About

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nature noun (LIFE) all the animals, plants, rocks, etc. in the world and all the features, forces, and processes that happen or exist independently of people, such as the weather, the sea, mountains, the production of young animals or plants, and growth… the force that is responsible for physical life and that is sometimes spoken of as a person.1

natural adjective (NOT ARTIFICIAL) as found in nature and not involving anything made or done by people.2

capital noun (MONEY) money and possessions, especially a large amount of money used for producing more wealth or for starting a new business.3

Natural Capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from this Natural Capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible.4

There’s an emergent view that natural capital is the new asset class for the future.5

 

This site shares essays I have written since the financial crisis of 2008. They mostly focus on financialisations of nature that have intensified in the wake of this crisis.

By ‘financialisation’ I mean two things –

  1. a  revisioning and rewriting of the natural world in terms of financial terms and concepts

  2. the turning of banks and financiers to environmental conservation activities as new possibilities for speculative investments and products

The essays listed below were written for audiences beyond academia. They were intended to communicate to policymakers, environmental conservation professionals, social movements, advocacy campaigns, and the general public. They build on research and reflections developed for peer reviewed academic publications.

I have brought the essays together here to make them more easily available. I have done so because of my concern that new elisions between ‘nature’ and ‘capital’ may amplify (rather than redress) environmental concerns, whilst simultaneously deepening economic inequalities that are themselves linked with environmental damage. 

I hope you find value in the essays shared here.

Please feel free to get in touch.

Essays 

  1. On bioculturalism, shamanism and unlearning the creed of growth   
    (May 2008)
  2. An Ecosystem at your service?   
    (Winter 2008-2009)
  3. For the G20 Alternative Summit, London 2009   
    (April 2009)
  4. Green capitalism, and the cultural poverty of constructing nature as service-provider
    (October 2009)
  5. The Environmentality of ‘Earth Incorporated’
    (May 2010)
  6. The business of bio(cultural) diversity?   
    (August 2010)
  7. Supposing truth is a woman? – a commentary
    (May 2011)
  8. A technological recipe for making nature the friend of capital   
    (Summer 2011)
  9. Green: going beyond ‘the money shot’   
    (August 2011)
  10. Seeing the forest-spirits for the biodiversity offsets
    (November 2011)
  11. Biodiversity conservation, financialisation and equity: some currents and concerns   
    (May 2012)
  12. Offsetting nature   
    (2012, with Mike Hannis)
  13. Chess or go?   
    (November 2012)
  14. The Aurora affect   
    (December 2012)
  15. The natural capital myth   
    (June 2013)
  16. Plenary Panel with Pavan Sukhdev at the 2013 Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity 
    (June 2013)
  17. Should nature have to prove its value?   
    (July 2013)
  18. At the Edinburgh Forums on Natural Capital and Natural Commons   
    (November 2013)
  19. ‘Ecosystem services’
 and the role of the market:
 a concerned view   
    (September 2014)
  20. On ‘natural capital’ and ‘ecosystem services’ in the proposed Nature and Wellbeing Act   
    (January 2015)
  21. Reflections on Clyde Reflections   
    (July 2015)
  22. On climate change ontologies and the spirit(s) of oil   
    (October 2015)
  23. Notes on ‘Natural Capital’ and ‘fairytales’   
    (November 2015)
  24. Why are pastoralists poisoning lions in west Namibia?   
    (August 2016)
  25. Nature is being renamed as ‘natural capital’ – but is it the planet that profits?   
    (September 2016)  
  26. Noting some effects of fabricating ‘nature’ as ‘natural capital’   
    (July 2017)
  27. Nature 3.0: will blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies save the planet?   
    (February 2018)
  28. Extraction old and new: mining the desert in southwestern Africa
    (May 2018)
  29. How many fingers am I holding up?   
    (October 2018)
  30. The balance of nature? On making monetary value of UK ‘natural capital’   
    (December 2019)
  31. The Dasgupta Interim Review on the Economics of Biodiversity – Feedback
    (June 2020)
  32. I’m Sian, and I’m a fossil fuel addict: on paradox, disavowal and (im)possibility in changing climate change
    (August 2020)

