Cutting nature to fit: Urbanization, neoliberalism and biodiversity offsetting in England

22 Aug 2017

In this paper, by drawing on primary empirical data obtained through 62 interviews in seven case studies we seek to offer a Marxist historical-geographical analysis of biodiversity offsetting policy in England, and its emergence in the context of the global economic crisis, and government aspirations for large-scale urban development projects. By paying attention to the interplay between offsetting, urbanization and the neoliberal reconstruction of conservation, we aim to extend the focus of the neoliberal conservation literature from the role of offsets as ecological 'commodities' to the way offsetting is used to support the production of space(s), place(s) and nature(s) in line with contemporary patterns of capitalist urban growth. In particular, we show how offsetting operationalized new ideas about nature as a stock of biodiversity, how it streamlined planning to support extended urbanization, how it foreclosed public debate about controversial urban development projects, and how it reterritorialized nature-society relationships. We also give a central role to social contestation against the implementation of offsetting in England, drawing attention to its class character and highlighting the potential for a new emancipatory politics that would encompass a 'right to nature' as a key element of struggles for the 'right to the city'.