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Biodiversity offsetting and the capitalist production of nature: reflections from England

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Ritika Kapur.

Biodiversity offsetting involves the balancing of biodiversity loss in one place (and at one time) by an equiva- lent biodiversity gain elsewhere (an outcome referred to as No Net Loss). The conservation science literature has chiefly addressed the extent to which biodiversity offsets can serve as a conservation tool, focusing on the technical challenges of its implementation. However, offsetting has more pro- found implications than this technical approach suggests. In this paper we introduce the concept of policy frames, and use it to identify four ways in which non-human nature and its conservation are reframed by offsetting. Firstly, off- setting reframes nature in terms of isolated biodiversity units that can be simply defined, measured and exchanged across time and space to achieve equivalence between eco- logical losses and gains. Secondly, it reframes biodiversity as lacking locational specificity, ignoring broader dimensions of place and deepening a nature–culture and nature–society divide. Thirdly, it reframes conservation as an exchange of credits implying that the value of non-human nature can be set by price. Fourthly, it ties conservation to land develop- ment and economic growth, foreshadowing and bypassing an oppositional position. We conclude that by presenting offsetting as a technical issue, the problem of biodiversity loss due to development is depoliticized. As a result the pos- sibility of opposing and challenging environmental destruc- tion is foreclosed, and a dystopian future of continued biodiversity loss is presented as the only alternative.

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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