 

What People Say

“Sian Sullivan is a seminal and inspiring voice writing on political ecology, the future of human and beyond-human relationships, and of how we can come to value and act well in the world as humans. She has successfully decentred the egocentric Man who has traditionally written on conservation and environmental justice as if, erroneously, we can constantly avert, change or technologically adapt in a world that is so much bigger than us, somehow always expecting to avoid the dual unfolding catastrophes of species extinction and climate change. Sian has debunked these simplistic and dangerous assumptions. With a broader, humble, but respectful animistic approach, rich with polyphonic agency, Sian has deconstructed and debunked the myth of Natural Capital and outlined an alternative way of seeing and knowing nature. Everyone interested in our future, on and in relationship with our planet, could benefit from reading Sian’s work.”

-Sarah Bracking, Professor of Climate and Society, King’s College London and author of The Financialisation of Power: How Financiers Rule Africa (Routledge, 2016) and co-editor, with Sian Sullivan, Phil Woodhouse and Aurora Fredriksen of Valuing Development, Environment and Conservation: Creating Values that Matter (Routledge, 2018), November 2020

 

“Sian Sullivan works where several strands meet: anthropology, political ecology and ecocentric philosophy, among others. And just as margins and littorals are rich in biodiversity, her work enriches all these fields to their mutual benefit. The implications of her studies are thus important for the shiny new paradigm of natural capital and ecosystem services, but they also extend well beyond. Hers is a voice that deserves to be heard.”

Patrick Curry, author of Ecological Ethics: An Introduction (rev. edn 2017), and Editor-in-Chief of the online journal The Ecological Citizen, October 2020

 

“Sian Sullivan’s work is a serious provocation to that large and growing community of researchers and practitioners who readily – and often too uncritically – assemble around the concepts of ecosystem services and natural capital.  Her research has helped immeasurably to clarify and extend my own thoughts and approaches in this area.”

Dr Rob Fish, Reader in Human Ecology, Director of Research and Research Ethics, Co-Director, Kent Interdisciplinary Centre for Spatial Studies (KISS), Co-ordinator of NERC Valuing Nature Programme, May 2020


“The terminologies of our political economy are fraught with many dangerous self-delusions that affect how we see and shape the world. Sian Sullivan rigorously excavates this hidden mindspace to reveal some deep, uncomfortable truths and catalyze the change we need. … Her writings are a refreshing forensic account of how we have financialized our understanding of nature, warping our souls in the process — and how we need to rehumanize ourselves with a new vocabulary of value.”

David Bollier, commons scholar/activist at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, and lead author of Re-imagining Value: Insights from the Care Economy, Commons, Cyberspace and Nature (2017), May 2020. See David’s blog Our modern obsession with financializing nature.


“Sian’s reflections are always inspiring and unconventional, offering new and exciting ways to see and interpret the unresolved and increasing – since the 2008 financial crash – contradictions of capitalism’s relation to non-human nature”

Dr Elia Apostolopoulou, University of Cambridge, April 2020

 

"even where the EKC [Environmental Kuznets Curve] does apply, the literature is increasingly clear that it’s not income growth itself that drives the reduction in pollution ... ; rather, it is policy interventions, and specifically legal limits"

Jason Hickel@jasonhickel

WIRED published an article that is full of problematic claims about ecological economics. Here is my response: https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2020/10/9/response-to-mcafee

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Notes

  1. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/nature
  2. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/natural
  3. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/capital
  4. World Forum on Natural Capital 2017
  5. Peter Carter, formerly Chief Environmentalist, European Investment Bank (EIB), summing up final session on finance at the conference To No Net Loss of Biodiversity and Beyond, London, June 2014, personal notes.

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