1. Purpose and motivation
1.1. Failures to protect natural environments
2. Particulars to the marine realm
2.1. Reliance ofhumans on the ocean
2.3. Value of resources
2.5. Chapter summary
4. Neoliberalism in the marine realm
4.1. Growth in a finite world
4.2. Morality and precaution
4.4. Submission to financial capital
4.7. Chapter summary
5. Is reconciliation of neoliberalism and environmentalism possible?
5.1. New ideas about environmental protection
5.2. Ecosystem services
5.3. The conversion of nature to exchange value
5.4. The debt model and cutting up nature
5.5. Crisis markets
5.6. Chapter summary
6. Conclusions and other suggestions
1. Purpose and motivation
Neoliberalist economic policy is one of the main driving forces in world governance in the 21st Century. Unfortunately, its attributes (individual property rights, unrestrained competition, deregulation, privatisation, short-term profit, risk-propensity, lack of safeguards, globalisation) seem to be completely at odds with environmental sustainability. Neoliberal policy may be the major reason for the failure of governments to form proper environmental protection guarantees for the security of future generations. This is particularly apparent in the context of climate change, where corporate and environmental interests consistently clash, and fisheries, where the commercialization of species may threaten future food security.
In this essay, I ask if it is possible to reconcile neoliberalism with marine conservation, with focus on fisheries management. I begin by describing failures to protect natural environments, and the particular characteristics of the marine realm and of neoliberalism that are of relevance in the conflict between economic and environmental interests. I go on to explain the interplay between these factors, and the effect of resulting policies on environmental sustainability. I consider the role of the valuation of natural capital as a major area of debate in terms the possibility for reconciliation.
1.1. Failures to protect natural environments
It is widely recognised that protection of the natural environment by humans is necessary to guarantee the security of future generations; in terms of food, climate, air and water quality, and countless other natural goods and services related to the existence of intact natural ecosystems (Rice & Garcia, 2011). Nevertheless, governments worldwide are failing to protect these natural features and systems in which we all have a stake if we care about the future prosperity of our descendants, the human species and the other life with which we share our planet. Two of the major failures are in the protection of the atmosphere, and the oceans.
As far back as 1988, scientists at a 'World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere' concluded that changes in the atmosphere due to human pollution represented "a major threat to international security" (Conference Statement, The Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security, 1988). In recentyears calls to limit temperature increases have been advocated with ever increasing urgency (Hansen et al. 2008), but governments have shown very little resolve to reduce carbon and other emissions. In 2010, countries with binding emissions targets according to the Kyoto protocol contributed only 13.4% of global emissions, with the rest of the world governments (including USA, China, Russia, India and Brazil) having made no firm commitments to reduce their emissions that would acknowledge the threat of climate change to world security (UNEP, 2012). The 350ppm level recommended as safe by a majority of scientists (Hansen et al. 2008) was left behind many years ago, and for the first time, in May 2013, carbon levels in the atmosphere were recorded at 400ppm (Showstack, 2013). Emissions and associated temperature rises show no sign of changing from these current worrying trends.
The situation with many other environmental factors is also concerning. Biodiversity is a major contributor to the resilience of ecosystems to impacts, and their ability to recover from these (e.g. Folke et al. 2004). The IUCN estimates that 22% of mammals, 31% of amphibians, 14% of birds, as well as 27% of reef-building corals are threatened with extinction (IUCN, 2008). Current and future extinction rates are difficult to estimate; though it is commonly thought that current rates are 1000 to 10000 times higher than the natural background rate (e.g. UNEP, 2001). However, there is a large amount of debate on this- commonly rates are calculated by species-area accumulation curves, which are often found to overestimate these rates (e.g. He & Hubbell, 2011). Regardless, there is no doubt that the Earth's biodiversity is under threat, and many authors believe we are now living through the planet's 6th great mass extinction event (e.g. Barnosky et al. 2011). Governments have been slow to acknowledging the importance of biodiversity to environmental sustainability and therefore to human populations. In the oceans, fish stocks are continually overexploited using methods that have no regard for biodiversity or the health of ecosystems. In world fisheries, of particular interest to this essay which is focused primarily on the marine realm, around 80% of global fish stocks are either fully exploited, overexploited or depleted (FAO 2011), and according to most estimates, 90% oflarge predatory fish have disappeared from the oceans in the last few decades (Baum & Worm, 2009). In North America, overfishing of cod stocks, probably in combination with other human factors, has altered the functioning of entire ecosystems, and cod populations have not recovered despite a moratorium introduced in 1992 (Kunzig, 2000). Shark populations, many of which have survived without change for 420 million years, are being decimated worldwide. The continued use of trawler fishing boats, discards, high quotas, and the overcapacity of the global fishing fleet are all major threats to marine biodiversity.
2. Particulars to the marine realm
Consideration of the relevance of economic policy to the conservation of natural environments and ecosystems is characterised by many factors, of which several are particularly important in the marine realm. I will first identify these characteristics, and then go on to explain their importance in relation to economic policy.
2.1. Reliance ofhumans on oceans
The first thing to mention is that humans have always been reliant on the sea as a source of food and other resources. Current data show that over 1 billion people rely on fish as their main source of protein (Duffy & Smith, 2006). Production of fish is required to increase by around 50% by 2050, if we are to meet projected global food requirements (Rice & Garcia, 2011). It is therefore of paramount importance that governments develop economic models to continue and improve the harvesting of fish from the ocean in a sustainable way.
The oceans are characterised by mystery and intrigue, the result of the little we know about them. Compared to the terrestrial realm, the oceans are inaccessible and difficult to study. Scientific reviews often disagree and may be incomplete, and the impact of disturbances on ecosystems is notoriously hard to predict or record (Rice & Garcia, 2010). There is little doubt that the biota of the oceans is changing (Worm et al. 2009), (Garcia & Grainger, 2005). A large amount of evidence suggests this is caused by human induced pressures, such as overfishing and climate change induced changes in abiotic ocean conditions (e.g. King, 2005; de Young et al., 2008), but the true extent and magnitude of global marine biodiversity changes is still in debate (Garcia & Grainger, 2005).
