Biodiversity Offsetting and the Construction of ‘Equivalent Natures'

A Marxist Critique

  • Evangelia Apostolopoulou Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
  • Elisa Greco School of Earth and Environment, The University of Leeds
  • William M Adams Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
Keywords: neoliberal conservation, production of nature, biodiversity offsetting, labour theory of value, theory of rent, biodiversity markets


In this paper we explore the logic of biodiversity offsetting, focusing on its core promise: the production of ‘equivalent natures’. We show how the construction of equivalence unravels the environmental contradictions of capitalism by exploring how and why it is achieved, and its profound implications for nature-society dialectics. We focus on the construction of an ecological equivalence between ecosystems, the construction of ecological credits that are considered equivalent in monetary terms, and, finally, the construction of an equivalence between places. The existing critical literature, in some cases implicitly and unwittingly, assumes that biodiversity offsetting creates value. In contrast to this argument, we apply Marx’s labour theory of value to conclude that in the majority of instances offsetting does not create value, rather it is an instance of rent. We also draw on Marxist analyses on the production of nature and place to show that biodiversity offsetting radically rescripts nature as placeless, obscuring the fact that it facilitates the production of space, place, and nature according to the interests of capital while emphasizing that at the core of offsetting lie social struggles over rights and access to land and nature. Biodiversity offsetting’s dystopian vision for the future makes it an important focus for all critical scholars seeking to understand and challenge the contradictions of the capitalist production of nature.


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