Who’s In The Way

Obstacle 1:

Neoliberalism and Ecosystem Services

Inaction from the global North on climate change has brought us past ecological tipping points as global temperatures continue to rise. When tipping points are crossed, entire biomes rapidly and irreversibly change resulting in the conversion of rainforests to savannas, increasing wildfires, insect attacks, droughts and other drastic climate impacts (Steffen et al,. 2019). Deforestation, extractivism for minerals & oil, logging, fracking, biofuel production, and industrial agriculture all detrimentally affect the health of the land, plants, animals, and communities that live on the land. Current international policy is grounded in the neoliberal market economy and corporate profit rather than human, land, and water rights. Without dismantling and addressing the failures of capitalism, a system built on individualism, competition, and notions of scarcity, we are going to see little action on truly addressing climate change and climate justice. 

With the rise of neoliberalism in the 1980s, powerful international financial institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Global North  pushed for structural adjustment programs resulting in the defunding of public programs and a sweeping shift to run cities, states, and countries as for-profit businesses. Today, we continue to bear witness to the ongoing colonization of the Global South by the North, through war, land grabs, and overproduction and consumption on behalf of the North, primarily affecting Indigenous, Afro-descendant, rural, peasant, low-income and communities of color globally.

To learn more about international financial institutions, checkout our Food page, Obstacle 3

Global environmental policy is based in the neoliberal market economy. Environmental issues are only successfully written into policy through the quantification and commodification of nature, through carbon trading, programs like PES, REDD and REDD+, and through policies that reduce nature to ecosystem services. Nature becomes property, to be bought, sold, and valued through only a monetary value. In the field of Western environmental conservation, the predominant view exists that the natural world would be pristine without humans, i.e. true conservation requires the removal of humans from an area. This reductionist mindset sees humans and the natural world as separate and cannot fathom a world in which human communities live symbiotically with animals, plants, and the environment, rather than exploiting it. It is not human-nature to be exploitative and strip the Earth of its resources. It is a Western, colonial, patriarchal and capitalist economy that has committed these mass atrocities to local ecosystems through settler-colonial European agriculture and through extreme resource extraction.

Further Resources:

Obstacle 2:

Industrial Agriculture

→ for info on industrial agriculture visit our food and water page    

“Development of settler agriculture and urbanization removed perennial vegetation from 70% of an entire landscape in under three hundred years [1,25]. Agriculture has transformed ecosystems in….from a state of high species and structural diversity to a state of very low species diversity and structure [27]. This shift in ecological state has coincided with the removal of and harm to Indigenous peoples who still occupy this land; has resulted in polluted ecosystems; and, created agricultural lands that are heavily dependent on the use of external inputs including pesticides and fertilizers [20,28–30].” (Wartman, 2018)

Obstacle 3:

Green Grabbing and Sustainable Development 

Green grabbing is a land grab that is framed as necessary for environmental concerns, such as taking land for carbon markets, forest preservation, biofuel production, ecotourism, or conservation that displace the local and often indigenous people from the land. Often, national governments overrule the local peoples and sell indigenous, peasant, or rural land under the premise of “sustainable development.”

Further Resources:

Books, Articles, and Reports: 


Obstacle 4:

Patenting Nature

According to intellectual property rights law under the WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights, corporations have the right to patent knowledge on nature and charge other businesses that want to use this knowledge. From an environmental economics perspective, privatizing land would lead to an increase in protection and conservation of the land. In environmental economics, publicly owned land results in the tragedy of the commons due to over-use by the people. TRIPS violates traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of indigenous communities as it has allowed the stealing and commodification of indigenous knowledge resulting in a company profitting off TEK rather than the community itself. To accommodate this, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity under article 8j, the Nagoya Protocol calls for corporations to share equal benefits from use of this knowledge with the “original knowledge holders.” The Nagoya Protocol prioritizes corporate gain and ownership of biological species over the safeguarding of indigenous knowledge and rights. There is not a clear pathway for sharing benefits with an entire peoples, especially when TEK has been passed down through generations.