26 December 2019

An ecological-Marxist response to the Half-Earth Project

A paper I wrote together with Brett Clark critiquing a widely circulated "ecocentric" argument claiming that concerns for the fate of nature should override any concerns with social justice in conservation was just published Ahead-of-print in Conservation and Society. Building on the theory of metabolic rift, the paper offers an explicitly Marxist perspective on the proposal to set aside at least half the Earth's surface for biodiversity conservation. Here are the details:
DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_19_99

Brian M. Napoletano and Brett Clark

The deepening biodiversity crisis in the Anthropocene has led to polarised debates within the conservation movement regarding its objectives and guiding principles. Within this intellectual milieu, the Half-Earth project’s call to enclose at least half the planet within protected areas has been defended as an ecocentric approach that overrides the concerns of anthropocentric ‘critical social scientists’. One group of advocates has even attacked such scientists as ‘neo-Marxists’ dedicated to the ‘mastery’ of nature. To steer the debate in a more constructive direction, we offer an ecosocialist response to the ecocentric advocacy of the Half-Earth project, specifically from the perspective of Marx’s theory of metabolic rift. While we are sympathetic to the project’s motivation and admire its audacity, we note important deficiencies in the ways the moral imperative has been asserted against social justice, and in the problematic comprehension of the underlying drivers of biodiversity loss, which threaten to undermine its objectives. Nonetheless, opposition to capitalist instrumentalism serves as an important point of possible convergence between conservation and anti-capitalist struggle. Further engagement with the ecological-Marxist critique of capitalism could strengthen efforts to address the biodiversity crisis while resolving important shortcomings in the Half-Earth project.

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