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What is nature worth? Indigenous economics says it is far beyond any monetary value

June 11, 2024

  • Last year, the New York Stock Exchange proposed a new nature-based asset class which put a price tag on global nature of $5,000 trillion.
  • Though the proposal was withdrawn in January to the relief of many, Indigenous economist Rebecca Adamson argues that an attempt to financialize nature like this — which doesn’t account for the full intrinsic value of ecosystems, and further incentivizes destruction of nature for profit — will likely be revived in the future.
  • On this episode of Mongabay’s podcast, Adamson speaks with co-host Rachel Donald about Indigenous economic principles based on sustainable usage and respect for nature, rather than unmitigated exploitation of it for profit.
  • “The most simple thing would be to fit your economy into a living, breathing, natural physics law framework. And if you look at Indigenous economies, they really talk about balance and harmony, and those aren’t quaint customs. Those are design principles,” she says.

Putting a dollar amount on a single species, let alone entire ecosystems, is a controversial idea, but creating a tradable asset class based on that monetary value is even more problematic, experts say.

In 2023, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) applied to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to establish a list of Natural Asset Companies (NACs) that would hold the rights to ecosystem services, which they valued at $5,000 trillion, essentially creating a new nature-based asset class. The SEC withdrew the application earlier this year following intense opposition from 25 Republican attorneys general.

On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, Indigenous economist Rebecca Adamson argues this financialization of nature comes with perverse incentives and fails to recognize the intrinsic value contained in biodiversity and all the benefits it provides for humans. Instead, she suggests basing economies on principles contained in Indigenous economics.

Listen here:

While the natural asset class’s withdrawal was for “all the wrong reasons,” says Adamson, it was nonetheless a “relief.” She tells podcast co-host Rachel Donald why she thinks the financialization of nature is the wrong approach to protecting and sustainably using nature in the global economy, and why Indigenous economic principles offer a better path forward.

“If you look at the way an Indigenous economy is designed, it’s designed to meet the most needs for the most people” via sophisticated redistribution of wealth principles, says Adamson, who is a director emerita of Calvert Impact Capital and founder of both First Nations Development Institute and First Peoples Worldwide, an Indigenous-led organization making grants to Indigenous communities in more than 60 countries. “Throughout the society, there’s customs and cultures and rituals about sharing [and] redistribution of wealth. And we’ve mapped this,” she says.


Kemp-Benedict, E., & Kartha, S. (2019). Environmental financialization: What could go wrong? Real-World Economics Review87, 69-89. Retrieved from

Rachel Donald

Rachel Donald

Rachel Donald is the creator of Planet: Critical, the podcast and newsletter for a world in crisis with 11,000+ subscribers from 163 countries. Planet: Critical connects the dots of science, art, language, politics, media, philosophy and power to reveal the big picture. Rachel speaks internationally on this ecosystem as an independent researcher and writer. Alongside Planet: Critical, her world exclusive investigations into climate corruption have been published in The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Mongabay, The Intercept, Byline Times and the New Republic.