2.3. Value of resources
A particularly important factor in terms of economic policy is the economic value of resources, goods and services in the oceans. Global capture production of fish, the overriding contributor in the marine realm, grew steadily from around 20m tonnes/year in 1950, stabilising at around 90m tonnes/year by the end of the 1980s. The total production of fish, including aquaculture in 2010 was 148.5m tonnes, with most of this (108.4m tonnes) in developing countries, 28.6m tonnes in developed countries, and 11.5m tonnes from least-developed countries (FAO Statistics 2012). Despite this, it is developed countries that make the most money in international trade. Total imports/exports were around 60m tonnes in 2010, with just over half of these imports going to developed countries, just over half exports coming from developing countries. However, the value of imports ($84.4bn) and exports ($54.1bn) to developed countries was proportionately much higher than to developing countries, whose imports and exports were worth $26.4bn respectively. A recent study estimated the total worth of the fisheries industry and industries indirectly linked to this (including processing and agriculture) at $246bn, with around half of this in Asia (Dyck & Sumaila, 2010), whilst the estimated sale value of world capture fisheries production was estimated at around $91 billion in 2006 (FAO, 2008). These figures show the huge economic incentives for exploitation of the oceans. And fish are not the only valuable resource associated with the oceans. The offshore drilling industry has been growing steadily in response to high demand, and the rising price of crude oil and natural gas. Technological developments allow us to reach oil and gas reserves that were thought inaccessible as recently as 10-15 years ago. The offshore drilling industry provides around $1 trillion in economic stimulus to the USA alone each year, and is worth many trillions of dollars worldwide (API Report, 2013). There is similarly large value in the extraction of minerals such as potassium, magnesium, phosphorites and manganese. The value of our oceans resources are such that economic policy is heavily concerned with activities in the oceans, and the huge profits to be made give great power to those exploiting the oceans.
A final thing to consider in the application of economic systems to the marine realm is the ownership of marine resources. Until relatively recently, the oceans were a global commons, with users able to extract whatever they liked from them with very few restrictions. According to Ostrom et al. (1999), common pool resource dilemmas occur when two major characteristics of a 'common pool resource' combine. These are: difficulty of exclusion, meaning that to exclude users from taking advantage of the resource is costly or otherwise difficult; and subtractibility, meaning that exploitation by a single user reduces the availability of resources for all. The theory was developed in Hardin's seminal paper on the tragedy of the commons (Hardin, 1968), and states that in an unregulated commons setting (Hardin later stated that he wished he had called the paper 'the tragedy of the unregulated commons'), users acting in their own self interest will come to destroy the resource they are exploiting. Ostrom explains that in this situation, free-riding may occur in two ways "overuse without concern for the negative effects on others", and a lack of contribution to the maintenance and improvement of the resource (Ostrom 1999). The oceans may no longer be a commons setting, but the shadow of such conflicts still hangs over fisheries management in particular. It is important to understand the background to the current situation regarding the economics of fisheries and other resources in the oceans, in order to form a critique of economic policy in this area.
2.5. Chapter summary
To sum up this chapter, and introduce the next, the oceans contain are of vast importance to human societies, and contain great wealth. However, they are poorly understood, and have traditionally been governed as a commons, with resources available for extraction to all. These factors combine and interact to have particular consequences for the application of economic policies with regard to the marine realm. There is a great deal of evidence that human impacts are drastically changing the world environment, and that this is likely to have major implications for security of human populations. So the question is why governments are not doing more to protect the environment from human impact. In all cases, there seems to be resistance to environmental protections. This comes from many parties, and may be associated with the uncertainty of scientific evidence, the social upheaval involved (e.g. job losses in fisheries or the energy industry, need for development of new technologies, removal of traditional rights). However, there is a much greater factor underlying resistance to environmental protection. That is the upheaval required to economic policy, specifically neoliberal policies based on the rule of the economic market, which have dominated international governance for the last half-century. Hanlon & Carlisle (2008) argue that a range of evidence suggests that our current neoliberal economic systems and the cultural values associated with them (individualism, materialism, and consumerism) are a major pressure on global resources, and predict a 'third revolution in human history' due to a decline in psychological and social well-being in the "increasingly globalized capitalist economic system". Whilst environmentalists have long considered the excesses of various forms of capitalism to be a major factor in the deterioration of global environmental concerns, I feel that this is often based on a correlation of the two, rather than a deep understanding of the structures and processes that lead to the many systemic contradictions between them. In this essay, I have chosen to highlight the neoliberalist form of capitalism, as I feel that it is the influence of policies associated with this that is the major driving influence in the failure of governments to protect natural environments.
In this chapter I will describe some of the history and central characteristics of neoliberalist economic policy. I will go on to assess their relevance to environmental concerns, particularly in the marine realm.
Neoliberalism may be defined as a 'political ideology that aims to subject political, social, and ecological affairs to capitalist market dynamics"(Büscher et al. 2011). At it's heart, the theory has the notion of unrestricted competition as the agent of efficiency in wealth generation and societal development, and the associated societal benefits of these such as improved security, health and opportunity. Economic neoliberalism in its current form has its roots in Adam Smith's theory of the self-regulating market, in which it is theorised that an 'invisible hand' guides individuals pursuing their own selfish interests to produce socially desirable ends for society as a whole. This idea is the main driving force behind the insistence of neoliberals on adoption of laissez-faire (let it be) economic policies, where transactions within a market are free of government interference in terms of price restrictions, wage limits, taxes or subsidies. (Gaspard & Toufick, 2004). Neoliberals believe that complete economic freedoms for producers to choose what and how to produce and sell goods, and for consumers to buy what they want will lead to the most efficient production services and goods, because the market's selfbalancing nature will result in prices and product distributions beneficial to all members of society (Klein, 2007). In this way, neoliberalism promises that unblemished market structures will provide 'perfectly balanced' market systems for the benefit of all, and is thus essentially utopian (Treanor, 2005).
