(Un) Fixing Biodiversity: Nature, State, and the Techno-politics of Offsetting in the United Kingdom
Higgins, Colin T.
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In this thesis I examine the United Kingdom's biodiversity offsetting program. Offsetting is a new form of "market-based" conservation and an attempt by environmentalists and bureaucrats to "sell nature to save it". Critics contend that such programs intensify the commodification of nature "all the way down," producing financial products out of un-consumable species diversity. However, by tracing the enactment of biodiversity offsetting on a field in the Vale of Whitehorse through the eyes of six key-informants, I argue that the narrative of commodification along with the offsetting program's functioning run into multiple barriers--but that some offsets nonetheless occur. To understand the paradoxical phenomena of the labors that enable exchange also pulling apart nature's commodity-form, I first observe the development of a metric and to produce biodiversity commodities. I show the cognitive failures that the commodity's coherence rested upon. One failure in particular, the orderliness of bureaucratic practice, serves as the point of departure for my examination of offsetting's implementation in the field. Through this examination I argue that the processes of producing of biodiversity's commodity-form were not compatible with those of producing the state's claims to legitimacy, and became subsumed within these bureaucratic procedures. Using Bruno Latour's concept of "circulating references" I argue that the logics of ecosystem commodities produced by regulatory fiat stretch the logics of administrative claims to legitimate domination in uncomfortable and potentially destabilizing ways. This, I suggest, causes low-level administrators to produce bureaucratic nature, and not, as the program intends, commodified nature, for fear of losing their legitimacy. I conclude that the political ecology of environmental governance could benefit from an increased focus on everyday state practices.