Philanthropy-State Relations in an Age of Biodiversity Crisis
Dr. Clare Beer, UCLA
The role of philanthropy in biodiversity conservation is rapidly changing. As philanthropic foundations and wealthy donors commit massive sums to help 'save the planet,' they are fueling a growing discourse that large-scale conservation and large-scale giving are both indispensable to solving the coupled climate and biodiversity crises. But are they? What would this mean, and how would this function in practice? This talk addresses such questions through a case study of one large-scale conservation initiative in Chilean Patagonia, established through a novel public-private partnership between the Chilean state and the U.S.-based philanthropic foundations Tompkins Conservation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Drawing on thirteen months of qualitative fieldwork, it traces the origins and trajectories of this initiative and interrogates the broader implications of leveraging philanthropy in state environmental governance. Tompkins Conservation and The Pew Charitable Trusts attracted state buy-in for the partnership by speculating on the value and investability of national parks as economic assets. Reflecting a logic of conservation-as-development, this disrupted an entrenched state logic of conservation-versus-development that had derailed previous attempts to protect the region. Yet, my research finds that the execution of conservation-as-development in Chile – largely facilitated by these philanthropic foundations – is mimicking and reproducing key dynamics of extractive-led development, raising critical doubts about the feasibility and appeal of conservation-as-development as a green transition alternative.