The "laissez-faire" approach to economics was developed by Milton Friedman's Chicago school and other prominent economic thinktanks during the 1960s and 70s, and quickly came to dominance through democratic means in western society- in the USA under Reagan, in Britain under Thatcher, and in other areas such as Europe and Australia. The ideology replaced the 'mixed' Keynesian economies with large roles for government that had dominated the post- WWII boom period.
The main principles of economic neoliberalism that are of interest in the context of this essay include;
- The rule of the market- the liberation of private enterprise from state 'interference' mechanisms such as price controls, wage restrictions and trade barriers (Boas & GansMorse, 2009).
- Deregulation- the removal of rules governing the activity of private enterprise, such as safety requirements and
- Privatisation- the selling of state-owned enterprise to private investors, including banks, industries, schools, hospitals, in the name of greater efficiency (REF principles). Privatisation is enable through the installation of private property rights, characterized by security, exclusivity, permanence, and transferability.
- The subversion of the 'real economy' to the rule of financial markets (Büscher et al. 2011).
Neoliberalism has been described by critics, as a 'Robin Hood in reverse' system, of taking from the poor and giving to the rich (Harvey, 2005; Duménil and Lévy, 2004), and it is implicated in the continued increase in wealth inequality around the world. In the USA, the Gini coefficient measure of wealth inequality fell to a low of around 0.38 during the post-WWII Keynesian 'mixed economy' phase to the mid 1960s. It began to rise again around the end of the 1960s, and has continued to increase since to around 0.48 today (Hillebrand, 2009; Ortiz & Cummins, 2011; Berry & Serieux, 2006).
The association of increased wealth inequality with neoliberal development has often been glossed over in the West, but there has been heavy resistance to neoliberalism in many parts of the world, with shock and force used push through neoliberal reforms in South America in the 1970s, under the brutal rules of dictators such as Pinochet and Videla. Neoliberal reforms were also heavily resisted in Russia and Poland in the 90s, and most recently in the far East, and in an explosion of violence in Iraq (Klein, 2007). They have most often been resisted in countries where there is strong solidarity and togetherness in the working class society (Klein, 2007). J.W. Moore claims that neoliberalism is based on taking first, and making second, with the result that "like all previous phases of capitalism, (it) has redistributed wealth, but unlike all previous phases of capitalism, it has not generated the conditions for renewed economic growth and a broadly defined social development" (Moore, 2010). Here we come to one of the main contradictions of the relationship between neoliberal policy and environmental sustainability, which is that it promotes economic growth without associated societal (and environmental) benefits. And in relation to the environment, perpetual economic growth in a finite world may only be possible through environmental destruction.
4. Neoliberalism in the marine realm
In this chapter, I will draw from the previous two chapters to investigate how neoliberal principles are realized in the marine realm. I begin with consideration of economic growth.
4.1. Growth in a finite world
One of the main reasons for the popularity and success of neoliberalism in western societies, is its promise of continued economic growth allowing the continued dominance of western society on the world stage. Despite little discussion on the matter, economic growth is regarded as one of the principal measures of success of a country and its government. It is argued that profits from the development of new technologies and markets 'trickle-down' to society in general, with associated improvements in human quality of life such as greater opportunities for all, better health care and education, increased personal liberty, and increased security.
In the last century, neoliberalist policy has largely contributed to widespread expansion and intensification of global capitalism (Harvey 2005) through growth of industry, commerce, finance, and globalisation. Unrestricted competition ensures growth, because whoever is making the most profit in a particular area will prevail, and enterprises and investors that do not grow efficiently are overtaken by competitors. In this way, neoliberalism's unrestricted markets are inherently expansionist and dependent on the rapid circulation of capital. The nature of capital, as defined by Marx, is value in process or circulation (Marx, 1867). Neoliberal capitalist systems are threatened if capital ceases to circulate and increase in value, as demonstrated by the recent financial crisis, where leaders were primarily concerned with making sure that banks would continue lending so as to prevent 'negative growth' (the fact that this term is used suggests to me the neoliberal obsession with 'positive' growth, and the dependence of neoliberal economic systems on this).
But as previously stated, perpetual growth cannot run indefinitely in a finite world. Sooner or later the fuel for expansion will run our. The oceans were once believed to be limitless in their bounty of fish. In 1883, eminent biologist Thomas Huxley proclaimed that "probably all the great sea fisheries are inexhaustible; that is to say, that nothing we do seriously affects the numbers of fish. Any attempt to regulate these fisheries seems consequently, from the nature of the case, to be useless" (Huxley, 1883). We now know this to be resoundingly false. We have decimated fish stocks around our western coasts, and each year we move our fishing boats further and further in search of more fish. Recent developments in seamount fisheries are allowing the richest countries in the world to exploit fish resources in areas that are still global commons, outside of exclusive economic zones. Many countries now 'fish the world'. For example, China's distant water fisheries are estimated to catch 4.6 million tonnes of fish at a value of almost €9 billion per year, with its fisheries in West Africa particularly contributing to this (Pauly et al. 2013). This is a good example of the effect of globalisation on natural resources.
Globalisation refers to the rise of the global market economy, where there are no restrictions on trade or other transactions between This allows enterprise from countries with vastly different economic backgrounds to compete, with the result that large global corporations are able to outcompete local or regional interests. In Western Africa, widespread corruption in government officials has allowed Chinese operated corporations to seize access to fisheries resources at a fraction of their true value, often through bribes to government officials (Standing, 2008). The extraction of these resources is based purely on the need for cheap food supply and the pursuit of short-term profit. In order to gain currency to service huge national debts, African coastal nations have been forced to sell their rights to fish to high-tech 'factory fishing' foreign fleets, with almost total absence of monitoring and controls. This fishing in the sole pursuit of profit is an example of the effects of globalisation, market freedom, and lack of regulation destroying the environment, with many West African nations reporting huge decreases in fish populations. For example, New Guinea has reported decline of up to 90% in fish stocks in recent years, and Ghana shows similar declines (Atta-Mills et al. 2004). A major challenge for biodiversity posed by globalisation is the emergence of huge multinational corporations, such as Exxon-Mobil, Mitsubishi, and many others. These companies are able to impact biodiversity throughout the planet, and their power means that they have a de facto role in managing the planet (Rao et al. 2005). It is the obsession with unrestricted economic liberty, and with continual growth that has allowed these companies to command such power.
