019/07/30/bolivia-announces-plans-to-develop-hydropower-in-grande-river-basin/

9.‘Bolivia’s ENDE awards contract to Chinese firms for Rositas hydroelectric plant’

The deal comes with an initial US$1 billion in financing from the Export-Import Bank of China and will see China Three Gorges Corp. and China International Water & Electric engineer and construct what is expected to be a 500 MW to 600 MW project.

https://www.latinamericahydrocongress.com/en/news-en/bolivia-s-ende-awards-contract-to-chinese-firms-for-rositas-hydroelectric-plant

 

[Michael Swifte is an Australian activist and a member of the Wrong Kind of Green critical thinking collective.]

 

 

 

 

 

Watch: Banking Nature

Watch: Banking Nature

October 30, 2019

 

In “Banking Nature”, directors Denis Delestra and Sandrine Feydel document the growing movement to monetize the natural world, and to turn endangered species and threatened areas into instruments of profit.

2014. 90 minutes

This film investigates the financialization of the natural world.

PrintProtecting our planet has become big business with companies promoting new environmental markets. This involves species banking, where investors buy up vast swathes of land, full of endangered species, to enable them to sell “nature credits.” Companies whose actions destroy the environment are now obliged to buy these credits and new financial centres have sprung up, specializing in this trade. Many respected economists believe that the best way to protect nature is to put a price on it. But others fear that this market in nature could lead to companies having a financial interest in a species’ extinction. There are also concerns that—like the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008—the market in nature credits is bound to crash. And there are wider issues at stake. What guarantees do we have that our natural inheritance will be protected? And should our ecological heritage be for sale? [Source: Via Decouvertes Production]

Grand Prize of the City of Innsbruck nature film festival. Jury statement:

“Whoever thought that capitalizing natural resources could be a solution for our ecological crisis knows better now: thanks to the investigative approach of the directors. It is clear that the protection of endangered species should not be left to multinational companies and financial consultants. Although the topic is highly complex, the film remains exciting to the very end. The development to profit from nature as revealed by the film is frightening.”

9 AWARDS & 24 sélect. internationales

Voir la liste complète/To see the list

 

The Climate Movement: What Next?

Clive L. Spash: Social, Ecological Economics

May 2019

By Clive L. Spash

 

Joan Wong illustration for Foreign Policy [Source: Why Growth Can’t Be Green]

 

*Invited Comment for the Tellus Foundation [Note: This short commentary was written as a contribution to a Great Transition (Tellus Institute)roundtable discussion focused on the climate movement that started with an invited statement from Bill McKibben. The focus was on three questions: What is the climate movement’s state of play? System change, not climate change? Do we need a meta-movement?]

 

A CAPTURED ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT?

The climate movement, like all environmental NGOs, has been subject to the influence of neoliberalism and corporate capture. Neo-liberals love to attack government while totally ignoring the corporate control of the economy. In the USA the extent of government capture is just ignored (from the President down and not just the most recent President either). There is a general failure to link the social and economic to the ecological. Political analysis is lacking, social theory is absent and there are a dearth of substantive ideas as to alternative economies from the existing paradigms of economic growth and price-making markets.

Hence the climate movement promotes price incentives (taxes, carbon trading), innovation and new technologies, commodification of Nature (ecosystems as goods and services, natural capital), offsetting losses of biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions, and new quantitative measures of growth as progress.

TECHNO-OPTIMIST CAPITALISM, GREEN GROWTH AND GREEN NEW DEALS

Cutting past the personal anecdotes, Bill McKibben’s GT piece appears to promote systemic change, but does it really? The piece includes the following:

• “the divestment movement […] with commitments from endowments and other portfolios worth about $8 trillion”
• “Seventy-five years from now, we will run the world on sun and wind because they’re free.” [unlike coal, gas and oil?]
• “we can’t make change happen fast enough”
• “student Climate Strikes now underway thanks to the inspiration of Sweden’s Greta Thunberg”
• “the incredibly exciting fight for a Green New Deal”
• “If we replace fossil fuels with sun and wind, the effect will inevitably lead to at least some erosion of the current power structure.”
• “There will be solar billionaires”
• “The extremely rapid fall in the price of renewable energy and electric storage is one indication that the necessary conditions for rapid change are now in place.”

The aim is for a large shift in financing towards new energy sources, which is basically the mainstream (neoclassical) economic argument that substitutes exist and the price mechanism will supply them. This relies on the belief that price mechanisms send the right signals and actually reflect resource costs rather than being determined by power relations, rules and regulations, subsidies and public infrastructure. If its cheap it must be good. There is little or no connection to politics, resource extractivism or biophysical limits (e.g., on the resources required for electric technologies), nor the need for demand control rather than supply increase. Technology will save us, markets work and there will be ‘free’ electricity for all.

The mythical innovative capitalist entrepreneur of neo-Austrian economics and neoliberal ideology appears to be lurking in the background of such claims. The Green New Deal is similar, subject to being hi-jacked by the entrepreneurial ‘billionaires’. In the USA special rules are proposed to take the trillions outside political process to be placed into the hands of a ‘special committee’, and you can expect the standard vested interests behind the scenes. The French regulation school describe how capitalism has historically adapted in response to the crises it creates; enabling with changes in the controlling minority but maintaining a power bloc that rules over the majority. Karl Polanyi, long ago, noted the way in which crises leads to social payback (e.g., ‘new deals’) to prevent total breakdown, civil unrest and potential rebellion. When that fails it uses authoritarian force, as seen with securitisation and the rise of the political right.

