‘Natural Capital’: Ontology or Analogy?
This critical review will initially consider questions of time lags in policy innovation with reference to sustainability. The cultural genealogy of the concept of ‘Natural Capital’ will then be provided, a key reference point being the ‘Five Capitals’ approach in Jonathon Porrit’s 2005 book. I will suggest that what we have in the Five Capitals approach is a series of analogies conceived as a piece of social marketing of sustainability, primarily aimed at the business sector. I then consider some of the consequences of utilising the concept of ‘capital’. Centrally, does this conceptual strategy illegitimately morph into an ideological ‘naturalisation’ of ‘capital’ as an essential feature of the world? Does this construction support ‘capital’ as an ontology that claims universal status rather than a time-bound construction tied to a particular mode of society and historical period? The final arguments concern the question of appropriate transitional concepts for our current situation. What criteria might we apply to consider if a concept or framing is a good one to assist in transition? I conclude that ‘natural capital’ and the other analogical uses of the term import serious problems. Use with care, if at all: move beyond wherever possible.
This review has greatly benefitted from discussions that took place at the concluding conference in the ‘Debating Nature’s Value’ project. This event was distinguished by much real debate and exchange and I thank the varied participants whose points enriched my understanding, including those of editor Victor Anderson.
- 1.Brechet, T., and Boulanger, P.M. 2002. European and global approaches: IDD overview, classification and characteristics of scientific tools for a Sustainable Development policy. In Proceedings EU Workshop on Development of scientific tools in support of Sustainable Development.Google Scholar
- 2.Dasgupta, P., and K.G. Maler. 2001. Wealth as a criterion for sustainable development. Stockholm: Beijer International Institute of Ecological Economics.Google Scholar
- 3.Ford, L., and Kuetting, G. 2017. Global environmental governance in the Anthropocene: Breaking out of the enclosures? System Change, [S.l.], 1(1) July. ISSN 2396–7293. Available at: https://systemchange.online/index.php/systemchange/article/view/15. Date Accessed 31 May 2018.
- 4.Kenter, J.O., N. Jobstvogt, V. Watson, K.N. Irvine, M. Christie, and R. Bryce. 2016. The impact of information, value-deliberation and group-based decision-making on values for ecosystem services: Integrating deliberative monetary valuation and storytelling. Ecosystem Services 21 (Part B): 270–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 7.Porritt, J. 2007. Capitalism as if the world matters. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- 9.Roderick, I., and the CONVERGE Project Team. 2013. Report on how ranking of degree of convergence may be undertaken – calculating a convergence baseline. CONVERGE Deliverable 16. The Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems, Bristol, UK. http://convergence-alliance.org/download/converge/wp2/WP2_D16.pdf.
- 10.Scoones, I. 1998. Sustainable rural livelihoods: A framework for analysis. IDS Working Paper 72. Brighton: IDS.Google Scholar
- 11.Spangenberg, J.H.C. 2016. Blind spots of interdisciplinary collaboration monetising biodiversity: Before calculating the value of nature, reflect on the nature of value. Trieste 3 (1): 115–128.Google Scholar
- 12.Teivainen, T. 2002. Enter economism, exit politics: Experts, economic policy and the damage to democracy. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
- 13.Varoufakis, Y. 2015. The global minotaur. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
- 14.Von Weizsacker, E.U., and A. Wijkman. 2017. Come on!: Capitalism, short-termism, population and the destruction of the planet. New York: Springer.Google Scholar