Naomi Klein, writing in reference to the worldwide climate crisis, argues that our current economic models are unsustainable because they are based on "a central fiction" that nature is limitless and resources can be continually extracted, with new reserves always waiting to be found (Klein, 2011). A recent quote from United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon highlights the current acceptance of world leaders that current economic growth models are unsustainable. Speaking at the World Economic Forum, in January 2011, Moon lamented that "for most of the last century, we mined our way to growth, we burned our way to prosperity. We believed in consumption without consequences. Those days are gone... Over time, that model is a recipe for national disaster. It is a global suicide pact" (Ehrlich et al. 2012). There is a moral obligation to ourselves, and to the security of future generations, to consider how economic policy should proceed in a world where there are limits to the resilience of natural environments to human impacts. As Klein points out, the neoliberal quest for perpetual growth means that environmental policy is not based on the morality of precaution, but rather on cost- benefit analysis, or finding actions that economists will have least impact on economic growth. The lack of morality governments show in failing to protect the natural environment is the product of both the need for continued growth required by current economic models, and the neoliberal ideal that markets must be completely free from outside influence.
4.2. Morality and precaution
As currency speculator George Soros says; "if I allowed moral consideration to influence my investment decisions, it would render me an unsuccessful competitor. And it would not in any way influence the outcomes because there would be someone else to take my place at a marginally different price" (Buscher et al. 2011). Morality is necessarily disjoined from neoliberalism. If a company allows morality to affect it's decisions in a way that decreases its profits, then another company competing with it will gain an advantage on them by ignoring the moral concern. Governments acting on behalf of countries, in the same way as individual businesses, cannot afford to be moral in the global market. If a country introduces fishing restrictions which make it more cost inefficient to fish it's own waters because it wants to conserve fish stocks, then it will give a competitive advantage to another country which can fish the same product more cheaply. Governments do not want to harm their own companies, so they are reluctant to introduce morality or precaution into what are seen as predominantly economic decisions.
The uncertainty particular to the marine realm, and the economic value of its resources (as described above) are also key factors in decisions which must balance environmental morality with economic interests. The precautionary principle is one of the ways by which morality is supposed to be ensured with regard to potential harm to the environment. It states that when "there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, the lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. It was agreed by 172 Nations at the 1992 Rio Declaration (Rio Declaration, 1992). It is a "full-fledged and general principle of international law", and should be a pillar of strength for the conservation agenda, not to be avoided or flaunted. The principle requires that the burden of proof be put on the enterprise that wants to use an area or resource for economic gain, to show that their activities are not harmful to the natural environment. To a neoliberal perspective, it is an agent of regulation of the market, unnecessary interference by the state, and is therefore often disregarded despite its supposed power.
An example of this has been seen recently in the UK, and has been reported on by journalist George Monbiot. Monbiot, in two articles of February 11th, and May 1st 2013, gives evidence that not only do government ministers responsible for protecting British seas fail to uphold the precautionary principle, but that they do not even understand it, or perhaps deliberately misunderstand it. The main confusion seems to occur over 'uncertainty', which as we have seen is a key characteristic of the marine realm, and 'cost-effectiveness' which the principle applies only to 'measures' preventing environmental degradation. The UK government has recently fought strongly against scientifically prescribed reductions in fish catches in UK waters. Minister of the Environment Richard Benyon has defended this inaction by claiming that quota cuts would result in increases in discards by fishermen. The government has also recently abandoned scientific proposals for the establishment of 97 Marine Protected Areas, despite a 2004 Royal Commission report with much scientific evidence proposing the implementation of no-take reserves in 30% of British waters, Evidence from this report was easily sufficient "to design comprehensive, representative and adequate networks of marine protected areas for UK waters", and was supported not only by scientists, but by 500,000 public signatures in 2009, suggesting that governments are more swayed by the interests of big business than by the people that they govern. Nearly 10 years on from the original proposal, the total area fully protected is a miniscule 0.01%. This is not precaution from an environmental perspective. In fact, the UK government is reconstructing precaution in its own form. The common excuse for environmental protection failures is that there is insufficient environmental evidence to support pursuing activities that could harm the economy, in other words, that 'uncertainty' of science can be used as justification to pursue economic activities that pay no regard to the environment. Chief scientific adviser to the government Sir Mark Walport recently defined the 'precautionary principle' as "working out and balancing in advance all the risks and benefits of action or inaction, to make a proportionate response" (Monbiot, 2013a). Monbiot asserts that it now seems that what we have in place of environmental precaution, is in fact neoliberal precaution- precaution through cost-benefit analysis. Marine conservation "has to fulfil herculean standards of evidence to stand a chance of occupying any space at sea that is now or might one day be used commercially", and a 'lack of evidence' or 'uncertainty' in reality points to fear of or subservience to commercial sectors (Monbiot, 2013b).
Another neoliberal practice which has major environmental implications is that of privatisation. The selling of government owned assets to private investors is a key aspect of neoliberalist policy. Particularly relevant in this area is the history of the ocean as an unregulated commons. With regard to fisheries, neoliberalists in the latter 20th Century invoked the 'tragedy of the commons' to argue for privatisation of fisheries in the marine realm. The establishment of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) was the first major step in this direction, allowing countries to exclude foreign vessels from their waters, and divide up rights of access to fish, particularly by the introduction of individual transferable quotas (ITQs) in the 1970s and 80s (Kunzig, 2000). Neoliberals argued that for a sustainable and efficient use of fisheries resources, fishers required secure and guaranteed exclusive rights to exploit fish, and that these rights should be transferable (able to be bought and sold on the free market). This was supposed to be the end of fisheries management problems, with conservationists hoping that the rights would give fishermen more of a long-term stake in ensuring fish stock exploitation was sustainable. But management of fish stocks has not improved, and ITQs are argued to be a mechanism designed not to conserve fish, but to concentrate the wealth generated byexploitation of fisheries resources in the hands of a few rich corporations (Ben-Yami, 2004).