Contrary to McKibben’s claim, there is nothing in the ‘new technologies’ that inevitably changes the political and economic power relationships. Indeed, the trillions being requested are for investment in the growth of the economy via increased ‘green’ industrial energy and market product supply. What stops the money going to the B-Team (that Hans Baer mentions)? Where are the new institutions to prevent funds being funnelled through the usual financial channels and into the hands of the existing power players? Technology does not create institutions, it requires them!

The existing institutions of modern economies are those supporting economic growth. The growth priority has been made clear by the over 3500 economists supporting a climate tax and opposing structural change. Similarly, Lord Stern is the academic figure head of the New Climate Economy, a concept created by members of the Davos elite, with its ‘Better Growth, Better Climate’ reports. Their explicitly stated concern is that: “In the long term, if climate change is not tackled, growth itself will be at risk.” Change is coming and the corporations and billionaires are fully aware of this. They have been actively lobbying on climate and environment since Johannesburg (Earth Summit 2002) and were a dominant force at Paris. They have also long been seeking to control the environmental movement for their own ends.

The ‘smart’ money already supports Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg. Greta is lauded and praised, hosted by the international and Davos elite, and they hope can be used to help spring the trillions of funding. She can expect prizes and awards, as long as she plays the game. Ask yourself how a child is suddenly propelled into the international media limelight and given access to the most powerful people on the planet, and then ask yourself why? Why was she not just ignored like all the protesters saying exactly the same things for decades?

Clearly, as a new superstar environmentalist, a single person, she is useful to circumvent other organisations; useful as long as she attacks the right people (e.g. politicians, ‘government’) as the wrong doers (diverting attention from corporations), and supports funding of the ‘New Economy’ based on innovation, technology, new markets and economic growth. Media can downplay and cut anything critical of the system and the growth economy and report only what serves financial interests. If she turns ‘political’, expect her to be dropped like a hot potato.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) is similarly useful. It claims no political agenda, which is obviously a disingenuous, if not fraudulent, claim. They are engaged in a power struggle, but on whose behalf? Pushing a ‘climate emergency’ that seeks trillions for whom and under what political process of allocation? Claiming the need for a ‘civic forum’, but representative of whom and to endorse what? The honest concern and sincerity of individuals joining XR does not have to be questioned any more than that of Greta. However, there are clearly political games going on here of which its members appear almost willfully ignorant. Who is Extinction Rebellion opposing and where is their political analysis of the power structure that needs to change? What exactly is the change they are seeking? Rebelling against extinction not corporate and state capitalism!?

What is happening right now appears to be a classic case of a passive revolution. When hegemonic power is threatened it captures the movement leaders and neutralises them by bringing them into the power circles and takes the initiative away from radical revolutionary change. In addition, the aim is to split movements and their demands by separating the pragmatic from the radical, forming new alliances with the pragmatic wings and thereby incorporating radical movement language with their own ‘pragmatic’ demands. The threatened elites create captured movements and leaders, adopting the language of the rebels and claiming to address their concerns. Those joining them can claim to be more ‘pragmatic’ because they are connected to the powerful and see how to save the system. None of this is any different from the decades of NGO capture and new environmental pragmatism, but the latest moves are more overt because the stakes are getting higher.

WHAT NEXT?

The climate movement runs along a knife edge between re-establishing another phase of competitive economic growth, and making radical economic and political reform a reality through social ecological transformation. The current thrust is to the former and will remain so as long as the potential forces for change operate via corporations and remain committed to productivism, equitable materialism and nationalism. The climate movement is a real threat to powerful elites and that is exactly why it is being infiltrated and invited to have ‘a seat at the table’. Climate change has been and is being used to wipe off the agenda all other environmental issues and to impose singular ‘solutions’ to systemic problems.

Any ENGO, like any economists, that claims to be free of politics is either totally naïve or totally untrustworthy, and possibly both. Can the Green New Deal be made into a degrowth/post-growth deal which is not controlled by an elite? Can the well-meaning environmentalists campaigning for neoliberal solutions, and going to prison for the wrong reasons, be educated about corporate manipulation and political power?

Activism and academia need to be integrated far more. Solidarity could start with seeking some common understanding of the structure of the political and economic system. Connecting that understanding to biophysical reality also means deconstructing the growth economy not re-establishing it as ‘Green’ based on mythical free energy sources and the benevolence of billionaires.

Yours,
Clive L. Spash
6th May, 2019, Vienna

 

[Clive L. Spash is an ecological economist. He currently holds the Chair of Public Policy and Governance at Vienna University of Economics and Business, appointed in 2010. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the academic journal Environmental Values. He has been working on climate change as an economist since the late 80s and engage on environmental issues since 70s. His personal website is https://www.clivespash.org/]

 

Trees Don’t Grow on Money – or Why You Don’t Get to Rebel Against Extinction

Tim Hayword 

April 29, 2019

 

Money doesn’t go on trees, and although people can make money out of trees, they cannot make trees out of money. This much may seem platitudinous, but it is worth keeping in mind.

