“Let it be” - Prospects of market-based conservation in the US

Authors: Ritwick Ghosh*, New York University, Stephanie Barral, INRAE
Topics: Economic Geography, Environment, Land Use
Keywords: Governance, Biodiversity, Net, Markets, Political Economy, Beetle, Financialization
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 18
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Facing the prospects of a sixth mass extinction, policy makers are pressed to adopt innovative ways to manage remaining habitat. Historically, governments have regulated habitat loss, for better or for worse. But today, momentum is shifting to market-based solutions. Conservation Banking is one prominent example. Conservation Banking allows habitat destruction on a desired site if equivalent habitat is restored elsewhere. The appeal of the policy draws from the rationale of achieving No-Net-Loss (NNL). Although NNL may be theoretically conceivable, it warrants more critical and empirical study. In this paper, we present findings from a recently concluded case study of American Burying Beetle (ABB) conservation in Oklahoma. Through 30 semi-structured interviews, we show how ensuring NNL through a market-based strategy required coordinating a complex assemblage comprising bureaucrats, politicians, NGOs, financers, environmental consultants, and scientists, as well as non-humans—quantification tools, performance metrics, interest rates, and maps. Essentially, this assemblage determines when to allow the destruction of ABB habitats, and when to let it be. We found that this assemblage strengthened when developmental pressure intensified in 2012-14 fueled by an energy boom and then weakened when the energy market collapsed; effectively tying the survival of ABB to oil prices. We reflect on the ABB experience to argue the need to study the institutional structures coordinating NNL calculations and how they are politically negotiated.

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