Half-Earth Socialism: A Plan to Save the Future from Extinction, Climate Change and Pandemics by Drew Pendergrass and Troy Vettese is a selection in the Verso Book Club in April.
Half-Earth Socialism begins with a nightmare: a version of our not-too-distant future, 2047, when devastating weather forces a future US government to act on a start-up’s geo-engineering scheme to build a chemical shield that blocks the sun. This triggers the collapse of the ozone layer, the end of blue skies generally, and mass death and famine across the Global South. There are pandemics and economic collapse. As in the film Don’t Look Up!, profit mongers and politicians employ every stratagem to avoid seeing the threat barreling directly at them.
The book ends with a dream: a stabilized biosphere, a planned and democratic management of energy usage and energy emissions. Cities have been rewilded and highways planted with crops; wolves have been reintroduced; and if there’s enforced veganism to control the destruction of forest wrought by cattle and no passenger air travel, at least on the community farm there are sesame buns coming out of the oven, vegetable stew on the stove, homemade quilts on the dorm beds, and bicycles to borrow. I know which I’d choose.
Moving from nightmares to dreams is sorely needed right now. Any effort toward utopian imagining seems clouded by horrific climate news that appears almost daily: for example, last week’s report warning of the Amazon rainforest’s imminent collapse.
Into this need comes Half-Earth Socialism, a provocative, brilliant, beguiling little book that works in the best Marxist utopian tradition: bringing the scientific mind’s clear-eyed analysis together with the heart’s world of imagination and what-might-be. Leveraging advanced modelling and climate data, environmental science, political theory, myth, and even speculative fiction, Troy and Drew show us how we can guarantee a livable planet and a good life not just for the rich of the Global North but for everyone.
Roughly, here’s the plan: We need to re-wild roughly half the earth to stabilize the environment and absorb existing emissions. This means the end of the meat and dairy industries, since livestock, and especially cattle, use up nearly half of the earth’s arable land, which we desperately need to re-wild. At the same time, we need a rapid transition to renewable energy and a curtailing of energy consumption in the Global North. And finally, we need a democratic system and sophisticated planning model to measure the needs of each region, allot energy fairly, and to ensure the good life for all. Half-Earth + Socialism.
It's hard to do justice to this book in a short letter, because in laying out the half-earth socialist plan, Troy and Drew do much more than write a manifesto or provide a wonky blueprint. Instead, they remind us of the ingenuity and capacity our species is capable of. The book is at once a data-driven account written by an engineer and a scientist about energy consumption and land usage; a philosophical argument for humans to live within nature’s limits rather than believe we can transcend them; and a leftist history of market-planning and algorithms to manage massively complex systems. It’s even a computer game: the authors have built a climate modelling site where you can build your own half-earth, manage energy input and output, emissions levels, and rewild land.
As Marxist utopians like Ernst Bloch have taught us, to build a castle in the air is to imagine how to get oneself there. We should thank Troy and Drew for building us a castle and reminding us that it’s still possible to reach it.
– Jessie Kindig, New York City, March 2022