What is true of trees is true of the natural world as a whole, including the human beings that are part of it. Nature is real; money is an abstraction. If money seems real that is because our institutions and practices are so deeply premised on beliefs in it. There is an important sense in which those institutionalized beliefs – in crediting it with a certain value – make money real; but it is not real in the way the natural world is real. If a bank goes bust, if a whole economy crashes, the social upheaval that follows may be immense, but life goes on – people will pick themselves up and start again (and some people, meanwhile, will likely have found a way to profit from it!). By contrast, if a species goes extinct, if an ecosystem collapses, then there is no prospect – certainly not on human timescales – of a recovery. The threat of extinction to our own species is the ultimate threat.

Extinction Rebellion has given publicity to critically important concerns of our time – the ecological crises as exemplified by dangerous climate change and biodiversity loss.[1] But it also gives rise to some perplexity.

A circumstantial puzzle is how an apparently spontaneous social movement of protest comes to have the energetic backing of big business interests and even to receive notable support from influential sections of the corporate media.

On deeper reflection, what does it even mean to stage a rebellion against extinction? Rebellions usually involve a group of people rising up to protest or overthrow another group that wields unjust or illegitimate power over them. How can you ‘rebel’ against extinction? It is not as if you can choose to disobey the laws of nature.

The website that asserts the copyright © Extinction Rebellion, states certain demands directed at government.[2] The moral clarity of their seemingly simple message, however, could be deceptive.[3]

Two key demands are: “halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.”

These may sound like goals that any ethically rational person could wholeheartedly endorse, and yet, as a recent critical study by Cory Morningstar has demonstrated, what their pursuit entails does not necessarily correspond to what people might imagine.[4]

First, reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero does not mean eliminating emissions, or even necessarily reducing them at all. It refers to the possibility of engaging in other activities to offset them. The offsetting may be accomplished by various means of  technological fixes and/or accounting innovations, but what these means have in common is that they will be profitable to engage in. As was made explicit some years ago in the influential Stern Review of climate economics, a policy approach allowing emissions offsetting creates great opportunities for businesses and the financial sector.

‘Capital markets, banks and other financial institutions will have a vital role in raising and allocating the trillions of dollars needed to finance investment in low-carbon technology and the companies producing the new technologies.’ (Stern 2006: 270)

‘The development of carbon trading markets also presents an important opportunity to the financial sector. Trading on global carbon markets is now worth over $10bn annually’. (Stern 2006: 270)

By attaching a price to carbon, a whole new commodity is created over which the distribution of rights represents a new income stream. So it’s good for shareholder profits, but what about nature? How confident can we be when its protection relies on a new multi-billion dollar market involving the same people responsible for the global financial crisis?

The other key goal, to halt biodiversity loss, sounds like one that should not allow wriggle room for profiteers to game it. And yet, consider for a moment how one might propose – even with the best and purest of intentions – to bring biodiversity loss to a halt. The sheer extent of activities around the world that are undermining habitats and ecological systems is so great and complex, it is hard to conceive what exactly could and should be done, even given determined political will to do it. The proposed policy in reality, therefore, is not literally to stop doing everything we are currently doing that compromises biodiversity. Instead, it once again centres on putting a price on the aspects of nature that market actors attach value to. The premise is that if we accept it is not possible to halt the destruction of biodiversity in some places, it is still possible to protect and even re-create biodiversity in others. Thus, just as with carbon emissions, the ideas of substitution and compensation play a pivotal role: biodiversity loss may not be literally halted, but it can be offset.

And how is biodiversity loss to be offset?[5] Here comes the familiar move: in order to weigh the loss in one place against a putative gain in another they must be subjected to a common scheme of measurement. Biodiversity being something of value, the way to record how much value any instance of it has is taken to be by reference to monetary price. Hence we learn that ‘biodiversity conservation and the related concept of “natural capital” are becoming mainstream. For instance, the Natural Capital Coalition is developing the economic case for valuing natural ecosystems and includes buy-in from some of the biggest players in business, accountancy and consulting. And the financial industry is moving toward more responsible investing.’[6]

Yet this unidimensional quantification of value completely disregards the point that biodiversity is a complex and quintessentially qualitative phenomenon. It is of the essence of biodiversity that its biotic components and their environments are diverse. Being diverse means being different in ways that cannot be reduced to the measure of a single common denominator. Hence the essence of biodiversity is an irreducible plurality of incommensurables. The idea of ‘compensating’ for loss of biodiversity of one kind by the protection or enhancement of biodiversity of another kind elsewhere means disregarding the very meaning of biodiversity.[7]

The idea of biodiversity offsets, then, does not have its rational basis in ecological concern but in the expansionary logic of capitalist profit seeking.

A rebellion that really has any prospect of fending off disaster for our biosphere and ourselves needs to be based on a proper understanding of who and what needs to be rebelled against.

Extinction Rebellion publicity material says that it is apolitical. Yet there is nothing apolitical about the real struggle that is required for people to seize the power currently concentrated in the hands of plutocrats. And to those who say – rightly – that ecological issues are greater than mere politics, it may be responded that this is why we cannot let it be “dealt with” by those who currently so misuse their political power.

