Thursday , May 19 2022
Home / On French Politics / Interview: Half-Earth Socialism

Interview: Half-Earth Socialism

Summary:
Share the post "Interview: Half-Earth Socialism" Justin Saint-Loubert-Bie, a former intern for Tocqueville 21, sat down with Troy Vettese and Drew Pendergrass to discuss their new book, Half-Earth Socialism (Verso: April 2022). In the publication, they argue that the only future for both environmentalism and socialism is with one another. Only socialists can accurately articulate the root causes of environmental degradation. And only environmentalists have the intellectual tools to dismantle socialism’s most significant modern-day enemy: neoliberalism. Vettese and Pendergrass outline a utopian vision of a planned economy operating within ecological limits. Justin Saint-Loubert-Bie: My first question is about the process that led up to the creation of Half-Earth

Topics:
Justin Saint-Loubert-Bie considers the following as important: , , , , , ,

This could be interesting, too:

Christopher Schaefer writes French News in English: an Interview with the Editors of “Le Monde in English”

David Klemperer writes Comparative Democracy

Martin Conway writes The Past and Present of Democracy

Jan-Werner Müller writes The Pre-History of Post-Democracy

Interview: Half-Earth Socialism

Justin Saint-Loubert-Bie, a former intern for Tocqueville 21, sat down with Troy Vettese and Drew Pendergrass to discuss their new book, Half-Earth Socialism (Verso: April 2022). In the publication, they argue that the only future for both environmentalism and socialism is with one another. Only socialists can accurately articulate the root causes of environmental degradation. And only environmentalists have the intellectual tools to dismantle socialism’s most significant modern-day enemy: neoliberalism. Vettese and Pendergrass outline a utopian vision of a planned economy operating within ecological limits.

Justin Saint-Loubert-Bie: My first question is about the process that led up to the creation of Half-Earth Socialism. What motivated each of you to take up this project in this particular way, and what spurred the collaboration between the two of you?

Drew Pendergrass: The project started because of an article Troy wrote in the New Left Review called “To Freeze the Thames,” which was a first look at some of the ideas that would undergird this book. I had previously read one of Troy’s pieces in n+1 about women in academia, which was incredibly well researched. It used the sheer volume of documented research as its main rhetorical method, by just having a hundred footnotes in an article. I really appreciated that thoroughness and that style. So I wrote to Troy and we started talking, and then the seeds of this project were born. Originally, it was going to be some scientific paper modeling, as I’m an environmental engineering PhD student. Instead we ended up working on this book for our collaboration, which tries to really thoroughly digest, on a philosophical and a technical level, the environmental crisis and ways to overcome it and build a new society. In this way we leveraged both of our experience and knowledge. We also learned a huge amount from each other and pushed each other really hard to be better scholars and better thinkers on this question. I think it has been a really great project.

Troy Vettese: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. I had written this “Thames” essay, and then I was talking to Verso because they wanted me to turn it into a book. At the time I hadn’t known Drew for very long at all. My first goal for the project was writing about what socialism is, what it would look like. I’m an environmental historian and I read a lot of scientific papers, but I’m not a scientist. I’m not an economist. I always have to get my work double-checked by someone who knows those fields better. Working with Drew definitely opened up a whole world of possibilities in terms of what we could say in the book. And so I asked Drew if he wanted to write a book with me, and at first I lured him into it by saying it would be a very short pamphlet, maybe 20,000 words, which could be finished in a few weeks, and then it just blew up. It’s not a very long book, but still a lot bigger than a pamphlet. And we wrote a million drafts. Not every collaboration works, but when it does work, it’s awesome. So I highly recommend collaborations, especially across disciplinary boundaries.

Justin Saint-Loubert-Bie: Thank you. I’ll dive into the first substantive question. Could you briefly outline the theoretical orientation of Half-Earth Socialism, especially with regards to trying to “out-Hayek Hayek,” and your discussion of Edward Jenner, whom I imagine few of our readers have even heard of?

