Nature conservation in post-crisis Europe

The economic crisis that has spread unevenly across the globe since 2008 is having a major impact on environmental governance and nature conservation policies around Europe. The environment is rapidly becoming one of the main foci of attention of policy makers, politicians and private actors. After protracted scientific, philosophical and political debates the interrelationship between society and non-human nature seems to be an undisputed fact as the neologism of the “Anthropocene” clearly indicates.

Two interrelated and contradictory strategies are rapidly emerging in the “post-crisis” era: on the one hand, “green capitalism” by emphasizing the creation of new ecological “commodities” (e.g. carbon credits, biodiversity offsets) and schemes such as “payments for ecosystem services”, through which environmental protection will be achieved through the application of market-based instruments, aims at offering a solution to the economic and environmental crisis. On the other hand, the classical conflict between development and environmental protection is becoming dominant again, especially in the crisis-ridden countries of southern Europe and the “developing” world where growth seems to be in conflict with the protection of the environment. Thus, strategies to create markets in biodiversity and carbon sequestration, such as the Aichi target for natural accounting (Aichi target 2) or UNEP’s calls towards the establishment of a green economy, coexist with the rolling back of environmental regulatory frameworks in the wider context of increasing debts and decreasing profits.

Governance rescaling processes, by rearticulating political scales either downwards to regionalist/localist arrangements, or upwards to larger social and political levels (e.g. to the EU or the IMF) as well as outwards to wider private networks, play a decisive role in the consolidation of the above strategies.

These changes manifest a deepening of the neoliberalization of nature, itself a crisis-induced, crisis-inducing process. Crucially, these changes in the environmental field are not isolated but are in line with a broader neoliberal turn in public policies across the EU that spans several decades, although it has intensified in the post-crisis context. This attack spans different fields such as pensions, wages, labor rights, healthcare, education, social protection, housing, etc. and manifests an attempt to deepen the exploitation of the two sources of wealth: labour power and nature.

Even though almost no place can claim immunity from the above developments, neoliberalization has been impelled through mechanisms of uneven geographical developments. Therefore, experiences of neoliberalism have been uneven across Europe, both before and after the crisis, linked to the diversity of socio-political and economic backgrounds in different countries and the level of class struggle.

Tracing radical alternatives to capitalism 

The above mentioned developments in the environmental field reveal the increasing environmental contradictions of capitalism urging us to trace radical alternatives to the capitalist appropriation of non-human nature. We aim to contribute towards this end by directly relating academic research with existing environmental and social movements around Europe with the goal to unravel the conditions that could lead to a positive, non-exploitative and non-alienating relationship between humans and non-human nature.

In particular, we seek to critically engage with the changes in society-nature relationship and the radical literature produced about it, while building up bridges with wider discussions about more democratic and socially just alternatives to capitalism. We seek to create a space where scholars, activists and members of political parties in the Left can interact and exchange ideas, concerns and views about the changes and challenges that we are facing in the environmental field in post-crisis Europe. Our hope is that this opportunity will help define a clear and radical left political agenda for the environment as well as permit scholars to sharpen radical analyses about the relation between nature, capitalism and politics elsewhere in the world.             

“One of the stunning things about the present is the extent to which the prospect

and affect of revolutionary social change have been blanked

from the imaginary of political possibility.

It may not be too optimistic to begin again to encourage a revolutionary imaginary”.

Neil Smith (2007)

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