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English professor proposes universal income to protect biodiversity

Ashley Dawson, professor of English at the City University of New York (CUNY) in New York City, maintains that the loss of biodiversity (with hundreds of species facing extinction each day) is rooted, in part, in global capitalism — a theme at the center of his 2016 book Extinction: A Radical History.

Dawson explains in The Guardian:

“Capitalism is an economic system founded on ceaseless expansion,” Dawson, who specializes in Postcolonial studies, said. “It must grow at a compound rate or it will experience convulsive economic and social crises. The contradictions of this system are patently self-evident: an economic system based on infinite expansion must inevitably crash into the natural limits of finite ecosystems.”

According to Dawson, the only way to forestall mass extinction is to shift to an economic system that is not founded on the goal of unlimited growth. As the summary in The Guardian describes, Dawson looks to indigenous groups and small-scale farmers as examples of ways in which communities may develop “using sustainable practices and living close to nature.”

One starting point considered by Dawson is the provision of a guaranteed income to people living in biodiversity hotspots, biologically rich areas including “tropical woodlands of Brazil’s Atlantic coast, southern Mexico with Central America, the tropical Andes, the Greater Antilles, West Africa, Madagascar, the Western Ghats of India, Indo-Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and New Caledonia.” By alleviating poverty, a guaranteed income would remove the pressure to engage in poaching and other environmentally destructive practices:

“Focusing such guaranteed income on the relatively limited number of biodiversity hotspots would remove the prime economic motive people living in such areas have for destroying their local environment: poverty.”

Dawson suggests funding the guaranteed income by measures such as a tax on financial transactions, stating, “Such a Robin Hood tax, of even only a very small percentage of the speculative global capital flows that enrich the 1%, would generate billions of dollars to help people conserve hotspots of global biodiversity.”  

He emphasizes that the guaranteed income should not be seen as a replacement for existing conservation efforts but rather as a supplement to them.



Jeremy Hance, “What if we gave universal income to people in biodiversity hotpots? [sic],” The Guardian, January 24, 2017.

Ashley Dawson, “Why the Extinction Crisis Isn’t Just About the Environment, but Social Justice,” Alternet, November 29, 2016.

Reviewed by Cameron McLeod

Photo: Hall of Biodiversity at American Museum of Natural History, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Dom Dada

About Kate McFarland

Kate McFarland has written 512 articles.

Former lead writer and editor of Basic Income News.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.

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