Troy Vettese: I study neoliberals. That’s my day job. I think as a socialist, when you’re forced to confront the ideas of your enemy, especially an intelligent enemy, then it makes you reflect on your own principles and how you see the work of politics. I think one can learn a lot from the neoliberals, just as the neoliberals modeled themselves on the Fabian Society. They were learning from the left, so this is a dialectical process of right and left engaging with each other for quite a long time. What I like about Hayek is how he brought questions of knowledge into economics. What’s interesting about Hayek is that, unlike other economists, especially the neoclassical economists of an earlier generation or two, he doesn’t model his economic thinking on physics. He models it on biology. He’s saying that we cannot know everything in a way that Newtonian physicists thought they could. Instead, economics has to be about approximate prediction, which is similar to what biologists do. What is interesting to me is that Hayek models economics on nature, but then when neoliberals have to choose which is more complicated–either nature or the economy–neoliberals have to always say the economy is going to be more complicated than nature. This is where I tried to out-Hayek Hayek, by saying: the source of your metaphor is nature and therefore, you would think that it would be more complicated than the market. That’s the basic argument in Half-Earth Socialism. So with the environmental crisis, neoliberals have to say it’s easier to control nature by doing things like geoengineering than trying to control the economy to preserve the environment, and that’s a big flaw in their logic. Then we argue—which I think most socialists don’t—that if we have to control something, it should be the economy and not nature. And this is where we really reimagine what socialism is, as a limited economic system that has to be consciously limited, because if we interfere too much with nature, then it will cause chaos, whether it’s climate change, or pandemics.

Drew Pendergrass: In the book we talk about three strains of environmental thought, all originating in various texts from 1798. There’s Malthus’ Essay on Population, which makes the argument that population is a key problem. There’s the Hegelian argument that sees history as the increasing “humanization of nature.” There’s a third strand, what we call “ecological skepticism,” which is outlined by Jenner. Jenner, who is most famous for inventing the smallpox vaccine, argues in his scientific report on those experiments that animal domestication is the unnatural cause of disease. It turns out that plenty of diseases—influenza, cholera, etc— emerged only over the last 10,000 years and usually because of animal agriculture. That insight has been borne out in public health literature, and it’s an interesting insight: that dominating nature can lead to all sorts of unpredictable and catastrophic things being unleashed. Today, the rate of zoonotic diseases is increasing very rapidly. There was this utopian moment in the 60s, when the era of infectious disease seemed to be nearly over because we had all these new technologies such as antibiotics and vaccines. That hopefulness is gone now with new zoonoses like HIV, Ebola, SARS, and the current pandemic,  and that’s because of our chaotic interchange with nature.

We also talk a little bit about my favorite Promethean environmentalist, Thomas Midgley, who invented both leaded gasoline and chlorofluorocarbons. I think he is a really wonderful example of Jenner’s insight. On the basis of the science of his day, he comes up with very good solutions. Leaded gasoline solves the engine knocking problem. It’s not a big additive, and it works very well, but it turns out that lead poisoning is bad. Chlorofluorocarbons are supposed to be totally unreactive, which is why they seemed to be a good substitute for the toxic gasses previously used in refrigeration. It turned out that CFCs weren’t unreactive in the stratosphere, and under certain conditions they can break apart and rapidly destroy ozone. It’s just a matter of chance that CFCs only break up under conditions of extreme cold, so only over Antarctica, and to some extent over the Arctic. If the rate constants were a little different, we could have a very reduced ozone layer. It’s just luck that it didn’t work out that way. To me, the lesson of all these environmental accidents is just that you cannot possibly account for all these possibilities, a problem that’s especially relevant when it comes to geoengineering as a climate solution. You’re inviting in monsters that you can’t even imagine or control.

