Abstract: One thing that neoclassical economists and critics of capitalism agree on is that status quo economic processes are adept externalization machines. That is, our economic system is dependent on bargain-basement waste disposal sites, spaces, and bodies; it relies on enormous amounts of what Jason Moore calls “cheap” or free human and nonhuman labour. A livable and just planet requires an end to this extractivist economic system. Conservation impact investing is one emerging approach to these problems – it aims to place return oriented capital into businesses or projects that value the work of nature, providing money-fuel for a green form of capitalism. In this talk I will focus on one such investment, a circuit of return-focused conservation capital that moves from New York City to Kenya, by way of many environmental NGO intermediaries. What we find is that making conservation returns competitive with extractivist returns is a fraught and bumpy affair: the tempo of this green investment is at odds with mainstream financial expectations and its success is threatened by the longer durée of colonial exploitation and uneven development. Rather than understanding green capitalism as replacing or even as separate from an economic system hell-bent on externalizations, our research shows that extractivist and green forms of capitalism confront and rely each other in emerging forms of for-profit conservation finance – both enabling and inhibiting its ultimate success.
Jess Dempsey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia. Her first book Enterprising Nature (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016) traces attempts to turn biodiversity conservation into an economically rational—even profitable—set of policies and practices. Her current research foci include: the intersection between return-generating finance and conservation, the relationship between capitalism and biological non-human life, and political economic theorization of extinction and ecological impoverishment.
co-sponsored by Institute of Behavioral Sciences Environment and Society Program