Nature and economics: a necessary marriage?

By Joseph Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

Adams et al. (2013; p. 585): “Neoliberalism may offer a new set of mechanisms in pursuing conservation ends, but also creates new risks and challenges.”

Sustainability and social and economic human prosperity resulting from ecosystem services provided by nature form the heart of the principle of human–nature connectivity (see UK NEA, 2011). Such services are categorised as supporting (e.g. soil formation), provisioning (e.g. food), regulating (e.g. flood regulation) and cultural (e.g. education, recreation) by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2005). These services can then be assigned an economic value and, theoretically, be more wholly incorporated into a neoliberal economy where conservation is seen as protecting an area’s economic value, rather than diminishing it.

Adams et al. (2013) note regular mention of such ecosystem services in UK ‘Large Conservation Area’ (LCA) project descriptions; a shift towards neoliberalism in conservation, and the apparent need to assign an economic value to designated conservation areas, is present in the UK. Such themes also extend to conservation the world over, as we can see by two recent major biodiversity reports.

Near Ullswater, Lake District National Park, UK. Should this ancient landscape be valued?

Near Ullswater, Lake District National Park, UK. Should this ancient landscape be valued?

Two separate recent international reports on biodiversity – Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 by the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity and the WWF’s Living Planet Report – have been widely referred to by the press. Both reports discuss ecosystem services and the benefits of nature conservation to our well-being and economy. The Telegraph, on the WWF’s report, discusses how humans “depend on ecosystem services”. Meanwhile, The Guardian and Blue & Green Tomorrow discuss the Global Biodiversity Outlook report and the overall failure to meet current global conservation targets. Perhaps then, better incorporation of nature into neoliberal economies via ecosystem services is necessary to convey the value of nature to policy and decision makers, in the UK and beyond.

Of course, ideas of ecosystem services are seldom isolated from opposition to the valuation of nature and for its inherent value, which is arguably priceless. Key arguments against such valuation include: (i) not all of nature’s outputs are useful services, indeed some are disservices, or are neutral, in relation to ‘serving’ people, but the areas providing these may house amazing species and ecosystems (are they at risk if they cannot provide a useful service?); (ii) ecosystem service arguments imply that the conservation of nature should only happen when it is profitable to do so; (iii) technological advancement may surpass nature’s services in the future (then what of a nature reserve that was being protected just because of a service and associated value?); (iv) nature has an intrinsic value and would be better argued for on moral, rather than economic, grounds (list summarised from McCauley, 2006 in Nature). Also see The Ecologist on biodiversity offsetting who ask: “How many pandas is a five star hotel worth?”.

Nature conservation, and associated themes (e.g. biodiversity offsetting, ecosystem services), in the UK and the wider world will only increase in importance and relevance as environments continue to change and, perhaps inevitably, the so called neoliberalisation of nature continues. As territories reserved for nature (and the value of these) are debated, understanding the spatial patterns of biodiversity, and indeed how these will change through time, will be vital so that we can move towards informed, resilient and sustainable decisions. Perhaps true sustainability can only ensue if nature’s intrinsic value takes a dominant role in discussions? Perhaps not, though; perhaps economic valuations will dominate by necessity? Personally, I hope that such intrinsic value is never overshadowed and that economic arguments, where necessary, simply supplement moral ones.

 Adams, W. M., Hodge, I. D. and Sandbrook, L. (2014). ‘New spaces for nature: the re-territorialisation of biodiversity conservation under neoliberalism in the UK‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39, 574–588.

60-world2 Bertini, I. (2014). Governments have failed to protect wildlife, UN biodiversity report findsBlue & Green Tomorrow.

60-world2 Global Biodiversity Outlook 4: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2014)

60-world2 Lean, G. (2014). Life on earth is dying, thanks to one species. The Telegraph.

60-world2 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005). Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DC.

 McCauley, D. J. (2006). Selling out on natureNature 443, 27 – 28.

60-world2 Scrivener, A. (2014). Nature as an ‘asset class’ – the free market’s final frontier? The Ecologist.

60-world2 UK NEA (2011). The UK national ecosystem assessment: technical report UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge.

60-world2 Vaughan, A. (2014). UN biodiversity report highlights failure to meet conservation targetsThe Guardian.

60-world2 WWF et al. (2014). Living Planet Report 2014.

