Half-Earth Socialism and the Path

Beyond Capital

Brian M. Napoletano

ntertwined with, yet distinct from, the looming threat of climate change is an even more profound biotic crisis. This crisis is much more than a sixth (or seventh) mass extinction; it entails the decimation of life’s diversity at multiple levels. This destruction extends from genetic variations within and between species to the alteration, degradation, and potential loss of entire ecosystems due to the proliferation of biologically fragile and resource-intensive cultivation (industrial monoculture and plantation-based silviculture) and animal husbandry (the worldwide dominance of a narrow range of livestock). An unprecedented degree of biological homogenisation is taking place as increasing numbers of organisms are moved between different ecosystems by trade and tourism. In numerous instances, these changes have already prompted the degradation or collapse of biophysical processes on which humans rely.

These trends have already intensified to the point of posing the possibility of significant and irreversible alterations to the future of life on the planet. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), the chief mechanism of so-called global environmental governance tasked with addressing this crisis, has consistently reported failures over the last three decades to meet even its modest conservation goals, thus intensifying long-running debates over the methods and objectives of conservation. Against calls for a “new conservation” that is effectively subsumed by economic development, some conservationists have advocated a drastic scaling up of protected areas to cover at least half the planet, championed by E. O. Wilson as the Half-Earth approach in a book by that title.

Any attempt to resolve rather than merely postpone the biotic crisis must confront multiple interdependent factors operating at three general levels: (1) what the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) refers to as direct drivers (land/sea-use changes, resource extraction, pollution, invasive alien species, climate change); (2) what it refers to as indirect drivers (values, demographic, technological, economic, and governance issues); and (3) what could be called structural factors or systemic imperatives (the way capital operates as a totalising, alienated, constitutionally uncontrollable mode of social metabolic control, as emphasised in the theory of metabolic rift).

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