Asking governments to enact policies that corporate and financial backers are lining up to draw massive profits from is not what the people protesting against impending ecological disaster have in mind. It needs therefore to be clear that you can’t actually protest against disaster. You need to take on those who are driving us towards it. So you need to know who they are and how they are doing it. It’s a good idea to look carefully at who is shaping the demands you are being enlisted to make, and what exactly they entail.

land-savings

[1] For other, less discussed but no less significant problems, see Rockström et al. (2009).

[2] Why they are directed at government without reference to the central role of powerful corporations is not completely obvious, and nor is the reason why the site also says the protest is ‘apolitical’, a question to be returned to.

[3] We humans, especially the worst off – and not even to mention members of other species we share the planet with – certainly have powerful reasons for concern at the ecological crises being provoked by our collective global exploitation of the biosphere. But what “we” can do about that is nothing like as clear.

In fact, there is no “we” that can act as a collective. There are multifarious different people, groups, tribes, classes, and nations that have competing interests. “We” are not organized to respond in a concerted, ethical and rational manner.

On the other hand, a very small group of people – who alone command as much of the world’s aggregate resources as half the rest of the world’s population put together – is very well coordinated. At the highest levels of corporations and financial institutions they hold great power. With their immense wealth comes control over those – including politicians, journalists and various “thought leaders” – who exercise greatest influence over publics. Their power to manipulate public perceptions vastly exceeds most people’s awareness of it.

So we – ordinary members of the public, whether old or young – can protest and engage in symbolic actions and go green in aspects of our lifestyle, yet to real little effect. In our heart of hearts we may know this, and yet we may still believe it important to try and to act as we think all should. So when the makings of a real social movement appear, we energetically embrace the opportunity it appears to present for making some more noticeable impact. Hence the enthusiastic welcome of Extinction Rebellion, in which school kids and pensioners have united around the moral and existential cause.

But what sort of ‘rebellion’ is it that is conjured into action by a consortium of corporate-backed organizations and given extensive positive coverage in the corporate media? The commitments and beliefs of the multifarious individuals and groups on the ground are various and sincerely held, and they do tend to converge around something like the headline goals stated in the publicity material ©Extinction Rebellion. But the exact goals being endorsed focus on two very specific demands: “halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.” And in this post I am arguing that it is very easy to be misled into thinking these capture what we really want to achieve, whereas in reality they may in fact capture our acquiescence in the further extension of corporate power over the natural world and our own lives.

[4] Morningstar’s set of six articles makes for somewhat demanding reading, and her purposes have sometimes been misunderstood or misrepresented on the basis of apparently rather casual perusal. Certainly, this has been noticeable in comments on Twitter, so I tried to distil some of her key points, without her detail or her critics’ distractions, in a Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/Tim_Hayward_/status/1120748645069021185

[5] Some useful introductory sources are World Rainforest Movement: http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/tag/green-economy/; Clive Spash 25 minute talk: https://vimeo.com/33921592; and the collection of material here: http://naturenotforsale.org/author/berberv/

[6] Richard Pearson, ‘We have 15 years to halt biodiversity loss, can it be done?’, The Conversation, 26 Oct 2015 https://theconversation.com/we-have-15-years-to-halt-biodiversity-loss-can-it-be-done-49330.

[7] For a pithy presentation of the basic ideas here see the short video ‘Biodiversity offsetting, making dreams come true‘ https://vimeo.com/99079535.

References

Rockström, Johan et al. (2009), ‘A Safe Operating Space for Humanity’, Nature 461: 472–75.

Stern, Nicholas et al. (2006), Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, London: HM Treasury.

The Most Valuable Players of the Natural Capital League: Part 2

Wrong Kind of Green

October 19, 2017

 

 

The Natural Capital League (NCL) has gained it’s power and influence steadily over time and through it’s extensive networks.

After 35 years of the development of ecological economics two senior foundational figures have emerged who are utterly worthy of the title MVP.

One of these senior figures is a revered economist and the other is a lawyer, networker, manager, author, and academic.

Herman Daly

Herman Daly is not only a most valuable player, he has defined the game itself while developing the other talented players who’ve pushed the league forward. His great conceptual achievement is the idea of the ‘steady state’ (1977). He has been a very active proponent of the ‘polluter pays principle’. In 1991, while he was at the World Bank to work on sustainable development policy, he argued for the idea of ‘rights to pollute’. In 1992 he co-wrote a paper containing one of the earliest usages of the term ‘natural capital’ titled ‘Natural Capital and Sustainable Development’. In this paper a definition of the term ‘natural capital’ was provided based on a ‘functional definition’ of capital – “a stock that yields a flow of valuable goods and services into the future”.

Herman Daly was the 1996 winner of the Right Livelihood Award, the 2008 Adbusters ‘Man of the Year’ and the 2014 Blue Planet Prize winner. He co-founded the journal Ecological Economics, was closely involved in the founding of the International Society of Ecological Economics and is currently on staff at the Centre for the Advancement of Steady State Economics (CASSE). In 2012 he was a featured interviewee in the documentary ‘Four Horsemen’ directed by Ross Ashcroft who is also known as the Renegade Economist.

