Jessica Dempsey - Department of Geography

Geography Research Talk
Thursday, March 19, 12:30pm
in Room 229 of the Department of Geography
Jessica Dempsey
Assistant Professor, University of Victoria,
School of Environmental Studies
Illiquid natures: tracing “for-profit”
biodiversity conservation capital
Mainstream environmentalism and critical
scholarship alike are abuzz with the promise and
perils of what I call “enterprising nature”: attempts to
produce the conditions in which biodiverse
ecosystems, or parts of ecosystems, can compete in
state governance and in the marketplace. But to
what extent is conserved nature being sold in order
to save it? In this presentation I examine the size,
scope and character of international ‘for profit’
biodiversity conservation. Despite the exploding rhetoric of ‘natural capital’ and ‘environmental
markets’ over the last two decades, my research shows that the capital flowing in this space is
small, geographically constrained, seeks little to no profit, and is better characterized as moving
at the speed of cold molasses rather than as zipping around the planet at the speed of light.
The marginality and illiquid character of for-profit conservation capital leads me to conclude that
it is largely ‘non-performative’ as both an accumulation and conservation financing strategy:
there is far more talk than investor walk. Such evidence is at odds with the way that this sector
is portrayed in mainstream environmental conservation literature, where what is going on is
often described as a teleological next step towards a desired ‘green capitalism’, but also in
critical geographical scholarship, which tends to cast it as a feared commodification or
financialization of everything. Rather, what I present is a more puzzling situation: enterprising
nature seems like an ‘easy fix’ to ecological degradation, tailor-made for our austerity bound,
market-governance times, and yet it remains negligible to global capital flows. The project still
has consequential and deeply uneven effects, but I suggest that these effects are not epochal
new transformations of socioecological relations. Rather, the effects of enterprising nature are
to re-embed status quo accumulation, re-affirm hegemonic and colonial power-knowledge
relations, and instill neoliberal political rationality within conservation organizations and experts.