Justin Saint-Loubert-Bie: That feeds very much into my next question, which I’m sorry is a bit long. When it comes to what can and can’t be known, Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment looms large, and you do cite it several times. In my understanding, part of their argument is that enlightenment rationality has resulted in the “disenchantment of the world,” which means that we now believe that every phenomenon could be understood scientifically and modeled mathematically, in other words that the world is entirely mechanistic and predictable. My question is, in light of this kind of tradition, is your project a kind of re-enchantment of the world, in the sense that you’re asserting—against this project of enlightenment rationality—that it’s actually impossible to fully understand nature? Or is it just that we don’t quite understand nature now, even if we could theoretically understand it at some point, and it’s just that we should act more in line with our actual knowledge that we have at this particular stage? If it is the former, in other words a kind of re-enchanting, does that require a certain dose of mysticism, or, more generally, ways of thinking that differ from our usual rationalistic lenses?

Troy Vettese: So, my understanding of the Frankfurt School is that they are, at some level, good ecosocialists because they care about nature and animals much more than you find in most Marxist traditions. That’s one reason why we draw upon them. Yet, it’s strange that they still believe that humanity can perfect nature. I believe it’s Adorno who says that socialism could “help nature to open its eyes” and improve it. Our goal with Half-Earth Socialism is to break with this hubris. And I think it’s a pretty obvious argument, if you think the main way we gain knowledge of the world is to intervene in nature, especially through labor, then that intervention creates the possibility of an unintended consequence, because we’re acting in something we do not fully understand. The result of acting in ignorance are things like ozone depletion or new zoonoses. So we have to be extremely careful and we also have to recognize that we have to give nature enough space. This is where Jenner comes in. We have to create a buffer, so when we do act, we have some room where it’s not going to lead to catastrophe. And of course, the role of science is to improve our understanding of nature, and to readjust whatever we think, what buffer we think is necessary. The buffer we’re outlining, the Half-Earth, may not turn out to be enough—we’re not giving any hard numbers—this is something that we will constantly be adjusting as we talk about this as a species. So that’s, I think, where we break with the Frankfurt School.

I like your argument about needing to re-enchant the world, to recognize that there’s this really complex biosphere that we are completely dependent upon, but that we do not understand and therefore we have to treat it with respect. I don’t think this is some sort of mysticism or religious in any way. It’s a very scientific approach.

Drew is the scientist here, but I think he would agree that the more you know about something, the more you realize you don’t know much about it.

Drew Pendergrass: Absolutely. I think we have an interesting relationship with reason in the book, because we are reason lovers. The book is not anti-technology. The book is not anti-modern, although it depends on what you mean by modern. Yet, there’s a certain kind of reason that seeks to dominate the world which is arrogant, and that we are very skeptical of.

Nature contains incredible complexities. The more you study it, the more it’s just impossible to pick it apart and understand what’s going on. For example, there’s an experiment that has been going on for thirty years in a forest in Massachusetts where scientists study soil carbon under artificially elevated temperatures. It turns out that soil is a complete mystery. The dynamics of carbon emissions from this heated soil has consistently flummoxed scientists. We don’t know what’s really going on. We have some ideas, we know something about how it works, but it’s just so complicated. Everything in nature is like this. You could have an incredibly rapid advance of science, you could put a very large portion of a society to work solving ecological problems, you could make a big effort and you’re still not going to get close to understanding the natural world. The basic idea that we have is for science to inform decisions, to help us craft informed rules of thumb, and inform democratic discussions about what our relationship with nature should be. Ultimately, however, we need to let much of nature follow its own logic.

Your point on mysticism is really interesting. We were asked about this the other day by Aaron Bastani of Novara Media. He wondered if the world that we imagined in the utopian section of Half-Earth Socialism would eventually have a new kind of natural religion. If you have a world that’s founded on these conversations about humility, and about discussions of restraint, what would that involve? And I think that maybe the cultural realization of self-restraint might involve some sort of mystic view. I’m a little reluctant to say this as someone who likes reason.

Troy Vettese: I mean, wouldn’t you say, again—and I don’t have the same scientific knowledge you do—but I think the more you know about the world, the more mysterious it is.

