When we think of environmental maintenance work exclusively as a burden, we miss something important about what motivates people to intervene, to take action, to do this caring work. In current environmental policymaking, writes development scholar Neera Singh, conservation is regarded as a burden that entails high opportunity costs, and so financial incentives come to be seen as critical to offsetting those costs." But in fact, they aren't necessarily so critical. Singh has studied community forests in Odisha, India, for twenty years. What she has found is that when payments are established for ecosystem services, the payments are often insufficient to compensate for lost income and opportunities. Rather, efforts to conserve forested land depend upon a host of nonmonetary, personal, and collective motives, including sacred values and intergenerational concerns. Conservation care is described by Singh as "affective labor," and as a "gift." Affective labor, in contrast to alienated labor, writes Singh, involves self-expression; its ideal is a craftsman or artist, who expresses their inner self and gives to society as a whole. It can't be separated from the person doing it. The relationship between the person and the object of labor is crucial.
In the "gift" paradigm, people act not as buyers and sellers of envionmental services, "but as reciprocal partners who share both the burden and joy of environmental care." Singh cautions that "caring labor framed in the language of a gift can be potentially exploited, as women's caring labor continues to be." But, she explains, this framework also means that markets and purchasing power are no longer the arbiter of how resources are allocated: power is shifted to the gift givers, whose power comes from the reciprocity inherent in the gift. One challenge with a gift paradigm when applied to carbon management, as environmental humanities scholar Karen Pinkus points out, is that the recipients are humans in the future: "On first glance we could say that the recipient cannot give back to the giver because they do not occupy the same space/time except in the most phantasmatic sense. Wouldn't carbon management, then, overcome the temporal aporia that makes the gift impossible?" In this sense, perhaps carbon removal implies a greater ask of the gift: a gift that will go unreciprocated during this generation.