Again, neoliberal principles of complete market freedoms and lack of restrictions are implicated here. Concentration of wealth occurs because smaller scale fishers owning smaller quotas are unable to compete in an unrestricted free market with powerful large-scale fishers. Larger fishing enterprises can therefore force smaller fishermen to sell their quotas to them, with the result that fishing rights become concentrated in the hands of large corporations, and small scale fishers are excluded from the resource. In 1999, the British government freely gave fishing rights to a small section of the fishing industry. Since then rights have been bought, sold and leased on an "unofficial, non-transparent and loosely regulated quota market" (Caldwell, 2011)", This has been described as "privatisation by stealth" and the "biggest property grab since the Norman invasion" by Thomas Appleby (Appleby, 2011), and has resulted in the marginalisation of small scale fishers, with the ownership of fishing rights in the UK now largely unknown (Caldwell, 2011). However, quotas are commonly owned by 'armchair fishermen' who don't go to sea, but rent quotas out to 'real' fishermen. According to Appleby, it is another "example of the elder generation grabbing what they can and leaving the younger generation to pay for it". Such problems are not just faced in Britain. Individual transferable quotas are a worldwide phenomenom, and neoliberalists have argued for the privatisation of environmental resources in many other areas. Whilst the economic benefits of privatisation to large corporations are clear, benefits to the environment are not.
There are several large weaknesses of privatisation as a means of protecting the environment. Firstly, it is an almost impossible task to assign property rights to all types of resource, particularly when these resources do not have well-defined boundaries, such as in the ocean. Secondly, any resources not privatised would continue to be exploited, possibly at a faster rate, because of the exclusion of users from similar privatised resources. But the most glaring weakness, is the falsehood of the theory that privatisation gives property rights holders more incentive to sustainably manage resources. A great deal of empirical evidence suggests that privately owned resources are not managed more sustainably than common resources (e.g. Maguire, 2004; Kovel, 2002). Moreover, it can often be more economically rational to exploit a resource to depletion, than to sustainably manage it. Jeremy Cherfas explains this well in his examination of whaling industry in the 1980s (Cherfas, 1986).
In a neoliberal economy, firms will always take the route that will maximise their profits based on a minimum expected rate of return, against the 'opportunity cost' that might be attained by investing the money alternatively. Cherfas imagines a population of whales owned by private enterprise, which the enterprise wants to exploit for maximum profit. It has a choice of harvesting a sustainable yield forever, or selling off the whole resource for a large one-off profit. Proponents of neoliberalism's compatibility with environmentalism will say that it is of course more profitable to sustainably manage the resource, but this is not necessarily true. The crucial point is that the decision will depend on the relationship between the rate of return on the whale stock, and the rate of return that could be attained by investing the money from all the dead whales in another venture. Monetary investments often give returns in excess of 10%, whilst the whale stocks probably reproduce at around 1 or 2% per year, so in this case, it makes perfect sense from a neoliberal perspective to drive the whales to extinction.
4.4. Submission to financial capital
A related area is the impact of financial markets on environmental concerns. One of the main reasons for the difficulties in reconciling neoliberalism with environmental policy is that neoliberalism often detaches itself from the 'real economy' of goods and services, with business competing in financial markets to deliver the greatest and fastest returns to investors. This means that trade in real goods, such as natural resources, has been "subordinated to the competitive logic of global financial markets" (Rossman, 2007). In financial markets, the risk that a fish stock will collapse is not necessarily a bad thing, it is in fact an opportunity for traders to secure rights to exploit potentially lucrative stocks, throough the assumption of risk. The trading of risks by financial corporations allows huge profits, because high-risk investments are cheap (Lewis, 1989). Once fishing rights are owned by large enough corporations, which are often subsidized by governments, these corporations can spread their risk over many vessels, and many fish stocks, with the outcome that losses through stock collapses are counterbalanced by gains from overexploitation.
One major problem involving the reliance of humans on fish, and the subservience of governments to private enterprise, is that despite neoliberal insistence on a lack of interference in markets, governments are now having to subsidise the fishing industry. The increasing difficulty in catching fish has resulted in the 'overcapitalization' of the industry, where fishing is valued at higher than its 'real' value. According to a UN Report of 2008, worldwide fishing fleets lose $50billion per year due to fisheries management failures and stock depletion (FAO, 2008). Costs are simply too high, meaning that in many cases, earnings from catches are no longer enough to pay dividends (corporation payments to shareholders) and the interest on these. To keep catching fish, governments have been forced to subsidise fishing in various ways. Of course, such 'interferences' in the market are not deemed by neoliberals to be a bad thing, as rather than reining in the excesses of industry, they allow continued economic growth.
Deregulation of markets from rules imposed by governments is a way of freeing companies from restrictions and allowing greater competition. This can create situations where companies are not subject to reasonable safeguards, and has in the past caused environmental catastrophe. Drilling for oil is a major economic activity that takes place in the marine environment, and can be potentially disastrous if drilling companies are not subject to proper environmental regulations. Deregulation was particularly blamed for the recent Deepwater 'Horizon Oil Spill (Eley, 2011)
4.7. Chapter summary
To conclude this section, it is clear that a large majority of evidence shows that neoliberal freemarket principles, and the associated practices of privatisation, deregulation, and globalisation, among others, with the underlying aim of continual growth, are often completely at odds with environmental ideals. Neoliberal practices are based on short-term profit, rather than the longterm sustainability that our environment requires. They have no base in morality, and often conflict with environmental precaution. This clash is apparent throughout world society, and is putting the security of future generations at risk.