Drew Pendergrass: Absolutely. It’s very true. It’s very, very true. And these are moments where I wish Ursula Le Guin was with us because I feel like she would have a very good answer to this question. She’s very good at imagining the ideas and ideologies and cultures that would respond to certain physical changes to how humanity works.

Troy Vettese: I don’t think you need a mystification. I’m a birdwatcher, and I just go out and see birds, and they’re beautiful. With birdwatching, you just hang out and watch them. And you don’t need to think that there’s a spirit animating it. It’s just beautiful enough in its own way.

It’s impossible to think we will fully know nature. That’s not going to happen. And I think this is where socialists have to let go of that hope. And there’s a nice quote from Otto Neurath, where he says “rationalism sees its chief triumph in the clear recognition of the limits of actual insight.” That kind of epistemic humility is what we’re trying to emphasize.

Justin Saint-Loubert-Bie: Thank you. The next question is a little less philosophical. I think a big question for a lot of people sympathetic to socialism is simply whether or not planning an economy is actually possible. How would you address this reservation from a reader with a less in-depth technical background?

Drew Pendergrass: Yeah, so I’ll just preface this by saying that neither of us are experts in this. And there are people who have been thinking about it for a while, though at this point planning has become a very obscure academic field. We wrote the third chapter as a journey through the history of planning: its successes, its failures, and we conclude with some principles for how you might make it work. We start in the book with Otto Neurath, an Austrian polymath and a remarkable thinker involved with the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic. He was the head planner of this socialist experiment in the spring of 1919. He wrote texts reflecting on the Left’s successes and failures.

One of his important concepts was the figure of the “social engineer.” This person would be charged with devising several possible “total plans” for the future, with tons of democratic input. Each of these total plans would be self-contained, reflecting different visions of society’s future trajectory. For our society, we could imagine a fossil-fuel intensive total plan that emphasizes high standards of living complemented with geoengineering to manage the consequences, and then another total plan that involves lower energy-use, veganism, a more restrained living standards focused on equality, all of which would lead to a more stable biosphere. We would obviously be in the second camp, but the idea is, you would have several total plans and society could democratically choose between them.

Troy Vettese: I just want to point out that Neurath was a war planner. This led to his interest in moneyless economics using physical units instead, as well as his championing of total plans.

Drew Pendergrass: Troy makes a good point. You’re not using money, you’re instead thinking about the things that matter: the material foundations of your society. So with the war planner, it doesn’t matter how much things cost, it just matters how many boats or guns or planes you have.

Now, the problem with Neurath is that he didn’t have any way to make these total plans. Leonid Kantorovich came up with the first draft of a possible answer to this problem. Kantorovich is a Soviet economist, the only Soviet economist to win the Bank of Sweden prize (which is incorrectly referred to as the Nobel Prize for Economics). Kantorovich is widely respected for his insight of linear programming, which is familiar if you’ve studied college-level optimization. The idea of linear programming is to start with a set of constraints. So for example, land less than x, energy less than y but greater than z… You have these constraints framed mathematically, and then you can come up with an optimized solution. This is used all the time, for example for planning renewable energy grids. Kantorovich immediately saw that his breakthrough could improve the highly inefficient planning system of the Soviet Union. When people are skeptical of planning, they’re not skeptical out of nowhere. It isn’t like the Soviet system worked very well. Kantorovich came up against some dramatic issues in the Soviet Union. For example, he tried to optimize railroad car production by reducing waste, but then was denounced for sabotaging the nation’s scrap metal supply! So obviously, it wasn’t a great environment for planning reforms.

It’s worth emphasizing that linear programming alone is not going to be the technique that makes socialism feasible. I mean, it depends on the scale of optimization, you might run out of computational power, but there’s also the neoliberal critique of information that you need to respond to. If you want to run a linear programming algorithm for the whole country for all the factors in the country, you need a huge amount of data. Hayek is right that you cannot centralize that amount of knowledge, even with computers. Nor is it clear you would want that. It would put too much power in one office. That doesn’t end well. So Kantorovich was aware of this and he studied multi-level planning, but it was never fully worked out.

