Half Earth Socialism

Simulating Liveable Futures
Book and video game that present a theoretical approach to achieving a balance between human needs and the health of the planet, in an age of ecological crisis


The challenge of balancing the provision of basic necessities for all while protecting the planet is known as the “planetary boundaries” debate. The requirement to organise and regulate humanity’s interactions with nature is in opposition to the unchecked and expansive nature of capital. Although there are numerous estimates of the planetary boundaries, even the most advanced models like Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) ) which integrate physics, chemistry, biology, and economics, do not fully model post growth scenarios that would ensure ecological stability. Simple IAM examples like “DICE” or “PAGE” are frequently employed to estimate the “social cost of carbon”, which quantifies the economic costs and benefits associated with emitting an additional metric ton of CO2. IAMs are predicated on the assumption that economic growth will continue uninterrupted and that the basic structure of the capitalist system will remain unchanged. This is not due to a lack of technical expertise, but because the models are based on an illusion that addressing climate change can be simplified into a straightforward mathematical equation, rather than through considering radical systemic change.1Drew Pendergrass and Troy Vettese, ‘Planning An Eco-Socialist Utopia’, Noēma, 2 June 2022 <https://www.noemamag.com/planning-an-eco-socialist-utopia/> [accessed 12 February 2023]. The path towards a just and ecologically sustainable world requires significant changes to current economic and political systems, as well as a shift in values and priorities.


Half-Earth Socialism (HES) provides a roadmap towards this goal by recognising the interconnected nature of environmental and social issues and proposing a systemic solution that prioritises both ecological and social well-being.2Troy Vettese and Drew Pendergrass, “Towards Half-Earth Socialism”, contribution to GTI Forum “Conservation at the Crossroads,” Great Transition Initiative (May 2022) <https://greattransition.org/gti-forum/conservation-vettese-pendergrass> [accessed 12 February 2023]. It was developed through essays, a book, and a video game advocating for the protection of intact ecosystems as a means to slow the ongoing climate breakdown. Drawing from E.O. Wilson’s influence, the Half-Earth Socialism concept is centred around the idea of preserving at least half of the earth’s natural ecosystems and biodiversity for rewilding.3Troy Vettese, Drew Pendergrass, and Filip Mesko, “Town, Country and Wilderness: Planning the Half‐Earth.” Architectural Design 92, no. 1 (January 2022), pp. 112-19 <https://doi.org/10.1002/ad.2780> It critiques the notion of conservation without social cost and calls for more precise concepts to analyse human-nature interactions. While acknowledging Indigenous sovereignty and the Land Back movement, HES questions the compatibility of neo-protectionism with capitalism and asserts that a true solution to the biodiversity crisis can only be achieved in a post-capitalist society.

One of HES components is a video game aiming to make decision-making in the face of environmental challenges more accessible and graspable. It proposes, using an information system, to see how different goods relate to each other as a whole, measured in food and carbon molecules, rather than relying on labor time or money as a universal metric. The aim is to directly address trade-offs and make conscious decisions about regulating humanity’s relationship with nature, rather than replicating the market system. Designed as a thought-experiment, it provides a simulation where an eco-socialist revolution takes place and the United Nations transform into a global parliament, with nations and regions functioning as federated units with their own powers, prioritising democracy and inclusivity. This new global government must plan the world economy while balancing human needs and planetary boundaries. A new bureau, Gosplant, is created to estimate trade-offs and devise various futures with different energy use, technological progress, and rewilding efforts. Players acting as planetary planners can make decisions through various options of technologies, policies, and infrastructures.

This approach calls for a rethinking of land use practices, a transition to a low-carbon economy, and the protection of natural ecosystems, with the goal of creating a society based on care, equality, and unalienated labour. It also provides hands-on experience regarding a deeper understanding of the complex issues around sustainability and environmental crisis, making decision-making more tangible and easier to understand. The model is based on wide-scale future scenario building, and so provides a broad context in which spatial practice might be located in the future, asking the designer to consider interrelationships within which any object, infrastructure, or spatial condition is located.


External links

Land Back movement—advocates for the return of Indigenous lands and sovereignty, recognising the historical and ongoing injustices faced by Indigenous communities and their rights to self-determination 

Otto Neurath’s idea of “scientific utopianism”—refers to the vision of using scientific knowledge and rational planning to create an ideal society that solves societal problems and maximises human well-being 

HECTOR climate model—a simple climate model (SCM, also known as a reduced-complexity climate model), a class of models that are extremely versatile for a wide range of applications 

CLIMATE ACTION SIMULATION—an interactive, educational role-playing exercise designed to help participants understand the complexities of climate change and the various factors involved in addressing it 

Global Sustainability Crossroads—a participatory simulation game where the participants are confronted with the design of climate mitigation strategies as well as the social, economic, and environmental consequences of decisions