Natural capital must be defended: green growth as neoliberal biopolitics

Robert Fletcher*, Wolfram H. Dressler, Zachary R. Anderson, Bram Büscher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


This contribution addresses the growing global trend to promote ‘natural capital accounting’ (NCA) in support of environmental conservation. NCA seeks to harness the economic value of conserved nature to incentivize local resource users to forgo the opportunity costs of extractive activities. We suggest that this represents a form of neoliberal biopower/biopolitics seeking to defend life by demonstrating its ‘profitability’ and hence right to exist. While little finance actually reaches communities through this strategy, substantial funding still flows into the idea of ‘natural capital’ as the basis of improving rural livelihoods. Drawing on two cases in Southeast Asia, we show that NCA initiatives may compel some local people to value ecosystem services in financial terms, yet in most cases this perspective remains partial and fragmented in communities where such initiatives produce a range of unintended outcomes. When the envisioned environmental markets fail to develop and benefits remain largely intangible, NCA fails to meet the growing material aspirations of farmers while also offering little if any bulwark against their using forests more intensively and/or enrolling in lucrative extractive enterprise. We thus conclude that NCA in practice may become the antithesis of conservation by actually encouraging the resource extraction it intends to combat.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1068-1095
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Peasant Studies
Issue number5
Early online date24 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


  • biopower
  • conservation
  • environmental markets
  • Natural capital
  • neoliberalism


Dive into the research topics of 'Natural capital must be defended: green growth as neoliberal biopolitics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this