Implications of Emerging Neoliberal Politics on Conservation Governance in the South Carolina Lowcountry

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Skaggs, Katherine Anne Sanders
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While developers, government officials, and even many conservation organizations are pushing for neoliberal approaches to achieve key conservation goals, critical scholars raise serious questions about market-based solutions to environmental conservation. They question whether these approaches may be encouraging unsustainable rates of resource consumption that may lead to the destruction of environments. These scholars also question the ways in which neoliberalism transforms local understandings of, uses of, and access to rural assets. Yet little attention has been paid to the neoliberalizaton of conservation governance within advanced capitalist contexts. This paper examines neoliberal conservation governance strategies in the private sector of the United States. By interviewing stakeholders, analyzing project documents, planning processes, and census data, we compare the approaches of for-profit and non-profit conservation efforts in South Carolina's Lowcountry. In both cases, the goal is to conserve natural resources and preserve rural livelihoods for future generations while encouraging "smart" development. That is, each project tries to conserve critical habitats, natural resources, and cultural landscapes, while also stimulating new business investment. The paper explores whether for-profit and non-profit conservation efforts, both relying on market-based approaches, produce different kinds of conservation landscapes, and the ways in which their goals are achieved within a neoliberal framework. I suggest that through the design of East Edisto, a type of Creative Class, a "Nature Class," entrepreneurs, labor and industry are being targeted and drawn to the Lowcountry. Thus I develop a better understanding of the role key participants play in constructing these new forms of conservation governance and cultivate a better understanding of how the current politics and social relations of the region may shape future regional economic and residential development of the Lowcountry. This study has implications for the ways political ecologists and other critical nature-society scholars think about the costs of putting a price on nature within advanced capitalist contexts.
Neoliberalism -- Environmental aspects -- South Carolina; Environmental policy -- Economic aspects -- South Carolina