5. Is reconciliation of neoliberalism and environmentalism possible?
With the evidence seen in previous chapters, it is easy to see why conservationists are often so opposed to neoliberalist economics. But recently, there has been much interest in the possible conciliation of these apparently disparate disciplines. Neoliberalists claim to have identified the potential for markets in the protection of, rather than the use of nature, to be economically lucrative and contribute to development and economic growth. In this chapter I discuss the development of the new idea of the potential for win-win situations for economic growth and environmental protection, based on the valuation and creation of markets in 'natural capital', in relation to the environmental services provided by ecosystems.
5.1. New ideas about environmental protection
Biodiversity conservation, and related sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry, have traditionally been managed by government agencies. Governments have always preferred to use administrative and regulatory instruments to manage nature in the public sphere, rather than relying on market processes and turning nature over to privatisation (Rao et al. 2005). Even the USA maintains large controls over its national parks, mountains, lakes and wildlife. To neoliberalists, such mercantilist approaches to biodiversity conservation are inefficient and out of sync with the modern world. Neoliberals want bring nature 'up to date' by turning it over to the markets. The essence of this is that environmental systems must be valued according to their 'true' market value to society, in terms of finding a balance where the correct pricing of 'environmental services' allows their sustainable conservation and continued availability, without excluding users by pricing them out of the market.
5.2. Ecosystem services
Costanza et al. (1999) estimated the total 'global flow' value of marine ecosystem services at around $21 trillion/year, more than half of the total value of ecosystem services, with most of this amount attributed by nutrient cycling services such as carbon sequesterisation, nitrification, denitrification. More recently, in the business world, the Corporate Eco Forum, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, describes Earth's nature as a complex "natural living infrastructure" producing $72 trillion worth of goods and services for 'free', which are essential to the functioning of the global economy (Corporate Eco Forum and the Nature Conservancy, 2012). In the marine realm, these include primary production, carbon storage, food production, water circulation, nutrient cycling, waste and sediment filtering among many others. The value of these benefits has largely been unaccounted for because they are not generally bought and sold in a market system. However, big business is starting to realise the value of these natural assets- with many powerful businesspeople recognising the value of the environment to economies. Example quotes, such as: "nurturing a greener world through sustainable innovation and development saves money, creates value, and helps develop new markets" (Ursula Burns, CEO Xerox); "companies that value and integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services into their strategic plans are bets positioned for the future" (Andre Liveris, CEO Dow Chemical Company); and "we are in this for the long haul, in keeping with our responsibility to help preserve the environment around us for future generations" (Andy Taylor, CEO Enterprise Holdings) (all quotes from; Corporate Eco Forum and the Nature Conservancy, 2012) suggest promise for the reconciliation of neoliberalism and environmentalism.
In the not so recent past, discourse on the relationship between economics and the environment, for example at the 1972 Stockholm conference, and the 1980 World Conservation Strategy, emphasised the limits that environmental concerns posed to economic interests. 'Sustainable development' meant economic policy reined in by environmental precaution. However, in recent years, the position has been rechoreographed, with the placing of corporate and financial leaders at the forefront of environmental policy, and the development of the "selling nature to save it" approach (MacAfee, 1999). The environmentalistview of the "spoiling of Eden by industrialism run amok" has been recasted into a "parable of policy failures correctable by market solutions" (MacAfee, 1999). Pro-"natural capitalists" have emphasised the potential for the creation of jobs in the 'green sector' of the economy, and conservation projects are planned to be funded by environmental exports, including; sale of access to ecotourism, trading of rights to use ecological services, biodiversity offsetting, and others. The rhetoric is that correct pricing on all environmental 'services' can create a win-win situation that allows neoliberals to make profits from newly created environmental markets, while nature benefits through economic incentives for its protection, essentially keeping nature "out of the red" (Sullivan, 2012). At the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit in 2012, a 'natural capital declaration' was presented by many CEOs of financial corporations (Natural Capital Declaration, 2012), commiting the financial sector to take the natural capital of "all financial products and services" into account, with economic and environmental data combined into a "single global accounting system".
5.3. The conversion of nature to exchange value
The essence of natural capitalism, which I prefer to deem 'neoliberal environmentalism' is the valuation of 'natural capital'. The basic idea is called 'willingness to pay', and is that if a natural or ecosystem service provides benefits up to a certain value to resource users, then those users should be willing to pay an amount approaching this value for continued access to the service (Costanza et al. 1997). This is the subjection of 'natural capital' to the economic principles of supply and demand. The below graphs shows a supply and demand curve for traditional 'substitutable' goods (figure 1a), contrasted with an equivalent curve for ecosystem services (figure 1b). Value that would show up as gross national product (GNP), is the area pbqc, which is the market price p times the quantity q. Cost of production is the area cbq, under the supply curve. The 'net rent', or 'producer surplus' for a particular resource is the area existing between the market price and the supply curve pbc. 'Consumer surplus' (the benefit gained by a consumer above the market value) is the area abp, between the demand curve and the market price. The total economic value of the particular resource is the sum of the producer and consumer surplus, excluding the cost of production, the area abc.
illustration not visible in this excerpt
In terms of valuation of ecosystem services, these are only 'substitutable' to a point, and it is thought that demand curves would be as in Figure lb. As the quantity of the service available approaches zero (or a minimum necessary level), the consumer surplus, and the total value approaches infinity. Also, as the supply of ecosystem services cannot be greatly affected by economic actions (i.e. we cannot 'create' them as with 'substitutable' goods), their supply curves are approximately vertical (Costanza, 1997). Efficiency of natural capital markets therefore depends solely on the price set for a particular service.
