The commodification (sometimes also called financialization) of nature is a necessary byproduct of a capitalist mode of production. It can’t be undone without undermining a basic tenet of capitalism – unlimited economic growth. Given that the unfettered growth of capitalism is no longer feasible with the decline in available net energy and the ecological limits to further growth, it is time to rethink commodification in the context of conservation.

Currently, most traditional large conservation agencies willingly buy into the commodification paradigm through a ‘wholesale’ embrace of the ‘sustainable use‘ model, despite plenty of evidence that this model has not produced anything ecologically sustainable as yet. We continue to lose habitats and species at record rates, which those same agencies point out endlessly without ever questioning the underlying assumption of ‘sustainable use’ and its meaning for each and every individual species (e.g. What constitutes sustainable use of elephants?).

Another favourite euphemism for continued commoditisation of nature is pricing ‘ecosystem services‘. Designed to ‘solve’ the externalities problem in capitalism, all it does is create new tradeable commodities.

We are exploring a number of options to shift the focus away from commodification to a new, modern way to re-establish the commons. These include:

  1. Making a Basic Income the default option for supporting poor communities in areas with high ecological value. If people don’t have to worry about food security and access to cash to pay school fees and medicine, illegal poaching, hunting and harvesting will be greatly reduced.
  2. The consideration of non-human rights for key species and by extension the ecosystems needed to support them. Once we acknowledge in a legal sense that these species have a right to exist, private property rights will have to be balanced against their non-human rights.
  3. Rethinking access and use rights for conservation areas. Any enclosed space with exclusive (paid) access is by definition commoditised. In the first instance access and use rights for local communities need to be considered. In addition, property rights for wildlife must be explored.

We will continue to consult other experts and disciplines in this space, aligning ourselves with those who have moved beyond the unlimited growth paradigm and the ‘if it pays it stays’ view of conservation.