“Instead of maximizing returns to and investing in man-made capital (as was appropriate in an empty world), we must now maximize returns to and invest in natural capital (as is appropriate in a full world).”

Herman E. Daly (1994) in: AnnMari Jansson. Investing in Natural Capital: The Ecological Economics Approach To Sustainability. 1994. p. 24

***
‘Rights to Pollute’

Allocation, distribution, and scale: towards an economics that is efficient, just, and sustainable. Ecological Economics

http://www.uvm.edu/~jfarley/EEseminar/readings/sus%20jus%20eff.pdf

***

CASSE – Meet our staff

http://www.steadystate.org/meet/our-staff/

***

Natural Capital and Sustainable Development

http://www.life.illinois.edu/ib/451/Costanza%20(1992).pdf

“The SSE will also require a “demographic transition” in populations of products towards longer-lived, more durable goods, maintained by lower rates of throughput.”

http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/data/files/publications/Herman_Daly_thinkpiece.pdf

***

Gus Speth

James Gustave Speth is all about networking and was once dubbed the “ultimate insider”. He’s an MVP because his whole contribution is much greater than the some of the parts he has played, and he has played so very many parts. His list of fellowships and board appointments stretches to every corner of the sustainable development project. He is the highest ever American office holder at the united nations. He was the administrator of the United Nations Development Program, and he went on to become the Special Coordinator for Economic and Social Affairs under UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and chair of the United Nations Development Group. He cofounded the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and founded the World Resources Institute (WRI). Crucially he knows how to reposition his career to the advantage of sustainable development.

Gus Speth got arrested with climate justice movement leader Bill McKibben in an anti-KXL pipeline protest for the first time in 2011 shortly after moving on from the NRDC and WRI. He responded to the threat of climate change by joining the US advisory board of climate justice organization 350.org and followed up on his vision for the future laid out in his book ‘America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy’ through his various networks and positions held in the new economy movement. He is a senior fellow of the Democracy Collaborative, associate fellow at the Tellus Institute, co-chair of the NextSystem Project, board member of New Economy Coalition, former dean Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Professor at Vermont Law School and was chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (Carter Administration). He has a string of other fellowships and advisory roles all relating to sustainable development and new economy issues.

It’s Gus Speth’s role as consultant to the Capital Institute that ties all his networks to the Natural Capital League. The Capital Institute could be called the home of ‘regenerative capitalism’ which connects natural capital flows to the restoration of nature to improve the value of ‘ecosystem services’. Several natural capital economists from organisations such as the Gund Institute with which he shares a close relationship are involved in the Next System Project which he chairs. The Next System Project is focussed very much on social enterprise, support for communities and democratic process. We can expect that Gus Speth will continue to refine his networks and position himself to see sustainable development and the Natural Capital League flourish.

“CHILDREN CENTERED, NOT GROWTH CENTERED. Overall economic growth will not be seen as a priority, and GDP will be seen as a misleading measure of well-being and progress. Instead, indicators of community wealth creation — including measures of social and natural capital — will be closely watched, and special attention will be given to children and young people — their education and their right to loving care, shelter, good nutrition, health care, a toxic-free environment, and freedom from violence.”

America the Possible: A Manifesto, Part II

https://orionmagazine.org/article/america-the-possible-a-manifesto-part-ii/

***
Measuring What Matters: GDP, Ecosystems and the Environment

http://www.wri.org/blog/2010/04/measuring-what-matters-gdp-ecosystems-and-environment

***

Review of America the Possible by John Fullerton

https://capitalinstitute.org/blog/crb_book_review/gus-speths-america-possible/

***

Gus Speth Returns to WRI, Inspires

http://www.wri.org/blog/2014/11/gus-speth-returns-wri-inspires

 

Further reading:

 

The Most Valuable Players of the Natural Capital League: Part 1

 

 

The Most Valuable Players of the Natural Capital League: Part 1

WKOG

August 30, 2017

 

The Natural Capital League (NCL) traces it’s roots to the 1982 Wallenberg Symposium titled ‘Integrating Ecology and Economics’.

35 years later we can share with you the 8 MVPs who have made the biggest contribution to the final capture of nature to under-write the “new economy”, an achievement of unprecedented scope under neoliberalism.

Here are the first 2 of the well networked and high performing NLC MVPs.

Gretchen Daily

Bankers love Gretchen Daily, and we can see why. When she was a research scientist at Stanford in the late 1990’s she edited a journal called ‘Nature’s Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems’. She later went on to become a board member of The Nature Conservancy and a founding director of the Natural Capital Project (a joint effort with WWF) where she deals with governments and financiers. She recently received the Blue Planet Prize for her work to harmonize people and nature.

The Natural Capital Project has been working in China with funding from the Ministry of Finance of China, the Paulson Institute, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop eco-mapping software to assess available and potential ecosystem services.

Here’s a quote from Gretchen Daily that shows how she sees the significance of her work.