Governments are currently keen to push for a comprehensive valuation of 'natural assets' as a key feature of policy on biodiversity conservation. The 2020 EU biodiversity target is "underpinned by the recognition that biodiversity (and its services) have significant economic value that is seldom captured in markets", and the EU's objectives state that a full valuation of nature's potential will contribute to a "more resource efficient, climate-resilient and low- carbon economy", whilst creating new skills, jobs and business opportunities (European Commission, 2011). Burkhard et al. (2012), claim that it is now even more urgent that we meet the challenge identified by Daily et al. (2009) that it is 'time to deliver and to make ecosystem services operational'. Burkhard and other authors have been instrumental in developing the "Salzau Message'' (Burkhard et al. 2012) which sets out the need for advances in the key areas of "integrated measurement, modeling, valuation and decision science", and "adaptive management and new institutions", including a new "Ecosystem Services Partnership", to avoid the business as usual of global climate transformation, biodiversity loss, and conventional fossil-fuel based economies. Such developments have been particularly impressive in China, which has developed a new network of 'ecosystem function conservation areas' (EFCAs). Formed in 2007, these are designed to protect biodiversity, soils and water supply, whilst mitigating the effects of floods and sandstorms. They are being focused on areas with high returns on investments, and have the major social objective to alleviate poverty. They are an excellent example of natural capital valuation working for people as well as for business. (Ehrlich et al. 2012)
China’s EFCA network, spanning 24% of its land area. Figure reproduced from Ehrlich et al. (2011)
Unfortunately, China’s use of natural capital to develop environmental economics initiatives that benefit people and environments may be the exception rather than the rule.
5.4. The debt model and cutting up nature
Authors such as Büscher and MacAfee claim that "selling nature to save it" (McAfee et al. 1999) is a submission of nature to capital (Büscher et al. 2011), with nature only conserved as capitalism expands, and according to capitalism’s rules. The current drive is to turn nature completely over to these rules, and to account for it as one accounts for the assets of a business, or a bank of natural capital. What is not mentioned in neoliberal rhetoric, the elephant in the room, so to speak, is that to run nature as a business is to base it on the thing that neoliberal economies have and always will be built on, debt. Debt is the mechanism by which enterprise in a free market accumulates capital. The debt model is one that environmentalists should be extremely wary of; after all it is this very system that has recently required such stupendous bailouts for stricken banks. The essence of value generation through debt is that the lender (e.g. a bank) wants to lend you more money than you are able to pay back in the near future, so that they can charge you interest, and increase their capital. In the same way, natural capital 'banks' would encourage the greater use of 'lent' ecosystem services than a country or other entity could afford to pay back. This of course would encourage the overexploitation of ecosystem services, whilst contributing to the economic growth of such banks.
Moreover, rather than a conservation of nature as it exists, the borrowing and lending of ecosystem services implies the cutting up of the vital interrelationships and interdependencies which ecosystems depend on. In turning nature into 'exchange value', neoliberal economics would need to divide up nature "in order to produce, sell and consume (its) constituent elements" (Büscher et al. 2011). Neoliberal market-based approaches would allow no restrictions or regulation on the separation and simplification of natural processes and systems. Banks currently use a number of practices (e.g. fractional reserve lending) to split actual stored capital and debts and repackage them to be sold as investments, which would likely be applied to environmental economics. Such practices involve large speculation, risk and unpredictability, and are often characterised by huge losses (Lewis, 1989). Value can be created by securitization (the pooling of debts into saleable bonds that generate interest) and financialization (the reduction of work products and services into exchangeable financial instruments (Sullivan, 2012). With regard to environmental services, Burkhard et al. (2012) describe how the 'bundling' of these as joint product bundles made up of constituent parts of ecosystems (e.g. carbon sequestration), may create "dysfunctional incentives", and reduce societal benefits, as well as reducing the value of "the full range of ecosystem services".
Such models are "greatly problematic for conceptualising and managing the relational and unpredictably varying entities, populations and phenomena that constitute 'real nature' as opposed to natural capital" (Sullivan, 2012). Fractional reserve lending could be a particularly dangerous model to follow for natural capital, because the total capital value commanded by banks in this case is a vast multiplication of the total value that the bank actually holds. Natural capital 'banks' acting in the same way would be able to lend far greater access to ecosystem services than they could control. The recent financial crisis demonstrates the risks inherent in such policies. An analogy for a similar possible crisis in relation to natural capital would be a natural capital services bank lending many ecosystem services to different recipients without adequate assurance of repayments. If the recipients defaulted on these repayments, then the banks could 'foreclose' the service in an attempt to recoup losses, meaning that it would be sold on without consideration of the environmental or societal impact of this.
The question of whether 'selling nature' can save it is therefore an extremely complex one. This may be made to work in some cases, but in others it could be claimed that by "purporting to take a role in the saving of the environment" neoliberal capitalism has "invented a new legitimation for itself" (Büscher et al. 2011). It is apparent that whilst environmental protection may be the "friend of capitalism" providing opportunities for neoliberal market expansion, neoliberal capitalism may paradoxically still be the "enemy of nature"(Buscher et al. 2011). The suspicion among environmentalists is that, rather than creating win-win situations, 'environmental economics' is only going to be a one-way deal. If the valuation of nature means running nature according to economic principles, separating and stripping it down, and saddling its users with debt, then they argue it is not compatible with sustainability or conservation.
5.5. Crisis markets
This suspicion is only heightened by the recent phenomenom of neoliberal 'crisis markets'. As documented by Klein and others, crises create opportunities for the opening up of new markets, particularly in security, construction and health, and afford excellent opportunities for privatisation of unprotected state assets (Klein, 2007). Environmental crises are "increasingly themselves opportunities for capitalist expansion" (Büscher et al. 2011). Examples include further privatisation of overexploited fish stocks, oil spill clean ups, climate change mitigation, potential technologies in climate change reversal, and many others.
