Drawing by Chantal Jahchan

Half-Earth Socialism
A Plan to Save the Future from Extinction, Climate
Change and PandemicsPurchase

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About

Without revolutionary change, humanity confronts a dystopian future of global heating, epidemics, and mass extinction. Yet, the mainstream ‘solutions’ on offer are either too modest or too risky, such as toothless cap-and-trade programmes, dangerous geoengineering schemes, lab-grown meat, luxury electric cars, and wildlife conservation bankrolled by billionaires. None of these half-measures suffice to undo the damage that five centuries of capitalism has inflicted upon the biosphere. The mainstream discussion on the environmental crisis is predicated on the belief that a few painless reforms would allow business as usual in our capitalism society to continue. It can’t.

Half-Earth Socialism criticizes such tepid solutions and offers instead a countervailing vision for the future. Yet, if these quick fixes are not enough to solve the crisis, then we must confront a series of difficult questions. What does a just and ecologically-stable society actually look like? If capitalism leads inevitably to environmental crises, how can we organize production and distribution without markets? If we engage in economic planning, what are the planetary boundaries that constrain our interchange with nature? In Half-Earth Socialism, we demonstrate that thinking through such questions allows us to imagine a new kind of society that is not only desirable, but also feasible and necessary.

The title from our book comes from EO Wilson's 'Half-Earth' concept, which he developed during the course of his ecological studies on land-area and biodiversity. This research made clear that more ecosystems must be protected if the worst of the Sixth Extinction is to be avoided. We have appended 'socialism' to Wilson's concept because such large-scale environmental goals can only be achieved in a socialist society because it would be impossible to leave half the Earth uncommodified under capitalism. Moreover, by making the Half-Earth socialist it makes clear the need for a new kind of conservation that will be democratic and support Indigenous sovereignty (biodiversity is higher on native lands than on nature preserves, after all).

Half-Earth Socialism draws on ecology, energy studies, epidemiology, biogeography, Chilean cybernetics, history, eighteenth-century philosophy, Soviet mathematics, the socialist calculation debate, Hayekian epistemology, cutting-edge climate modelling, feminist sci-fi, and the forgotten tradition of utopian socialism. From this intellectual potpourri, we come to several conclusions:

  1. widespread veganism makes it far easier to save land for the Half Earth, renewable energy, fossil-free agriculture, and carbon sequestration;
  2. energy quotas are needed to hasten the transition to renewables and reduce demands for land and extraction;
  3. marketless planning will ensure these important goals are met;
  4. socialist democracy is based on the public deliberation of distinct blueprints for the future, because there is more than one way to address the environmental crisis.

Our book is meant as a humble proposal that hopefully provokes broader discussion about life after capitalism that seriously contemplates the mechanisms of socialist governance. That is, energy quotas, veganism, and marketless planning are are not the only possible solutions for the environmental crisis. We hope, however, that be offering a clear framework, we can spur environmentalists, feminists, animal liberationists, and socialists to seriously contemplate the outlines of a new society. Thus, just when the end of the world seems upon us, we must instead realize that new utopias are near at hand.

Simulation

Our book Half-Earth Socialism is what the Viennese polymath Otto Neurath would have called a 'scientific utopia'. For Neurath, utopian thinking was a thought experiment bounded by material constraints. Similarly, Half-Earth Socialism is an ambitious speculation on possible futures, which calls for the end of the fossil fuel era, sovereign Indigenous nationhood, nature preserves covering half the Earth, and drastic social changes such as widespread veganism and the end to private car ownership. While such ideas may seem outlandish, they are predicated on a robust scientific foundation.

Yet, our vision is hardly the only one worth considering. There are a great number of solutions that could address environmental crisis (with varying success). For example a planner could combine the technical solutions of BECCs, geoengineering, fast-breeder reactors, and space travel with equally eclectic social policies—say, an ecofeminist curriculum and a one-child policy— to create a wide array of different futures. We don't agree with some of the options in the game, but do our best to simulate them fairly based on the scientific literature.

Our game, Half-Earth Socialism, allows anyone to try their hand as a global planner of a future society. Consider it a sandbox where you can play with a wide range of technologies and policies spanning different fields and ideologies. The game simulates the impact of your decisions by calculating emissions and using a real climate model (HECTOR) to work out the climate effects, while also simulating impacts to the food system and biodiversity, among others.

This game, which is inspired by our book Half-Earth Socialism, is the fruit of the labour of many designers, researchers, and artists (please see credits for details). Francis Tseng (Jain Family Institute) is the game developer and Son La Pham (TRUST) is the designer.


