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:
- widespread veganism makes it far easier to save land for the Half Earth, renewable energy, fossil-free agriculture, and carbon sequestration;
- energy quotas are needed to hasten the transition to renewables and reduce demands for land and extraction;
- marketless planning will ensure these important goals are met;
- 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.
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!