Pacific Conservation Biology Pacific Conservation Biology Society
A journal dedicated to conservation and wildlife management in the Pacific region.
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Ecologists, economics and politics: problems and contradictions in applying neoliberal ideology to nature conservation in Australia

Paul I. Boon A C and Vishnu Prahalad B

A Institute for Sustainability and Innovation, Victoria University, Melbourne, Vic. 8001, Australia.

B Discipline of Geography and Spatial Sciences, School of Land and Food, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tas. 7001, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: paul.boon@vu.edu.au

Pacific Conservation Biology - http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/PC16035
Submitted: 29 August 2016  Accepted: 8 January 2017   Published online: 21 February 2017

Abstract

In a recent Forum Essay in Pacific Conservation Biology, the well known ecologist Harry Recher argued that over the past three decades Australia had experienced a ‘failure of science’ and a concomitant ‘death of nature’. In this essay we examine some of the propositions put forward by Recher (2015), with particular reference to the role played by neoliberal ideology in nature conservation in Australia. Since the early 1980s the neoliberal value system has effectively shaped a new paradigm for nature conservation in Australia with its own language, tools and institutions, and through such a process has redefined nature in its own terms. We focus on two of the most significant neoliberal, free-market mechanisms – (1) monetary valuation of biodiversity and of ecosystem services, and (2) the provision of complementary areas to offset losses of high-quality habitat – and show how they have come to dominate policy development and on-ground activities in wetland management and conservation in Australia. Despite the wide reach of neoliberal ideology, ecologists and conservation biologists seem largely unaware of its practical implications. In some cases, such as with offset programs and with carbon valuation, they have become complicit with the ruling ideology, without, it seems to us, being fully aware of their involvement, tacit or explicit, or of the likely connotations of that participation. Hedging the future of wetland conservation to ‘market-driven environmentalism’ is simply an expected overreach in the broader context of neoliberal economic and political ideology, and provides rich grounds for a critique in support of a more considered approach to nature conservation.

Additional keywords: compensatory offsets, economics, ecosystem services, environmental management, monetary valuation, politics, wetland conservation.


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