Researching In Post-Conflict Areas: Thinking Reflexively About Nationality

By Will Andrews, Aberystwyth University

A recent article in the journal Area, written by Matthew Benwell (2014) discusses the challenges of conducting research on different sides of a socio-political conflict and is based on his fieldwork experiences in Argentina and the Falkland Islands. Recently post-conflict tensions between Britain and Argentina have been highlighted by an incident involving the motoring programme Top Gear. During filming for the programme’s Christmas special in Argentina one of the three cars used was seen to have the number plate H982 FKL. This was believed by many Argentinians to be a distasteful reference to the 1982 Falklands conflict (BBC News, 2014). However a spokesperson for the BBC denied that the number plate was chosen deliberately and that it was “…a very unfortunate coincidence.” (BBC News, 2014). The programme’s film crew were forced to flee the country by protesters who threw stones at the car involved and at the film crew’s vehicles. Whilst this incident is unlike anything that might happen during fieldwork it shows that there are underlying tensions in fieldwork spaces which may remain many years after a conflict. In particular when the person present, be they motoring journalist or academic researcher, identifies with a nationality previously involved in said conflict. The tensions which this incident revealed are well known to British researcher Benwell, who found that his being from the UK raised suspicions with some Argentinian participants however largely they were curious about his presence in remote Argentina where being British was seen as ‘exotic’ (p167).

A British Map of the Falkland Islands (Wikimedia Commons)

A British Map of the Falkland Islands (Wikimedia Commons)

Benwell (p164) argues that those working in areas of socio-political conflict or with post-conflict tensions should think more self-reflexively about their nationality and the performativity of this in the field. As geographers we should think about our positionality in the field and think reflexively about factors such as, “class, gender, ‘race’, sexuality, ableness, age and education, whether we are a parent or not” (Skelton, 2001: 89). Yet often, as Benwell (p164) argues, we do not think about our nationality as one such factor. Furthermore Benwell argues that as geographer’s we understand that national identity is dynamic and can be performed differently depending on a range of factors and influences, in his case these were gender, age and class. Nationality is performed relationally rather than being predetermined (p167). In actuality Benwell’s positionality as a British researcher did not lead to conflict in the field although he notes that it may have restricted him as participants spoke variously of following a certain official line in answering his questions (p165). Participants had a chance to give Argentine arguments about the sovereignty dispute to a British researcher with an ultimately British audience. Furthermore Benwell’s ability to speak Argentinian Spanish (p167) was helpful in gaining the trust and confidence of participants. Whilst this article provides a detailed reading of how performing nationality can play out in the post-conflict field it also acts as a call for more methodological writing on nationality as a part of researcher positionality, particularly in geopolitical research contexts.

 Benwell, M. C. (2014) ‘Considering nationality and performativity: undertaking research across the geopolitical divide in the Falkland Islands and Argentina’, Area, 46(2), 163-169

60-world2 ‘Protests cut short Top gear shoot’ BBC News 4th October 2014

 Skelton, H. (2001) ‘Cross-cultural research: issues of power, positionality and ‘race’ ‘, In Limb, M. & Dwyer C. (eds.) Qualitative methodologies for geographers: issues and debates, Arnold, London, 87-100


Flying the flag: flagship species as a conservation tool

By Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Reports on the threat of extinction to animals proliferate academic and popular media. Whilst this is by no means a new phenomenon, Gupta et al.’s (2014) recent article in Area provides some food for thought. Their paper draws on the use of ‘flagship species’ to promote environmental protection and conservation. This term, for me, resides at an unusual intersection between scientific biogeography and culturally-influenced animal geography.

Flagship species are chosen for their ‘charisma’, a certain charm or appeal that makes them attractive to humans. Having the capacity to evoke empathy, such species are used as symbols for environmental protection and awareness, and are sometimes used by conservation organisations for brand identification. Examples include elephants, pandas, and tigers; large mammals, attractive and popular, threatened at continental scales. The ‘Flagship Species Fund’ – a joint initiative between Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) – explicitly focuses on ‘primates, sea turtles, and trees’ and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which uses a panda in its logo, admits that flagship species tend to be large animals favoured in western cultures.