Good luck, and may your plans succeed in providing the good life for all while avoiding the worst of the environmental crisis!

Praise for Half-Earth Socialism

'Capitalism is clearly destroying the planet. But as Troy Vettese and Drew Pendergrass compellingly argue, if socialists want to offer a real alternative to profit-driven catastrophe, they need to rethink deeply ingrained assumptions and abandon ruinous habits. Building a society that operates within ecological constraints requires an unleashing of our political imaginations, and this book aims to help us do just that. Through a unique combination of economics, history, environmental science, and speculative fiction, Vettese and Pendergrass make the case for a half-earth socialism; a socialism that refuses to treat the Earth and its non-human inhabitants as resources to be plundered and property to be owned and that, as result, ensures humanity’s collective survival and thriving. You may not agree with every word of this bold and provocative book, but it raises urgent and necessary questions that the left must grapple with before it’s too late.'

Astra Taylor, film-maker and author of Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss it When It’s Gone

'Finally, the book we have been waiting for. A real plan, simple and elegant. Half the planet is re-wilded. Within the vision of this book, is admirable forensic research, the science, that can power a vegan socialist world. Up to now, the capitalization of nature, has successfully delivered profit for the few, at the expense of all life. Capital is indifferent to the cries from slaughterhouses, the roar of anguish of burning forests, the animals who cannot flee infernos and flooding, sea creatures drowning in oceans of plastic and chemicals. The neoliberal capitalist ship sails on, a soulless machine, extracting humanity from humans. We can no longer see many stars through the haze of pollutants, but the stars shine on, within the idea of utopian socialism. We don’t don’t want to go to the stars as colonizing billionaires, we want to see the stars. This remarkable book, points the way.'

Sue Coe, activist and author of Dead Meat, Cruel, and Sheep of Fools

'Half-Earth Socialism conclusively demonstrates how a liveable future requires a fundamentally different relationship to the Earth, the only home our species has ever known. A must read for post-capitalists and those who care about the climate crisis.'

Aaron Bastani, author of Fully Automated Luxury Communism

'Vegan cookbook meets Minecraft, starring an economist of the Munich soviet republic as unlikely hero—here is a book unlike any you’ve read. Half-Earth Socialism flips the age of dystopias into a renewal of the genre of utopia. Unlikely to suit everyone’s taste, it empowers readers to write their own recipes for a future in peril: an exercise in democracy few books have dared to undertake.'

Andreas Malm, author of Fossil Capital

'The best way to subvert a dystopia is to plan a utopia. In Half-Earth Socialism, Vettese and Pendergrass delve into this vital work of practical dreaming. So what does a better world look like? Blending science, history, philosophy and fiction, the authors thoughtfully chart a possible future to avert the worst impacts of the climate crises. Importantly, beyond climate mitigation and adaptation, this book tackles the critical need to address large-scale system change. Read this book if you not only dream of saving the world, but want a plan for how to do it.'

Ziya Tong, science broadcaster and author of The Reality Bubble

'The valuable thrust of Vettese and Pendergrass’ contribution is the framework of dealing in trade-offs. We cannot have it all in this age of existential crisis. We must make choices about how land is used, where resources are directed, and which technologies are prioritised.'

Read the full review in the Ecologist here.

Chris Saltmarsh, author of Burnt: Fighting for Climate Justice

'The authors of “Half-Earth Socialism” are visionaries, utopians, and planners. In a short book they marshal an argument for what they argue is a way out of the double-bind of a seemingly inevitable capitalism bent on ecocide versus a myopic Left that is stuck on either centralized authoritarianism or ineffective, decentralized anarchist cooperatives.'

Read the full review in the Fabulist here.

Chris Carlsson, author of Hidden San Francisco: A Guide to Lost Landscapes, Unsung Heroes, and Radical Histories

Interviews

Essays

Credits

Francis Tseng

Game Developer

Francis is a software engineer and lead independent researcher at the Jain Family Institute. He primarily builds modelling tools, simulations, and procedural systems. In the past he taught at the New School, was co-publisher of the New Inquiry, and was a fellow at the New York Times.

Son La Pham

Game Designer

Son La is a Berlin-based designer focussing on new forms for technologies and the web. His digital work has been published in It’s Nice That, Hoverstat.es, Loadmo.re and Fonts In Use.


Trust

Game Management

Trust is a network of utopian conspirators, a sandbox for their creative, technical and critical projects, and a site of experimentation for new ways of learning together. Located in Berlin, Trust is currently maintained by Arthur Röing Baer, Calum Bowden, Joanna Pope, and Lina Martin-Chan but constellations vary.