Then we journey to Chile to survey Salvador Allende’s experiment in democratic socialism. To transition from capitalism to socialism, the government needed a system to manage newly nationalized industries. This is where cybernetics come in. Cybernetics is a vague term, but in short it’s the study of human-machine interactions and feedback. Santiago hired Stafford Beer, a management consultant and cybernetician who helped create a cybernetic system of a multi-level economy. For example, maybe you need to move resources from one factory to another. Or maybe there’s indication of a more serious issue arising, and you can bump that up to the next level. And then the higher levels are concerned with the broad functioning of the economy. Here I’m laying out this system very vaguely, but we go into more detail in the book.

We end the chapter with recent insights from data assimilation, which is big in weather and climate science. The idea of data assimilation is that you have a physical model of the world, but for various reasons, like in weather and climate, the world is chaotic, meaning that if you have slightly wrong initial conditions, the output will be totally wrong even if your physics is perfect. That’s why the weather is not accurate after five days, probably less. And so the global weather forecasting system works by having a global network of satellites, ships, aircraft, and other systems making observations, which feed into the model to correct it and keep it running well. So you have this global system of observations constraining a model that is imperfect, but pretty good. You can imagine this expanding to a model of the economy. You might have the economy model, working on very coarse levels, asking questions like: are factories in this region getting the materials they need? Is the ecosystem functioning well? What’s the climate like? And then you could have a kind of a climate-economy model, which already exists. It could update itself and be used as a tool of governing, with smaller versions running locally (which we call “downscaling”). Things might go wrong and so you correct it based on new observations. Data assimilation is all about incomplete observations, you don’t observe the whole, you don’t observe every molecule in the air, you observe only a very small subset, and you observe it all indirectly. So this technology is here. It’s real, and it has pretty interesting implications in terms of how you might plan.

Finally, we ended with a little bit of skepticism and restraint. We don’t argue that this system will be a world of abundance, or more efficient than capitalism—indeed, there might be shortages. If you’re not forcing people to work all the time by threatening them with homelessness or starvation, that alone might cause new kinds of problems. Yet, we think that if you’re careful, and you design a system that is thoughtful, aggressively democratic, and utilizes these various planning methods, then you can manage the worst outcomes, and hopefully have a democratically accountable planning system that doesn’t rely on perfect information requirements, and doesn’t become authoritarian. That’s the bet. And I think we make a good case for it.

Justin Saint-Loubert-Bie: One thing I’m interested in is that, in Half-Earth Socialism, you mostly center your critique on the market, rather than other elements of capitalism, like the drive for perpetual growth. I thought that was interesting, since perpetual growth seems an easy target, since you place a lot of weight on the concept of land scarcity in Half-Earth Socialism. You trace land scarcity as a fundamental concern for utopian thinkers as far back as Plato. Land scarcity is what leads you to advocate for reduced energy consumption and widespread veganism, in order to keep half of the Earth wild. Sorry for yet another long question, but I think it can be boiled down to: why focus your critique of capitalism on the market in particular? Also, even beyond capitalism, where do racism and imperialism fit in?

Troy Vettese: I think this is where we’re orthodox Marxists. What is unique about capitalism is that the decision about where to invest is decentralized, and that the elites cannot directly extract from the working class. You have extraction and you have markets in other societies, but they don’t have this dependence on the market that you see in capitalism. And this relates back to Neurath. Why is his vision moneyless? Because if you reduce everything to a single metric, then it’s going to lead to irrational outcomes, which Neurath would call pseudo-rational, because the world is complex. It cannot be understood through a single metric. That’s precisely what’s wrong with capitalism: capitalists are only worried about profit. They do not worry about what else they’re doing, either to workers or to the world, in pursuit of that one goal.

