An unflinching investigation of the false promises of land sparing, exposing how its illusory successes mask the failures of green capitalism
For two decades, the concept of land sparing, the claim that agricultural intensification can spare land by preventing forest clearing for agricultural expansion, has dominated tropical forest conservation. Land sparing policies transform landscapes and livelihoods with the promise of reconciling agricultural development with environmental conservation. But that land sparing promise is false.
Based on six years of research on agrarian frontiers in Indonesia, Brazil, and Bolivia, this book traces where and how land sparing becomes policy and charts the social and ecological effects of these political contests. Gregory M. Thaler explains why land sparing appears successful in some places but not in others and reveals that success as an illusion achieved by displacing deforestation to new frontiers. The failure of land sparing exposes a harsh truth behind assurances of green capitalism: capitalist development is ecocide.
Gregory M. Thaler is assistant professor in the Department of International Affairs at the University of Georgia. His research examines the political ecology and political economy of development, global environmental governance, and agrarian politics. He lives in Atlanta, GA.
“This book provides a powerful critique of global land sparing interventions. Rather than conserve remnant tropical rainforests, Gregory Thaler clearly demonstrates how such schemes reinforce the very political and economic processes that drive their destruction.”—Wolfram Dressler, University of Melbourne
“Gregory Thaler mounts a nuanced and compelling challenge to the land sparing hypothesis, demonstrating the transnational nature of deforestation and arguing that land sparing can only succeed or fail at the global scale.”—Kelly Kay, University of California, Los Angeles
“A definitive dispatch of some of our most dangerous illusions—land-sparing, eco-capitalism, and—not least—sustainable development. The empirical analysis is compelling, the theorization lucid, and the writing crystal clear.”—Tania Murray Li, coauthor of Plantation Life: Corporate Occupation in Indonesia’s Oil Palm Zone
“Returning to the pathbreaking work of Stephen Bunker on extractive and productivist regimes, Gregory Thaler offers up a brilliant tour d’horizon of conservation and deforestation policies in Brazil, Bolivia and Indonesia. His relational comparison, based on six years of rich and exhaustive field research, demonstrates how each country is a node in an inter-linked global network that works against the conventional conservationist wisdom of ‘land sparing.’ The 2019 South American wildfires that blackened skies in São Paulo exposed the dialectics of extraction and production in conservation practice: produced by fires burning in Bolivia, deforestation beyond Brazil’s borders was a displacement effect of the country’s ‘deforestation success story’ between 2004 and 2012. Supported by the likes of conservation organizations such the The Nature Conservancy, land sparing policies have wildly different outcomes across space, driving home Thaler’s compelling argument that land sparing is no panacea, often undercut by powerful extractive coalitions. Not simply a question of conservation and agricultural policy, land sparing is rather the emblem for a much broader set of capitalist transformations. Its eco-modernist purveyors reproduce the mechanisms of agro-industrial capitalism, offering to save a rainforest but losing the world.”—Michael Watts, Class of 63 Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley, and Non-Resident Fellow, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, Uppsala
“Saving a Rainforest and Losing the World will forever change your understanding of ‘sustainable development.’ In crisp, elegant prose and insights borne from a decade of research, Gregory M. Thaler reveals the destructive political economy driving sustainability policies in the Global South and its mirage of ‘land sparing’ intensification. The book is sure to become a major point of reference for scholars and students of global capitalism in the web of life.”—Jason W. Moore, Binghamton University, and author of Capitalism in the Web of Life
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