You would expect a young environmentalist would want to live in a place called Ecotopia. While still an undergrad, Jessica Dempsey along with two friends, christened their Alberta-based environmental and social justice summer camp with the name. “Ecotopia was a space for young people to think and act critically, creatively, and collectively around socio-environmental issues,” she says. “For me it was an unparalleled opportunity to question, develop, and ultimately live my politics”.
In addition to her academic work on environmental politics, Jessica Dempsey has worked on community development policy in British Columbia, as a consultant to First Nations on Vancouver Island, and for community-based approaches to forest management both locally and globally. She co-founded the advocacy group Convention on Biological Diversity Alliance, a network of civil society groups advocating for a more diverse and democratic Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a United Nations law and policy-making regime many steps removed from democratic institutions. “The Alliance believes that global policies should emerge from a plurality of diverse voices, not be the purview of Northern elites.”
Concerned with the crisis of biodiversity loss on our planet, her doctoral research will explore the growing emphasis on ‘market-based’ conservation policies. Specifically, she will examine issues surrounding biodiversity offsets, which are similar to carbon offset programmes. Biodiversity offsets are conservation activities intended to compensate for harm to biodiversity caused by development projects. For instance, a developer who destroys a wetland might offset the damage by buying a biodiversity credit from, say, a landowner who is reforesting or conserving wildlife habitat elsewhere.