“The future of human civilization depends on getting this right,”

[source] http://news.stanford.edu/2017/02/02/china-protect-areas-high-ecological-importance-identified-stanford-researchers/

(ALL RIGHTS, ALL USES) Gretchen C. Daily; conservation biologist, Department of Biological Sciences and Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford, co-lead of the Natural Capital Project, member of TNC board, photographed at her home on the Campus of Stanford University in California. PHOTO CREDIT: ©Mark Godfrey/TNC

 

Links:

Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy interviews Gretchen Daily

http://marktercek.com/dialogues-on-environment/gretchen-daily/

Mark Tercek on Hank Paulson and Gretchen Daily

https://www.naturalcapitalproject.org/natural-capital-symposium-sets-new-agenda/

Gretchen Daily honored with Blue Planet Prize for her work to harmonize people and nature

http://news.stanford.edu/thedish/2017/06/14/gretchen-daily-honored-with-blue-planet-prize-for-her-work-to-harmonize-people-and-nature/

Bob Costanza

Nobody has done more to advance the objectives of the Natural Capital League than Bob Costanza.  He was there at the 1982 Wallenberg Symposium and he contributed the practice of ‘shadow pricing’ for corporations and non government organisations who want to prepare for implementation of the natural capital agenda. He co-founded the journal Ecological Economics and co-founded the International Society for Ecological Economics. He also founded the journal Solutions and along with several of his colleagues is associated with the Next System Project which works on ‘new economy’ issues.

In 1997 he published a paper called ‘The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital’. It is the best known attempt to put a monetary value on the earth’s systems. It was widely reported that the figure Costanza came up with was 33 trillion USD per year.

Here’s a quote from Bob Costanza that shows where his priorities lie.

“I do not agree that more progress will be made by appealing to people’s hearts rather than their wallets.”

[source] https://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/journal/past-issues/issue-2/the-rise-and-fall-of-ecological-economics#body54

Links:

Bob Costanza – ‘The Early History of Ecological Economics and the International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE)’

http://isecoeco.org/pdf/costanza.pdf

NY Times 20/05/1997. ‘How Much Is Nature Worth? For You, $33 trillion’

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/05/20/science/how-much-is-nature-worth-for-you-33-trillion.html

Nature is Priceless, Which is Why Turning it into ‘Natural Capital’ is Wrong

The Conversation

September 21 2016

by Bram Büscher and Robert Fletcher

 

Natural capital a dangerous illusion that masks the way capitalist growth undermines conservation itself. Shutterstock
An increasingly popular line of argument is that, by turning nature into capital, it is possible to reconcile a capitalist growth economy with conservation. In this way, proponents assert, conservation can be expressed in a language that economists, policy-makers and CEOs understand.

But this strategy is not just self-defeating. It is a dangerous illusion that masks the way capitalist growth undermines conservation itself.

The concept of natural capital is hot. Over the past decade a growing network of actors and organisations has banded around promotion of this concept as the key to the future of sustainable development. At the recent World Conservation Congress, natural capital was front and centre, with a launch celebration of the Natural Capital Protocol and announcement of yet another new coalition to develop private finance for conservation.

These, and many other initiatives, describe natural capital in simple terms as the nature, water, or the air that we live with on a daily basis. The Natural Capital Forum, for example, says the concept refers to

the food we eat, the water we drink and the plant materials we use for fuel, building materials and medicines.

This example – and indeed most others are premised on the fundamental assumption that “natural capital” can become the basis for a sustainable economy.

Clearly, things are not this simple, as even many proponents of these initiatives acknowledge. What’s worse is that the two main assumptions in this agenda (nature can become capital and provide services, and this could be the basis for a sustainable economy) are based on fundamental fallacies. They will not reverse the negative effects of our global growth-economy. They will in fact make them worse.

What “capital” really means

The fact that the food we eat and the water we drink apparently need to be labeled “natural capital” only becomes meaningful in the context of capitalist growth. In this context everything should, in principle, become “capital”.

It is therefore vital to be clear on what “capital” really means. In daily conversations and some economic theory, the term is frequently defined as a “stock” or as “assets”. More accurate, however, is to see capital as a process, a dynamic. It is about investing money (or value) in order to make more money (or value). In short, capital is “value in motion”.

Capital in a capitalist economy is therefore never invested for the sake of it. The aim is to extract more money or value than had been invested. Otherwise it would not be capital.

It follows that the move from “nature” to “natural capital” is not an innocent change in terminology, another word for the same thing. Rather, it constitutes a fundamental reconceptualisation and revaluation of nature. Natural capital is about putting nature to work for capitalist growth – euphemistically referred to as green growth.

The move from nature to natural capital is problematic because it assumes that different forms of capital – human, financial, natural – can be made equivalent and exchanged. In practice – and despite proponents’s insistence to the contrary – this means that everything must potentially be expressed through a common, quantitative unit: money. But complex, qualitative, heterogeneous natures, as these same proponents acknowledge, can never adequately be represented in quantitative, homogenous money-units.

And even if we try, there is an untenable tension between the limitlessness of money (we can always generate more money) and the limits of natural capital (we cannot exchange evermore money-capital into natural capital, for all eternity).

Natural capital is therefore inherently anti-ecological and has little to do with giving value to nature, or rendering this value visible. It is the exploitation of nature to inject more value, and seeming legitimacy, into a faltering capitalist growth economy.