How refreshing it is, then, to read about an unusual and divergent case; a species of fish that could help promote local habitat protection. Fish, it appears, are overlooked by flagship species initiatives and, indeed, by studies in animal geography. Gupta et al. (2014) draw our attention to the example of the golden mahseer, a river fish endemic to northern India. Local villagers are extremely passionate about this culturally-significant fish, which is beautifully colourful and elegant, described as the ‘pride of the area’. Anglers treat it with great respect, praising its intelligence and ability to evade capture. Not since we ‘found’ Nemo has a fish had such a powerful effect on human emotion. However, the golden mahseer is threatened by illegal sand and boulder mining, which is causing habitat destruction. Conservationists, therefore, argue that the golden mahseer has huge potential as a flagship species for Himalayan rivers.

This got me thinking about another taxonomic group that has been overlooked; birds. My own work looks at pigeons – more elegantly known as the rock dove (Columba livia) – and whilst they themselves are far from becoming extinct, two of their close ancestors have not been so lucky; the dodo, now symbolic of extinction, and the passenger pigeon. You may have read about the tragic fate of the passenger pigeon in the news of late. This year marks the centenary of the extinction of what was once the most abundant bird in North America. Due to a lack of laws restricting shooting, over the course of the nineteenth century, between 3 and 5 million passenger pigeons were shot and sold for food. Their population dwindled exponentially and Martha – the last passenger pigeon – died in Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. One good thing to come of this was a heightened public interest in conservation, although, like the dodo, it was all too late for the passenger pigeon.

Passenger Pigeon (image credit: Trisha M Shears)

Passenger Pigeon (image credit: Trisha M Shears)

Birds, like fish, appear to induce different emotional responses in humans to the cute and cuddly mammals used as flagship species. This is possibly due to the very different environments that they inhabit; we can’t possibly relate to what it is like to soar amongst the clouds in the sky or to reside in vast underwater worlds. Could this explain the notable absence of avian and aquatic flagship species in conservation schemes? Alanna Mitchell’s article for National Geographic at the end of August stated that 1,300 species of bird are currently at risk of extinction. Surprisingly, amidst this long list of ill-fated birds are parrots, puffins, and penguins; birds that capture public imagination with their charming dispositions. Thus, as a catalyst for action, such ‘charismatic’ birds should surely be considered as potential avian flagship species that could pave the way not only to species protection and extinction prevention, but also to the taxonomic widening of this valuable conservation strategy.

 Gupta, N., Sivakumar, K., Mathur, V.B., Chadwick, M.A. (2014). “The ‘tiger of Indian rivers’: stakeholders’ perspectives on the golden mahseer as a flagship fish species”. Area doi: 10.1111/area.12124.

60-world2 Enget M (2014) The Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, Financial Times.

60-world2 Mitchell A (2014) The 1,300 Bird Species Facing Extinction Signal Threats to Human Health, National Geographic Magazine.

Promoting Feminism, Opposing Inequality

By Jessica Hope, University of Manchester

Image credit: Jessica Hope

Image credit: Jessica Hope

Last week UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson launched the HeForShe campaign, a solidarity movement for gender equality that calls upon men to stand up against the inequalities and discrimination faced by women. This week is the 69th session of the Un General Assembly, held in New York between September 24th and 30th.  During this assembly, UN Women will help deliberate a post 2015 development framework, new sustainable development goals and an appraisal of the Beijing Declaration.

As debates about gender inequalities are once again hitting the headlines, with a view to implementing new policies and practice, critical analysis of current practice is vital.  In August this year, Lata Narayanaswamy published a review article in Geography Compass Journal titled ‘NGOs and Feminisms in Development: Interrogating the ‘Southern Women’s NGO’. In this article, Narayanaswamy advocates firstly for more nuanced understandings of the diversity Southern Women’s NGOs and their relationship to wider NGO networks and secondly, for recognition of the contested politics of gender and its entanglements with broader identity politics. The article unpacks  how Southern women are represented, categorised and treated by development discourse and shows that too often, ‘Southern Women’s NGO’ is used as a short hand for subaltern, grassroots, collective action – without recognition of the power dynamics and diversity within the category. Moreover, working with Southern Women’s NGOs is too often viewed as synonymous with working with the most marginalised – ignoring the multiplicity of voices that cannot be heard.

As gender inequalities are debated in global platforms, it is vital that geography contributes to these discussions and helps to illuminate the common assumptions and representations that underpin development practice and shape development impacts.

