Privatizing Nature

Blowing leaves merge into blowing paper money.
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The financial wizards of Wall Street have devised a new way to profit from Mother Nature. They’ve created a class of stocks called Natural Asset Companies that will control the earth’s resources such as water, wildlife, forests, minerals, and farmland. The project was developed by the Intrinsic Exchange Group in partnership with the New York Stock Exchange, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the investment firm Aberdare Ventures.

According to the Intrinsic Exchange Group’s website, the purpose of these companies is the “conversion of natural assets into financial capital. … These assets make life on Earth possible and enjoyable. … They include biological systems that provide clean air, water, foods, medicines, a stable climate, human health and societal potential. … The potential of this asset class is immense. Nature’s economy is larger than our current industrial economy and we can tap this store of wealth and productivity.” They estimate the value of the “global ecosystem services market” at $125 trillion annually.

The Natural Asset Company will either own the land itself or will own the right to use and sell the resources of the land, including recreational access. For example, people could be charged for hiking and fishing on public land.

The USA will eventually be included, but cash-strapped countries in Latin America are being targeted first. The government of Costa Rica has already expressed interest. The Minister of Environment and Energy, Andrea Meza Murillo, stated the project “will deepen the economic analysis of giving nature its economic value.” Although this will be a windfall for their elite, it will probably be a disaster for the Indigenous people who draw their sustenance from the land.

The board of governors of the New York Stock Exchange saw such potential for profit that they took the unusual step of becoming a partner in the venture themselves. According to NYSE’s Michael Blaugrund, “Our hope is that owning a Natural Asset Company is going to be a way that an increasingly broad range of investors have the ability to invest in something that’s intrinsically valuable, but, up to this point, was really excluded from the financial markets.”

The announcement of this new class of investments was coupled with a public relations campaign portraying it as a way to protect nature. The PR writers used the current environmental buzzwords to convince us it will even reduce global warming.

The venture is still pending approval by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Protests now could make people aware of what’s happening, but with these groups supporting it, it will probably get approved. What could stop it in Latin America, though, would be for groups like the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment to organize mass resistance of Indigenous people to defend their natural habitat.

Natural Asset Companies are a new way to turn public resources into private profit. They are another step toward what George W. Bush proudly touted as the “Ownership Society” in which everything becomes property. The juggernaut of capitalism is lurching closer to its endstation, where all life is commodified, reduced to money. Nature, including humans, is being shrunken down to coins — the Bezosification, Gatesification, Muskification of the universe.

It’s time to overthrow this parasitical system that is grabbing up more and more of the world. Here at the Freedom Socialist we’re learning how to build something better.

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