Natural capital is inherently anti-ecological and has little to do with giving value to nature. Shutterstock

Failing capital markets

Another assumption is that natural capital can form the basis for a sustainable society. In practice, however, it has become clear that investing in natural capital is not all that attractive for most companies, investment firms or even governments. So, even if a price tag has been put on nature – which can never adequately capture its total value – recent research shows that markets for natural capital and ecosystem services are mostly failing. In practice they are usually not even markets at all. Rather, they are subsidies in disguise.

Further, actual private investments in natural capital are negligible compared to investments in unsustainable economic activities. This is because these are much more profitable, and hence a much better form of capital or “value in motion”.

When Ecuador, for example, asked government and private actors to invest in conservation of the Yasuni protected area, the promised investments stayed far below what was hoped for. Actual donations were much lower still. As a result, the country is now allowing companies to drill for oil in the park.

The common argument made by proponents of natural capital, namely that it helps to make the value of nature visible, is therefore deeply flawed. The value of nature is perfectly visible to investors. They know that destroying it is far more profitable than saving it.

Destruction for protection?

An even more fundamental point is that destruction of nature is increasingly becoming the basis for the conservation of nature. Programmes built on natural capital are usually geared towards offsetting the destruction of nature, which becomes the main source of the money needed for investing in conservation. In the logic of natural capital, investments in unsustainable economic activities are therefore “compensated” by equal investments in sustainable activities.

This practice, which in theory should lead to no net loss of – or better yet, net positive impact on – nature and biodiversity, leads to an untenable contradiction. It means that nature can only be conserved if it is first destroyed.

But as indicated above, this is still mostly a virtual problem since actual investments in conserving natural capital have remained insignificant. Even worse, companies generally invest much more in strong lobbies to keep environmental regulation to an absolute minimum. If they really believed that conservation would be profitable, there would be little incentive to pursue this lobbying any more.

From quantity of growth to quality of life

The conclusion is clear: natural capital is no practical or realistic solution to integrate nature into the economy or make its values visible. It is a dangerous illusion that will not only worsen but also legitimate the environmental crisis. And while some probably really believe in its potential, most of those at the helm of the current economic system must see on a daily basis that natural capital is illusory.

But by participating in it, they also know that more fundamental questions about the logic of our economy and who benefits from it are not asked. And hence they do not have to provide any answers.

But we do have to ask these questions: should we not start weaning ourselves off an economy predicated on an unsustainable quantitative growth-fetish? Should we not build an economy focused on people, nature and equality rather than one based on putting forth money only to ultimately make more money? Most especially, should we not build an economy focused on quality of life rather than quantity of growth?

With some imagination, the answers are not only straightforward but also practical, logical and truly sustainable.

 

[Bram Büscher: Professor of Geography, Environmental Management and Energy Studies, University of Johannesburg; Research Associate, Stellenbosch University; Professor of Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University]

[Robert Fletcher: Associate Professor, Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University]

 

Bringing Liquidity to Life: Markets for Ecosystem Services and the New Political Economy of Extinction

Research Gate

January 2016

by Jeremy Walker

 

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The Last Rhino. Artist John Gledhill [Source]

Abstract

This chapter attempts to situate the rise of market-based conservation policy, and its associated theoretical and policy frameworks such The Economics of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services within a wider history of what might be termed financialisation. Outlining a new chapter in the long history of ontological adjustment of ecological science to dominant accounts of political economy, this chapter explores the emergence of a novel political economy of extinction. This can be analysed in the transformations of theory: the reframing of the sixth extinction crisis within the neoliberal idiom of ‘natural capital’ and ‘ecosystem services’ reflects a history of the reprocessing of political and scientific ecological discourse in order to better accommodate it to reigning economic doctrines. TEEB and other articulations of market-based conservation do little to question the dominant economic theory that has licensed the financialisation of social, political and economic life and led to our current global economic crisis. As a species of power, it can also be analysed in the social connections of the corporate boardroom: where the professional authority, executive expertise, epistemic frameworks and political projects of senior conservation ecologists increasingly converge with those of the worlds most powerful bankers.

Bringing Liquidity to Life: Markets for Ecosystem Services and the New Political Economy of Extinction

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[Jeremy Walker is Lecturer in Environment, Culture and Society in the Social and Political Sciences Program. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts  from  the University of New South Wales,  a BA Communications (Social Inquiry, Hons) from UTS, and a PhD (History and Philosophy of Science) from UTS. Prior to his appointment at UTS he taught at the Dept. of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney.]

Nature is Being Renamed ‘Natural Capital’ – But is it Really the Planet that Will Profit?

The Conversation

September 13, 2016

by Sian Sullivan

 

China’s Jiangxi mountains: now just an asset? Shutterstock

The four-yearly World Conservation Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has just taken place in Hawai’i. The congress is the largest global meeting on nature’s conservation. This year a controversial motion was debated regarding incorporating the language and mechanisms of “natural capital” into IUCN policy.

But what is “natural capital”? And why use it to refer to “nature”?

Motion 63 on “Natural Capital”, adopted at the congress, proposes the development of a “natural capital charter” as a framework “for the application of natural capital approaches and mechanisms”. In “noting that concepts and language of natural capital are becoming widespread within conservation circles and IUCN”, the motion reflects IUCN’s adoption of “a substantial policy position” on natural capital. Eleven programmed sessions scheduled for the congress included “natural capital” in the title. Many are associated with the recent launch of the global Natural Capital Protocol, which brings together business leaders to create a world where business both enhances and conserves nature.

