Petro-Power and Progressive Permutations: Conservation Offsets, Oil Sands, and the Politics of Neoliberal Conservation
Hackett, Ryan William
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Recent years have witnessed a growing international discourse and related rise of conservation paradigms that suggest the only way to make conservation work is to fully incorporate it into economic circuits. The development of a suite of market friendly conservation techniques have been at the forefront of this neoliberal turn in conservation practice, leading to the need for a deeper theorization and understanding of the role that non-extractive uses of nature are playing in relation to contemporary capitalism, and the political implications of these new approaches to conservation. The dissertation explores this global phenomenon through a case study of terrestrial conservation offsets in response to the ecological consequences of oil sands development in Alberta, Canada. The chapters that follow query the social, political and economic processes leading to the development of this particular conservation tool, and the political implications of project implementation in the province, particularly in regard to shifting accesses to land and resources. The findings complicate a number of dominant narratives to be found in the existing literature on market-based conservation practices, particularly in regard to the privatization of governance and their ability to facilitate recursive rounds of enclosure and accumulation. The case study draws attention to a series of contradictions and hybridizations that suggest that market-oriented conservation tools are associated with a more fractured and partial political project than often presented in the critical literature. The implications of the study suggest a need to shift focus from concerns about the use of market-friendly instruments in and of themselves, to the broader social and political context in which any given market is embedded. Doing so may serve to strip the neoliberal project of its assumed power, and open opportunities for novel and unanticipated re-imaginings of human-environment relations.