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Natural Assets Project (Natural Assets and Environmental Equity)




Amherst, MA


Left-of-Center Environmental and Social Policy Advocacy Group

Senior Program Manager:

Paige Brown

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The Natural Assets Project (also known as Natural Assets and Environmental Equity) was an environmentalist and social policy advocacy program of the think tank Prosperity Now (formerly known as the Corporation for Enterprise Development) and the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Its focus was on the building of wealth-generating natural resources and the socio-economic questions surrounding distribution of that wealth. The project operated in conjunction with the Center for Popular Economics and was partially funded by the left-of-center Ford Foundation. 1


Building Natural Assets

The term “natural assets” is used to refer to environmental factors that sustain life in a given region: drinkable water, air quality, soil quality, and available food. Natural Assets Project also uses it to refer to wealth-generating resources such as mineral deposits, fossil fuel availability, and potential solar energy production. The Natural Assets Project focused on the evaluation of these factors in the context of their ability to generate income for the inhabitants of a given area, with a heavy emphasis on the distribution of that income to the local populace. 2

In its research paper “Building Natural Assets,” published in conjunction with the Center for Popular Economics and the Political Economy Research Institute, Natural Assets Project drew attention to perceived inequalities in the dispersal of the wealth resulting from these resources. It attributed this unequal distribution to malice on the part of the wealthy, stating that “maldistribution of natural resources and environmental health is no accident, but rather mirrors how wealth and power are distributed in society.” It also stated that poverty reduction has a positive impact on the environment because the poor, once freed from poverty, can take a “long-term view of natural resource management.” To this end, the authors suggested redefining property rights. 3

Environment for the People

The theme of redistribution or “democratizing” of wealth-producing resources reappears again and again in the paper “Environment for the People.” It cited examples like the Brazilian Landless Worker’s Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra), which used a constitutional loophole to occupy “empty or underused land.” This effort eventually resulted in the acquisition of tens of millions of acres by local farmers, but only after conflicts such as the 1996 Eldorado dos Carajas massacre. The movement was criticized for being pseudo-Marxist, and for a disconnect between its leaders’ socialist viewpoints and those of the more conservative farmers. 4

Natural Assets Project also drew attention to the work of Peruvian nongovernmental organization CooperAccion, which works to spread income acquired by mining companies to the indigenous population of that country. Similar projects in the Philippines and India were also referenced. 5 6

The New Environmentalists: Race and Natural Assets

Natural Assets Project draws a direct correlation between lack of access to wealth-building resources and race. In “Building Natural Assets,” the authors state that “minority communities not only possess fewer natural assets, but are often dumping grounds for society’s wastes and environmental hazards.” 7

Its paper “The New Environmentalists” cites examples like the Army Defense Depot in Memphis, Tennessee, which operated from 1942 to 1997. The depot had allegedly buried toxic waste in a field near the mostly Black residents, which later leaked and poisoned the surrounding water and soil. It also mentions the poisoning of the Devil’s Swamp region in Alsen, Louisiana, by petroleum and chemical companies such as Exxon, Dow, and Shell. The paper makes mention of a lack of voting rights for the majority-Black population, and the small white population’s “twofold ‘sin’ of being people of modest income and living adjacent to people of color,” stating “this is a clear case of environmental racism and environmental injustice.” 8


Paige Brown was the senior program manager for Natural Assets and Environmental Equity (Natural Assets Project). She is the program manager at Biodiversity Funders Group (formerly known as Consultative Group on Biological Diversity) and the former director of the climate change program at Redefining Progress. Brown was a participant in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which advocated for an international carbon accounting system to monitor, and subsequently tax, carbon emissions. 9 10 11 Brown was an early advocate for the practice of auctioning carbon emission permits. 12


  1. Boyce, James K., Pastor, Manuel. “Building Natural Assets.” PERI/Natural Assets Project. Accessed March 11, 2024. https://cjtc.ucsc.edu/docs/RR3.pdf[/not]e “Natural Assets Project.” PERI. Accessed March 11, 2024. https://peri.umass.edu/natural-assets-project#:~:text=Pro%2Dpoor%20natural%20asset%20building,is%20enjoyed%20equally%20by%20all.
  2. Boyce, James K., Pastor, Manuel. “Building Natural Assets.” PERI/Natural Assets Project. Accessed March 11, 2024. https://cjtc.ucsc.edu/docs/RR3.pdf
  3.  Boyce, James K., Pastor, Manuel. “Building Natural Assets.” PERI/Natural Assets Project. Accessed March 11, 2024. https://cjtc.ucsc.edu/docs/RR3.pdf
  4. “Landless Workers’ Movement.” Britannica. Accessed March 11, 2024. https://www.britannica.com/event/Landless-Workers-Movement
  5. [1] “CooperAccion.” Swift Foundation. Accessed March 11, 2024. https://swiftfoundation.org/grantee/cooperaccion/
  6. Stanton, Elizabeth A., Boyce, James K. “Environment for the People.” PERI. Accessed March 11, 2024. https://peri.umass.edu/publication/item/download/569_6ca57be32c67550b4c9526658c91d190
  7. Boyce, James K., Pastor, Manuel. “Building Natural Assets.” PERI/Natural Assets Project. Accessed March 11, 2024. https://cjtc.ucsc.edu/docs/RR3.pdf
  8. Boyce, James K., Zoll, Miriam H. “The New Environmentalists.” PERI. Accessed March 11, 2024. https://peri.umass.edu/publication/item/211-the-new-environmental-activists-fighting-pollution-poverty-and-racism-by-building-natural-assets
  9. “Special Reports: Land Use…” IPCC. Accessed March 11, 2024. https://archive.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/sres/land_use/index.php?idp=317
  10. “Special Reports: Land Use…Carbon Accounting.” IPCC. Accessed March 11, 2024. https://archive.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/sres/land_use/index.php?idp=6
  11. “Paige Brown.” Linkedin. Accessed March 11, 2024. https://www.linkedin.com/in/paige-brown-b39b495/
  12. Goldberg, Beth, Brown, Paige. “Auctioning Carbon Permits.” Redefining Progress. Accessed March 11, 2024. http://staging.community-wealth.org/sites/clone.community-wealth.org/files/downloads/paper-goldberg-brown.pdf
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Natural Assets Project (Natural Assets and Environmental Equity)

Amherst, MA