The call to put ‘a price on nature’ may be appealing – but it misunderstands what’s at stake Jeff Sparrow

“When [a] crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the idea that are lying around.” When scientists first raised the alarm about global warming in the late 1980s, the ideas “lying around” all pertained to neoliberalism. As a result, mainstream climate action has prioritised free market mechanisms, with disastrous results. Now, as the nations are meeting in Montreal for the Cop15 talks on biological diversity, 119 scientists and other experts have published an open letter warning against what they call.” a neoliberal agenda hidden behind cheerful and meaningless keywords.” By that they mean, in particular, the phrase “nature positive”, a term promoted by the World Economic Forum, the European Commission, the WWF, lobby groups and many individual governments. In Australia, the rhetoric has found its way into the government’s new review of environmental legislation, a document entitled Nature Positive Plan: better for the environment, better for business. Weekend appNo single definition of “nature positive” exists, with one study suggesting that 10 organizations using the term all define it differently. Yet it’s a slogan generally associated with a monetary valuation of the natural world – and that’s what worries the letter’s signatories. hope it might force businesses that treat the Earth as worthless to register its degradation on their balance sheets.But that misunderstands what’s at stake.To harness markets for nature, technocrats and economists must separate an ecology into its component parts and then assign values ​​to the aspects deemed worthy of protection. In a piece for The Conversation, the academic John Henneberry explains how when we price nature: We apply n umbers to those features that we consider important, or that are measurable, or both, and we ignore or exclude other features that don’t meet these criteria. […] As a result of it, nature appears more fragmented because we have to slice it into categories and dice those categories into bits before we can value bits of those bits. The sum of these parts is far short of the whole and does not capture the interconnectedness and holism of nature.” In a context in which we don’t even know how many unique species exist on the planet (estimates range from 5.3 million to 1 trillion, with only 1.6 million of them identified and named), the author Adrienne Buller describes as an extraordinary fantasy the notion that “the biosphere can be readily segmented and ‘unbundled’ into discrete units which can subsequently be individually valued, speculated upon, and exchanged, abstracted entirely from the specifics of time and place.”It’s a point also made in the open letter, which insists:The monetary values ​​being produced do not represent the value of nature’s ecological functions, not even a proxy. Yet misleading figures are not better than nothing but worse than nothing, as they can lead to wrong policy decisions with irreversible consequences. The monetary valuation of nature’s ecological functions can also give a dangerous and misleading illusion of substitutability between critical ecosystemic functions, where one assumes incorrectly that as long as the total monetary value remains stable, nature is in good shape.” Environmental pricing: by transforming the unique components of a biosphere into abstractions as exchangeable as dollars or Euros, it facilitates processes like offsetting, so that destruction in one place can be “compensated” by investment elsewhere. Marketization also has consequences for governance, taking environmental Decisions away from the public and trusting them instead of the market’s invisible hand.[T]He thought that finance would have a key role to play [in respect of the environment]Says the letter, “is a very specific political framing that empowers private finance actors – who can then dearly negotiate their participation – while downplaying the power of governments to set up appropriate regulations.” Given the glaring relationship between profit and extinction (think of the logging firms clearing the Amazon), you might wonder at the mental gymnastics required to present financialisation as an alternative to immediate government regulation. Think of Tanya Plibersek’s pledge to create in Australia a “Green Wall Street” based on the trading of “nature” credits.” To many people, entrusting fragile and irreplaceable ecosystems to international commerce seems bizarre. As George Monbiot once put it, by integrating the environment into the world market, “you are effectively pushing the natural world even further into the system that is eating it alive. “Yet political theorist Philip Mirowski reminds us in Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, one of the great commandments of neoliberalism holds that any perceived problems thrown up by markets can and must be resolved by further markets. Cop15 ends on Monday. Yet irrespective of what it decides, we can’t base our response on ideas that happen to be lying around. We need ideas that work. That means recognizing that genuine environmental solutions depend on the decommodification of nature, not its opposite. Jeff Sparrow is a Guardian Australia columnist

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