About the Book

Failing Forward documents the global rise of neoliberal conservation as a response to biodiversity loss and unpacks how this approach has managed to “fail forward” over time despite its ineffectiveness. At its core, neoliberal conservation promotes market-based instruments intended to reconcile environmental preservation and economic development by harnessing preservation itself as the source of both conservation finance and capital accumulation more generally. Robert Fletcher describes how this project has developed over the past several decades along with the expanding network of organizations and actors that have come together around its promotion. Drawing on Lacanian psychoanalysis, he explores why this strategy continues to captivate states, nongovernmental organizations, international financial institutions, and the private sector alike despite its significant deficiencies. Ultimately, Fletcher contends, neoliberal conservation should be understood as a failed attempt to render global capitalism sustainable in the face of its intensifying social and ecological contradictions. Consequently, the only viable alternative capable of simultaneously achieving both environmental sustainability and social equity is a concerted program of “degrowth” grounded in post-capitalist principles.


“Why, despite its many global failures, is neoliberal conservation on the rise? This excellent book convincingly identifies unconscious desire as the most plausible site for probing and addressing this pressing question. Don’t miss out!”—Ilan Kapoor, author of Confronting Desire: Psychoanalysis and International Development

Failing Forward reveals the neoliberal emperor’s green clothes to be utterly threadbare. In this important book, Robert Fletcher explains the troubled persistence of neoliberal conservation in the face of serial failure. In a stirring call to arms, he demonstrates why post-capitalism is the only real alternative in our era of environmental calamity. Revolution, not reform, is the answer—however formidable a challenge that may be.”—Noel Castree, author of Making Sense of Nature and coauthor of David Harvey: A Critical Introduction to His Thought

“In this incisive account of the rise and fall of the neoliberal conservation movement, Fletcher exposes a project not only failing forward but flailing about, transfixed as it is on the impossible destination of capitalist sustainability. Failing Forward is a work of trenchant and transformative critique, culminating in a post-capitalist vision of radical environmentality.”—Jamie Peck, author of Constructions of Neoliberal Reason

“In this original and important book, Fletcher shows that neoliberal conservation is a dangerous illusion. It neither creates profitable markets nor protects nature, and it promises to reduce state regulation while actually expanding it. Fletcher argues that capitalism cannot solve the ecological contradictions it creates and is not the right place to look for ways to save nature. Falling Forward calls instead for a post-capitalist transformation, not least in global conservation policy.”—Bill Adams, Claudio Segré Professor of Conservation and Development, Geneva Graduate Institute