 Narayanaswamy, L (2014) NGOs and Feminisms in Development: Interrogating the ‘Southern Women’s NGO’ Geography Compass 8 (8), pp 576–589

60-world2 United Nations Women (2014) HeForShe 


September 24, 2014

By Izabela Delabre, University of Reading

People’s Climate March, New York City March 2014 (image credit: South Bend Voice Flickr)

On the eve of the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September, the city saw an estimated 400,000 people take to the streets in the largest climate change march in history. Marchers gathered in cities across the world to call for ambitious action on climate change policy: 40,000 in London, and 30,000 in Melbourne. In Tanzania, the Maasai marched across their traditional lands to draw attention to the protection of their homelands in the Serengeti from climate change impacts.

These marches indicated the public’s frustration of political failure to reach, and implement, effective climate deals, and this anxiety is compounded by stark warnings from the academic community.  In Nature Geoscience, Friedlingstein et al. (2014) write that global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production have, on average, grown by 2.5% per year over the past decade. Two thirds of the CO2 emission quota consistent with a 2°C temperature limit has already been used, and it is predicted that the total quota will likely be exhausted 30 years from now, using 2014 emissions rates. Friedlingstein et al. find that carbon intensity improvements of emerging economies have been lower than anticipated, and warn that without more strict mitigation measures, these trends will continue.  Therefore, they stress, a break in current emission trends is urgently needed in the short term, to keep within the 2°C temperature limit.

The Global Carbon Budget 2014 found the top five CO2 emitters to be China, USA, EU, India and the Russian Federation. In a BBC article, Professor Corinne Le Quéré from the University of East Anglia stated that a significant proportion of China’s emissions were driven by demand from consumers in Europe and the USA: “In China, about 20% of their emissions are for producing clothes, furniture even solar panels that are shipped to Europe and America.”  Writing in Geography Compass in 2008, Kaplinsky stated that the distribution of income in China moved from being one of the world’s most equal to one of the world’s most unequal economies in a couple of decades. Kaplinsky argued that China and other Asian emerging economies must be included in discussions of global governance.  Six years later, during this week’s Climate Summit, China for first time pledged to take action on climate, with the aim for reducing its emissions of carbon per unit of GDP by 45% by 2020.

Given the impacts of globalization on climate, poverty, and inequality, and considering the scale of the impacts of climate change, the report New Climate Economy: Better Growth, Better Climate puts forward areas in which international co-operation has the potential to make a significant impact on the prospects for low-carbon and climate-resilient growth, as well as a ten-point action plan. The report states that national economic policies will need to be significantly revised in the next 15 years, when the global economy is expected to grow by more than half. On the day of the report’s release, President Obama tweeted, “This study concludes that no one has to choose between fighting climate change and growing the economy”.

Writing for The Guardian Sustainable Business, Professor Tim Jackson argues that the report is framed around the “dubious claim that we can have our cake and eat it,” and highlights how improving our prosperity might not be at all synonymous with growing the economy. Lord Stern, one of the authors of the New Climate Economy report states that in order to prevent runaway climate change, we need to develop broader measures of success, widen our vision of prosperity and return to core values, but it is critical that growth is included as an objective. The two defining challenges of this century are poverty and climate change, and “if we fail on one, we fail on the other.”


60-world2P. FriedlingsteinR. M. AndrewJ. RogeljG. P. PetersJ. G. CanadellR. KnuttiG. LudererM. R. RaupachM. SchaefferD. P. van Vuuren and C. Le Quéré 2014. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targetsNature Geoscience. Advance online publication doi:10.1038/ngeo2248 

books_iconR. Kaplinsky 2008. Globalisation, Inequality and Climate Change: What Difference Does China Make? Geography Compass 2(1): 67–78.

60-world2C. Le Quéré, R. Moriarty, R. M. Andrew, G. P. Peters, P. Ciais, P. Friedlingstein, S. D. Jones, S. Sitch, P. Tans et al. 2014. Global carbon budget 2014 Earth Systems Science Data. Discussion Paper, 7: 521-610.

60-world2The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate 2014. Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report

60-world2China’s per capita carbon emissions overtake EU’s BBC News, September 21

60-world2Hundreds of Thousands Converge on New York to Demand Climate-Change Action Time, September 23

60-world2Lord Stern: global warming may create billions of climate refugees Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22

60-world2The dilemma of growth: prosperity v economic expansion Guardian Sustainable Business, September 22

60-world2UN climate summit: China pledges emissions action BBC News, September 24

Beyond sub-disciplinary boundaries: geographers and the study of development

By Rory Horner, University of Manchester

The world economic, social and political map and consequent geographies of development are rapidly changing, as a result of such trends as the growing influence of rising powers and simultaneous forms of crisis in both global North and South.