At least one congress session discussed possible “unforeseen impacts of natural capital on broader issues of equitability, ethics, values, rights and social justice”. This draws on widespreadconcerns around the metaphor that nature-is-as-capital-is. Critics worry about the emphasis on economic, as opposed to ecological, language and models, and a corresponding marginalisation of non-economic values that elicit care for the natural world.

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Naming nature … but at what cost? Shutterstock

Naturalising ‘natural capital’

The use of “natural capital” as a noun is becoming increasingly normalised in environmental governance. Recent natural capital initiatives include the World Forum on Natural Capital, described as “the world’s leading natural capital event”, the Natural Capital Declaration, which commits the financial sector to mainstreaming “natural capital considerations” into all financial products and services, and the Natural Capital Financing Facility, a financial instrument of the European Investment Bank and the European Commission that aims “to prove to the market and to potential investors the attractiveness of biodiversity and climate adaptation operations in order to promote sustainable investments from the private sector”.

All these initiatives share the UK Natural Capital Committee’s view that “natural capital” consists of “our natural assets including forests, rivers, land, minerals and oceans”. People used to talk about “nature” or “the natural environment” – now they speak of “natural capital”.

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Growing profits. Shutterstock

So what does the word “capital” do to “nature” when they are linked? And should nature be seen in terms of capital at all? One controversial aspect, backed by IUCN’s Business and Biodiversity Programme, is receiving particular attention. This is the possibility of securing debt-based conservation finance from major institutions and the super-super-rich based on the value of income generated from so-called natural capital assets conserved in situ.

Capitalising natures

At the IUCN’s conservation congress a Coalition for Private Investment in Conservation was launched. Led by financial services company Credit Suisse, and backed by the IUCN and the World Wide Fund for Nature, the coalition builds on a series of recent reports proposing capitalising conservation in exactly this way.

In 2016, and following a 2014 report, Credit Suisse and collaborators published two documents outlining proposals for debt-based, return-seeking conservation finance. The most recent is called Levering Ecosystems: A Business-focused Perspective on how Debt Supports Investment in Ecosystem Services. In this, the CEO of Credit Suisse states that not only is saving ecosystems affordable, but it is also profitable, if turned “into an asset treasured by the mainstream investment market”.

The report proposes a number of mechanisms whereby “businesses can utilise debt as a tool to restore, rehabilitate, and conserve the environment while creating financial value”. The idea is that as “environmental footprints move closer to being recognised as assets and liabilities by companies, debt can be used to fund specific investments in ecosystems that lead to net-positive financial outcomes”. Debt-based financing – for example, through tradeable securities such as bonds – is framed as attractive in part because interest received by investors is “usually tax-deductible”.

The Levering Ecosystems report followed quickly from Conservation Finance: From Niche to Mainstream, steered by a small group including the director of IUCN’s Global Business and Biodiversity Programme. This report estimated the investment potential for conservation finance to be roughly US$200-400 billion by 2020.

Of course, investors loaning finance to projects associated with conservation also expect market-rate returns to compensate for investments considered to conserve, restore or rehabilitate ecosystems.

In the documents above, financial returns are projected as coming in part from new markets in payments for ecosystem services and sales of carbon credits. These new markets will supply the potentially monetisable “dividends” of conserved and restored habitats as “standing natural capitals”. Investor risk is proposed to be reduced through mobilising these assets, as well as the “land or usage rights” from which they derive, as underlying collateral.

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Two redrawn graphs representing the design of debt-based conservation finance, as per Credit Suisse reports in 2014 and 2016.

The graphs above present two schematic diagrams redrawn from the Credit Suisse texts to indicate how these flows of financial value may be leveraged from areas capitalised as investable natural capital. The models are based in part on expectations that recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change support for international carbon compensation mechanisms will release new long-term sources of public funding to “balance anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases”, thereby boosting possibilities for financial flows from forest carbon.

Such financialising moves, nascent and clunky as they are, may yet have significant implications if applied to countries in the global south with remaining high levels of “standing natural capital”. Caution is needed regarding the possibility that forest-rich but least developed countries may become indebted to ultra high-net-worth investors who access returns on their investments from new income streams arising from conserved tropical natures in these countries.

What’s in a name?

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Pandas: sending a powerful message. Shutterstock

In 1986, the central secretariat of the WWF decided to change the name of the organisation from the World Wildlife Fund to the World Wide Fund for Nature. The thinking was that an emphasis on “wildlife”, borne of a concern for endangered species, no longer reflected the organisation’s scope of work for the conservation of the diversity of life on earth. It was considered that overall the organisation would be better served by the term “nature”. In other words, it seems that naming and framing “nature” matters.

Given the conversations and debates at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress, it seems important to ask: how exactly does the conservation of natural capital equate with the conservation of nature? Do these terms in fact invoke different things? If they do, then it is worth clarifying whether the conservation of natural capital is always good for the conservation of nature. If they don’t, then it remains worth querying why exactly “nature” needs to be renamed as “natural capital”.

 

 

[Sian Sullivan is Professor of Environment and Culture, Bath Spa University.]

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