The inherent expansionist nature of neoliberalism is striving to bring ever more aspects of life, including nature under its control. Putting an 'exchange value' on nature is not just about trying to protect ecosystems, it is about finding "new arenas for markets to operate in and thus to expand the remit, and ultimately the circulation of capital" (Büscher et al. 2011). The need to prevent environmental disaster enables the creation of 'crisis markets' to resolve crises driven by the impact of other market forces (Büscher et al. 2011). This is worrying, because it seems that the opportunity for economic growth may not be limited by the finiteness of nature. In fact, it raises the possibility that there may be market incentives to purposefully create environmental chaos and crisis. In 'The Shock Doctrine- the rise of disaster capitalism", Naomi Klein argues that the use of economic and physical 'shock' has been instrumental in the creation of new market frontiers in other areas, and argues this to be the reasoning behind the Iraq invasion, where the turmoil of war allowed the privatisation and purchasing of state owned assets at a fraction of their value (Klein, 2007). The possibility of similar environmental 'disaster capitalism' is one that should strike fear into the heart of every environmentalist. Indeed, this could already be occurring. With regard to the BP 'Deepwater Horizon' oil spill of 2010, some media reports suggested that this was a 'false flag' operation, with the purpose of creating economic opportunities in environmental crisis markets (Webre, 2010). Reporters Sherri Kane and Leonard G. Horowitz reported on June 9th 2010, that the large multinational the Halliburton company purchased the world's largest oil-spill cleanup company (Boots & Coots), in a deal worth approximately $240 million, "three weeks before" the initial explosion causing the spill on 20th April 2010. Halliburton therefore stood to gain significant financial profit from causing a disaster. Since the spill, BP has claimed that Halliburton was "grossly negligent" (Boulden, 2012), and both companies blame the other for the disaster. Whilst no direct proof of 'disaster capitalism' is available here, such possibilities demonstrate the risks that may be involved in the continued subjection of the environment to economic interests.
6. Conclusions and other suggestions
In conclusion, it is clear that there are huge areas of discord between neoliberalism and environmentalism. Neoliberalism is associated with short-term profit making, which necessarily has no regard for the sustainable use of a resource. It requires that no rules or regulations govern the ability of the market to find efficient solutions, which means that morality is also excluded from economic decisions relating to the environment. Neoliberalism is based on a central fiction that markets can grow perpetually, which is falsified by finiteness of natural environments. It strongly favours large scale privatisation, which rather than creating responsibility for long-term management of resources, may actually give incentives to overexploit them so as to invest the profits in other areas. It is also dependent on financial markets, which detach economic responsibility from the real economy, and thus the environment. Neoliberalism has been instrumental in the growth of western society, and the redistribution of wealth over the last half-century, but it can be argued not to have generated overall societal benefits to the world as a whole, and has certainly caused much environmental damage.
It is unlikely that the disparities can be reconciled, despite the recent clamour for this among many scientists, governments and economists, who believe that neoliberal principles can be applied in protecting the environment in the development of markets in nature through the valuation of natural capital. Some of these efforts, such as the implementation of EFCA areas in China, seem to be achieving good results. In the majority of cases, however, it is not clear if these efforts are a genuine attempt to create win-win situations, or whether they may be being driven through neoliberal desire to acquire access to new markets. Environmental markets may be as dependent on debt as conventional markets, with the implication that the world's resources could be used as a tool to create ever greater wealth inequality. The development of 'crisis markets' is a worrying one that could indicate that there is neoliberal incentive in deliberately damaging the environment so as to create opportunity for opening up of markets in its recovery.
Klein is adamant that environmental and economic interests will never be reconciled, saying that "there is simply no way to square a belief system that vilifies collective action and venerates total market freedom with a problem that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and a dramatic reining in of the market forces that created and are deepening the crisis". Perhaps this is true. Countries such as Costa Rica, which have reined in markets, are now demonstrating excellent environmental records. Ostrom (1999) impressively- demonstrated that the 'tragedy of the commons' need not apply to common pool resources where there is trust, regulation, and local incentive in managing resources sustainably. She emphasized the need to embrace "institutional diversity" and complexity in managing the environment, essentially the opposite of neoliberal proposals to strip down and convert nature to 'exchange value' to be traded. I would be interested to see such cooperative, collective systems be adopted on a much larger scale, perhaps to be directly compared with neoliberalist systems.
Other challenges in this area relate mainly to defining innovative and effective methods of conserving the complexity and resilience of ecosystems, whilst dividing up ecosystem services to be bought and sold. The recent "Salzau message" outlines key areas for improvement and advance so as not to continue on the 'business as usual' path of unsustainable economic growth.
As regards areas I was unable to consider in this essay, I would have liked to compare the requirements of neoliberal free-markets with 'mixed economies' and other systems that might allow for a different relationship with nature. I would also like to have considered the role of human population growth in parallel to economic growth as a cause of environmental problems. I would have liked to do actual analysis of economic policies on environmental protection records of different countries, but I felt there were too many confounding factors (such as population), which could not be controlled for.
I would have also liked to look in more detail at the relationship between government and private economic interests. Such relationships may take on reciprocal natures, with governments benefitting from funds provided by private backers, who may in turn benefit from government imposed economic reforms. I wanted to look in more detail at how this might apply to the marine environment, especially at how governments use communications media to maintain public popularity despite often poor environmental records. Needless to say, this was far beyond the scope of this essay.
I will finish with an analogy based on the unrestricted competition required by neoliberalism, which is argued to promote efficiency and benefits for all members of society. This same unrestricted competition is also argued by environmentalists to promote unsustainable growth and environmental disaster. Its role might be seen as analogous to the role of competition as a selective agent in evolution, aiding the efficient removal of weaker genes and favouring the 'fittest' alleles. Neoliberalists might try to use this as a justification of it in economic policy. All life is essentially competitive, without protection for vulnerable individuals or groups, so why should the way in which we govern our society not be? Unrestricted competition might be argued to be 'true' to our selfish genetic tendencies, but it should be remembered that whilst genes are essentially selfish, their ability to survive and replicate depends not only on competition with their alleles, but on cooperative interactions within gene populations. Evolved strategies such as cooperation and reciprocal altruism are commonly evolutionarily stable, especially in humans and other social animals, and could be better analogies for economic policy. Also, evolution by natural selection, whilst producing solutions that take advantage of the available genetic options, does not produce optimal solutions. Humans, as imaginative and innovative as we are, should be able to transcend our genetic evolution, and perhaps we can find better, more optimal societal solutions.
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