Spencer Roberts

Researcher

Spencer is a musician, ecologist, engineer, and science writer from Colorado. He writes primarily about science corruption and corporate greenwashing in places like Jacobin, Wired, and the Intercept. He sings lead and plays synthesizer and guitar in innerspace and UPLYNC. His latest albums focus on the lost animal songs of the Sixth Extinction and the resilience of life in environmental sacrifice zones. He designs rooftop photovoltaic systems and software applications. He is interested in the application of veganism as a political boycott in solidarity with people around the world suffering from labor abuse, environmental poisoning, and physical violence committed by animal agriculture and wildlife extraction industries — as well as their nonhuman victims, both domestic and wild.

Lucy Chinen

Dialogue Writer

Lucy is a researcher, writer, and co-founder of Nonfood, an algae-based food company. She has previously written about food systems and food tech in relation to climate change. Recently, she became a contributor to the Synthetic Ecologies Lab at the Serpentine Galleries.

Prince Shima

Musician

Prince Shima is a multi-instrumentalist, producer and third generation Japanese-Canadian based in Victoria, BC. By the age of twelve he was writing and performing original compositions live. He has fronted several punk, hardcore and indie bands that have toured throughout North America. As early as fourteen he started producing experimental music on a cassette 4-track.
Prince Shima aims to create otherworldly musical landscapes that explore otherness. By mixing modern and anachronistic technologies, and by gravitating towards obscure instrumentation, there is an aim to explore what it means to be 'exotic' to the modern Western ear. Whether it is a sense of being
out of time or out of place, his music is always transportive, transcendental and, hopefully, transformative.

Lukas Eigler-Harding

Website Designer

Lukas runs a flexible design practice based out of Berlin. He works independently and with smaller studios and agencies to launch interactive work within the web’s spectre. Formerly, he taught at the Parsons School of Design.

Chiara Di Leone

Study Group Co-Ordinator

Chiara Di Leone is a writer and researcher currently focussing on anticipatory governance and the epistemology of climate change. She is the lead researcher for the Serpentine Synthetic Ecologies Lab project. Her essays are published in several outlets, including NOEMA, Real Review, and TANK magazines as well as edited collections by Sternberg Press. She holds an MA from Goldsmiths University in London and a BSc in Economics and Finance from LUISS Guido Carli University in Rome.

Xinyue Liu

Image Curator

Xinyue is an artist and interdisciplinary researcher working with the media of film, text, and installation. She studied fine art at Simon Fraser University. This autumn she will begin her doctoral studies at the University of Oxford as a Clarendon scholar. Her research-based art practice focuses on the themes of nostalgia, grief, and ecology. Xinyue's work has been exhibited at the Polygon Gallery, Audain Gallery, and Vancouver Outsider Arts Festival.

Nicholas Carter

Environmental Consultant

Nicholas is an ecologist and co-founder of PlantBasedData.org, a library of peer-reviewed articles and summaries on the environmental, health, economic, and zoonotic disease evidence to shift to plant-based diets. He's on the advisory board of the Eco Cooks Club, an educational program to empower youth to take climate action by connecting how our food choices impact the planet. He is also the Communications Lead for a climate services and data hub that's part of the Canadian Centre for Climate Services.  He's written and been interviewed for the New Republic, Plant Based News, Plant Proof, Sentient Media, Forbes, Macleans, and Planet Friendly News.

Chantal Jahchan

Graphic Designer

Chantal is a graphic designer based in Brooklyn. She designed the cover of Half-Earth Socialism, which inspires the aesthetic of half.earth. She currently works at Pentagram on Matt Willey’s team, where she specializes in brand identity and print design. Chantal has worked with clients on a wide range of projects such as restaurant and hotel identities, editorial websites, title sequences, books, and more. Previous clients include Verso Books, Phaidon, the Yale School of Management, the MTA, the Architectural League of New York, SF MoMA, the University of Pennsylvania, WeTransfer, and SidGentle Films. She holds a BFA in design from Washington University in St. Louis.

Troy Vettese

Author

Troy is an environmental historian and a Max Weber fellow at the European University Institute. He studies the history of environmental economics, energy, and animals. His writing has appeared in Bookforum, New Left Review, New Statesman, Jacobin, In These Times, Issues in Science and Technology, the Guardian, and n+1. He is currently writing a book on neoliberal environmental thought.

Drew Pendergrass

Author

Drew is a PhD candidate in Environmental Engineering at Harvard University. His current research uses satellite, aircraft and surface observations of the environment to correct supercomputer models of the atmosphere. His environmental writing has been published in Harper’s, the Guardian, Jacobin, and Current Affairs.

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