Neoliberalism and the Biophysical Environment 1: What ‘Neoliberalism’ is, and What Difference Nature Makes to it



There now exists a significant body of theoretically informed empirical research into ‘neoliberal environments’. It comprises numerous studies which together explore the connections between neoliberal principles and policies, on the one side and the biophysical world on the other. These studies are, for the most part, political economic in character and authored by so-called ‘critical’ geographers. However, making sense of them is by no means straightforward, despite their common focus on neoliberal environments. This is because neoliberalism and the biophysical world are complex phenomena, making an holistic and comprehensive understanding of them very challenging to achieve. Accordingly, separate studies of their interconnections have focused on one or other aspect of the complexity in a particular time and context. It is currently left to readers of these studies to synthesise them into a wider, joined-up account of neoliberal environments. This and two companion articles aim for precisely this sort of broad and coherent understanding. This article begins with a discussion of neoliberalism and explains why it necessarily has environmental aspects to it. The second companion article presents a theory of ‘neoliberal environments’, while the third connects that theory to the empirical findings of studies published to-date. This final article also departs from the otherwise constructive tone of its companions. Together, the three articles offer readers both an overarching understanding of ‘neoliberal environments’ and some tools to question the way these environments are currently understood by many geographers.