We talk about racism and colonialism and the history of conservation quite a bit, but at some level, racism is distinct in capitalism versus in other societies. And these problems will all have to be dealt with. I think about Frank Wilderson III, who wrote this nice essay called “Gramsci’s Black Marx.” He argues that in a socialist society, you still could have racism in a way that you still could have the oppression of animals. Socialism allows us to consciously decide how we relate to each other and to nature, but it doesn’t guarantee we’re going to be angels, right? This is where politics and social movements will continue to matter in a socialist society. If you look at the history of actually existing socialism you see a lot of progress, but still lots of racism, sexism, speciesism, and homophobia. Just because you have conscious control doesn’t mean that things are automatically going to work out well.

Drew Pendergrass: I’ll just add a point that’s related to the last thing Troy said. One of our arguments is that the failure of Soviet planning and especially the failure of Kontorovich and others to reform it, to the extent that it was possible, was due to a lack of democracy. Conscious control is not necessarily democratic control. And that’s bad. In terms of ethics, obviously, you need democratic control. In terms of managing society, and the ability of the society to change itself and to respond to circumstances and to be smart, that requires democratic input, and that’s something that has been missing in previous socialist societies. Conscious control of the economy requires democracy.

Justin Saint-Loubert-Bie: In Half-Earth Socialism, you conceive of a new “end of history,” when “our species comes to recognize that this process [of humanizing nature] undermines the basis of human freedom.” Later, you write that under Half-Earth socialism, statecraft would be reduced to mere administration and “politics will eventually be as mundane as devising bus routes.” One of the things that has sometimes bothered me about the utopian tradition is when it flirts with a sense of finality, because for me humanity is and has always been such a uniquely creative and political animal that it seems like finality would be a constraint on our freedom to create, play, and experiment with the ways we organize our society. I wonder if you’ve pondered these themes, and if you would be willing to share any thoughts about them?

Drew Pendergrass: I think you’re right to point out that tension. And we intentionally put the utopian chapter in the transition. For people who aren’t familiar with the book yet, the fourth chapter of the book is utopian science fiction modeled off of William Morris’ News from Nowhere and other utopian texts. We have this character named after William Guest from News from Nowhere, who is magically transported to the year 2047. This future is a world in transition towards ecosocialism. And there are lots of debates going on, including energy usage. So some characters are very into low energy use, and they live communally. But there’s also a character who thinks this is ridiculous, and that you need more energy. I think, having heard some feedback from people on this chapter, I wish I had given the skeptical characters a louder voice. And this is only a snapshot into one region, so there’s obviously wider political debates. We definitely don’t imagine the end of conflict. In a society that removes certain kinds of conflicts, certainly it’s not going to make everyone stop being assholes. And it won’t remove some of these debates over interchange with nature, which will always be there, and debates on the material basis of society.

We mean the end of history in a very Hegelian sense, as the end of a particular engine of history—the humanization of nature. This process will reach a kind of resolution, as in a place where, by consciously restraining that humanization of nature, it’s complete. That doesn’t mean it isn’t changing constantly, and that the borders of it aren’t changing, and that there isn’t always work to be done. Yet, that particular engine of history would not be as important. So, it also leaves open more speculative elements, like more transformations too, for example relative to the way the relationship with nature works. Some event or some new technology might open up new frontiers, history might have a new engine or something like this. It might be going into outer space, for example. The Star Trek world might have a different sort of relationship with nature. So I definitely don’t mean that it would be the end of debates or the end of reimaginings, and the end of new sorts of experiments. But just that this particular Hegelian engine would slow down and stop.