Yet, among geographers, it can seem as if the study of development is often relatively separate to that of economic geography, which can be quite perplexing and challenging for postgraduate students and others keen to research at this interface.

In a recent paper in Area, I explore how this imbalance may be encountered and hopefully gradually overcome. Upon commencing my PhD research on India’s pharmaceutical industry, I initially focused on the economic characteristics of Indian pharmaceutical firms as emerging multinationals. However, I struggled to reconcile much of the conceptual work I was reading, initially in economic geography, with the empirical issues at hand.

Fieldwork beyond disciplinary boundaries

Particularly when conducting fieldwork in India and reading various India-published newspapers and journals (as well as some more development studies-oriented research), I was opened to a whole host of broader “development” debates around the industry – most notably around the public health issue of access to medicines. After my pilot fieldwork, I adapted my research to try to take a more inclusive focus:


  • a wider range of small and medium-sized, as well as large, firms
  • civil society organisations as well as firms and policymakers
  • Asking a broader range of questions, going beyond firm-level concerns to a greater interest in access to medicines issues
Corporate Headquarters of Aurobino Pharma, Hyderabad Image Credit: Rory Horner

Corporate Headquarters of Aurobino Pharma, Hyderabad Image Credit: Rory Horner

A small-scale pharmaceutical company in Delhi (image credit: Rory Horner)

A small-scale pharmaceutical company in Delhi (image credit: Rory Horner)










Particularly for those at an early career stage who are perhaps less embedded in prior research divisions, fieldwork, and engagement with various stakeholders, can provide relative freedom from academic boundaries and be a crucial stage for challenging sub-disciplinary boundaries.

Richer geographies of development?

Ultimately, the scope of my PhD research shifted from understanding a growth industry, and its industrial reorganisation internationally, to research about global governance, specifically changing patent laws, the role of the state and development impacts. By playing a crucial role in the global access to medicines campaign and in contesting a Northern agenda on pharmaceutical patent laws. the Indian pharmaceutical industry has had global significance in a social as well as an economic context. Any analysis to separate the ‘economic’ aspects of the industry from the broader ‘development’ dimensions involving health would have been incomplete.

Writing up the research, making conference presentations and submitting to journals did provide somewhat of a re-encounter with disciplinary divides. Yet, some journals and senior scholars (and PhD supervisors) fortunately appeared interested in seeing early career researchers pursue research in new directions. I found new opportunities by drawing on economic geography literature to contribute to a development debate (around the impact of changes in patent law – and vice-versa (around integration into global production networks. In addition, India-focused social science publications, and a report for the interviewees involved in the research, provided opportunities to communicate my results relatively free of disciplinary boundaries.

The possibilities of any scholar being completely free of sub-disciplinary boundaries is doubtful, and some research may have greater resonance with one “side” (for me, with economic geography). Yet if we are to better understand major development debates that cross the economic, social and political, such as access to medicines issues in India as featured in a 2013 New York Times article, we need more integrated approaches. By engaging with the dynamics of extensive fieldwork and the integrated nature of social and economic development, a new generation of researchers can play a crucial role in breaking down the divides between the “economic” and “non-economic”, in geography and related fields, and ultimately produce richer geographies of development.

Recommendations for postgraduate students seeking to cross (sub-) disciplinary boundaries
  • Read beyond your (sub-)discipline and from multiple sources (e.g. academic, policy, media, international journals and local publications)
  • “Listen” to the data during fieldwork, following and even reconsidering the research question, relatively free of disciplinary boundaries
  • Inter-relate concepts, perspectives and literatures derived from global North and South, and different parts of each, to make new connections in journal publications
  • Write publications for stakeholders where the research was conducted, and other more “empirical” publications to communicate the work relatively free of disciplinary boundaries

books_icon Horner, R. (2014), Postgraduate encounters with sub-disciplinary divides: entering the economic/development geography trading zone. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12130

books_icon Horner R (2014) The Impact of Patents on Innovation, Technology Transfer and Health: A Pre- and Post-TRIPs Analysis of India’s Pharmaceutical Industry New Political Economy  19 384-406

books_icon Horner R (2013) Strategic decoupling, recoupling and global production networks: India’s pharmaceutical industry Journal of Economic Geography

60-world2 Harris G (2013) India’s efforts to aid poor worry drug makers The New York Times

About the Author: Dr Rory Horner is a lecturer in Globalisation at the University of Manchester.