The nature of ‘sustainability’ as an essentially contested concept suggests that the argument between those who would substitute financial for natural capital, and those who believe that such substitution is impossible and/or dangerous, is unlikely to be resolved. Some of those in the latter group, that is to say some of those who have previously argued for a strong view of sustainability, one that privileges nature or perhaps ‘natural capital’ as primary and sacrosanct, have despaired of their ability to influence policy rapidly and have now adopted the language of the capitalist hegemony, that is to say ‘money’. Our purpose in this paper is to argue that this is a logically inconsistent position and hence to force those who hold it to choose either to abandon their argument for this monetary valuation or else to accept that it entails that they accept the commodification and sale of aspects of the natural world. We also suggest that this debate might be called ‘the natural capital controversy', explicitly drawing a parallel between this debate and the so-called ‘capital controversy’ that took place in some of the leading economics journals in the 1950s to 1970s.
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