Troy Vettese: So we actually went back and forth on this, and we decided to go with the Hegelian answer, where the motors of history are the humanization of nature and the struggle for recognition. So if you have equality and if we also have more or less stopped interfering with nature, then history would stop in the Hegelian sense. Of course, you’re completely right that people will find other things to argue about. One reason why I wanted to conclude with this Hegelian position was that I was thinking of something I think I read by Corey Robin on Carl Schmitt and other conservatives, where Schmitt believed that the struggle for recognition and a willingness to fight to the death was what made humans heroic. And if humans no longer did that, if there was equality, then we would relate to each other as if we were just passengers on a bus. That’s the worst possible thing that could happen from the point of view of a conservative, and we’re making the argument that actually, that doesn’t sound so bad. If we solve all these other problems, it’s okay if we don’t heroically kill each other or dominate nature.

Justin Saint-Loubert-Bie: Obviously penning a utopian vision for the future is quite a task all by itself, but I was wondering if you had any initial thoughts on the possibilities and strategies of building the Half-Earth socialist revolution, for enthusiastic readers of Half-Earth Socialism to follow up on after putting down the book?

Troy Vettese: I think the next step would be imagining what something like this would look like at a regional level or national level. Basically start to actually do some groundwork in terms of imagining this society in terms of modeling, architectural design, some number crunching. And I think that’s part of the imaginative work that needs to be done. And the other thing would be the political work, in terms of reaching out to socialists, animal-liberationists, ecologists, climate modelers and say to them: you care about important problems, but maybe you should be thinking about these problems in a certain way, looking at the root causes of these crises and then finding new allies. Again, environmentalists may be very nice, but they think rich people giving money to NGOs is the solution and that these problems can be solved under capitalism. We have to build a coalition that shares an ideology because right now we have social movements with shared interests but opposing worldviews. These are some of the things one can do. Of course, creating a new society is a huge task. After all, it took decades of organizing before the neoliberals took power anywhere. They built up their organization strength, made allies, and translated their philosophy into practical policies. All of that took a lot of work. Right now we’re making a video game which would try to get people to think in Neurathian terms. Let them be social engineers and think through the effects of people eating meat once a year or once a month, or whether electric cars make a big difference. The video game lets you play with these variables and many others. Neurath made clear that visualizing the whole economy is a vital task of socialism.

Drew Pendergrass: Yeah, our book is self-consciously utopian, so we bracket immediate political feasibility, and try to answer deeper questions, in hopes that this will help illuminate a path forward. We talk a little bit about the need to form coalitions in the beginning of the book, where we talked about the unfortunate fact that environmentalists and socialists hate each other, or at least hate a lot of aspects of each other. And animal rights people are not very popular; they don’t cover themselves with glory all the time. Feminists have lots of issues with socialists and environmentalists, for good reasons. There’s tons of problems in these movements, and mutual suspicions that prevent them from cohering together. So we hope that some real conversations and coalition-building will be valuable here, bridging a shared vision that we can all get behind. It’s a big task and our book is certainly not the be all and end all, but hopefully it can start a discussion of potential avenues for forming coalitions. In my own activism work, it’s very frustrating that you’re often organizing around very small, winnable campaigns, which feel so far from the task that needs to be done. I don’t have an answer for that frustration. Thinking imaginatively, coming up with big solutions, thinking about coalitions, and building movements to go for those wins is important. Hopefully, each effort builds the movement, but building these connections at scale is a really hard question.

Troy Vettese: The neoliberals were once super big losers, and no one wanted to hang out with them. They were seen as ridiculous. They lived in a Keynesian world. You need to offer a totally new worldview if you want to change the world, and you need to then organize, and work very hard to convince people. And they did it. I think their ideas aren’t very good. I think we offer a more rigorous and reasonable worldview. So, why not vegan socialism?


Justin Saint-Loubert-Bie is a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of Chicago studying Political Science and environmental studies. His research focuses on colonialism, property formation, and environment in the Pacific Northwest.

Troy Vettese is an environmental historian and a Max Weber post-doctoral fellow at the European University Institute.

Drew Pendergrass is a PhD candidate in environmental engineering at Harvard University.


Photo Credit: Half-Earth Socialism [cover], Verso (2022), Fair Use.

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *