The habitable Earth: biodiversity, society and rewilding

Issue: 170

Ian Rappel

A socialist ecological assessment of the Anthropocene reveals a fundamental pattern for biodiversity; living nature, from the virus to the whale, wraps itself around human social forms.1 Our long march from localised groups of apes to a globalised social humanity has taken around 3 million years. Since the arrival of Homo sapiens around 300,000 years ago—under varying degrees of ecological intensity, at wide-ranging geographical scales, and in every accessible habitat—patterns of Earth’s biodiversity have been entwined with human historical development.2

The rise of social and cultural complexity around 50,000 years ago is archaeologically evidenced by ritual burials, intricate cave art, language, manufactured tool use and organised hunter-gathering. That communal sophistication cemented conscious and pre-planned habitat manipulation, through controlled burning and other techniques, as an intrinsic characteristic of the earliest societies. The advance in ecological engineering that was unleashed by the rise of agriculture roughly 11,000 years ago ensured that this trait became both irreversible and global. This transition from hunter-gathering to settled agriculture is often portrayed as the defining breakpoint between humans and nature. Yet such views downplay the continuities between hunter-gather and settled societies and the fact that many regions were already subject to habitat manipulation by the time plants and animals were domesticated.3

Over the past ten millennia, from the end of the last ice age to our moment of global capitalism, all human societies have cultivated distinctive ecological characteristics as they pushed and pulled at nature in order to maintain social reproduction. This tendency to develop ecological expression through social metabolism—with cascading consequences for all life around us—means that we have come to act as the planet’s “keystone species”.4 Unlike other species that perform “keystone” roles, however, our ecological activity is merely informed by the natural parameters of biogeography and climate. The characteristics of our collective habitat—the anthropic biosphere—are set through a complex and reciprocal causal chain that links processes of abstract thought to the availability, methods and rationales of society’s aggregated human labour.5 The social and cultural practices that flow from this process literally separate us from the beasts, and our unique and undeniable ecological prowess has rendered human society an astonishing geological force through the Anthropocene. Yet, although we may have shaped our general habitat of the biosphere thus, we do not have free reign over its socio-ecological direction. As with all other components of history, human societies manufacture their habitats, with attendant biodiversity, “under the given and inherited circumstances with which they are directly confronted”.6

Social change and biodiversity

Throughout human history, societal forms have been altered or ended, from within and without, at varying rates. These modal shifts have ushered in parallel changes of an ecological character; each new society brings distinct habitat-framing forces and consequent assemblages of biodiversity that blend with or displace previous patterns. When assessed through the explanatory lens of class structures and struggles, this dynamic interplay between social evolution and biodiversity makes for a revealing and not always negative picture. This can be illustrated through the ecological shadows that were thrown by the social changes discussed in the opening paragraphs of The Communist Manifesto—from the classical world, through feudalism, and into capitalist society.7

Archaeological evidence suggests that human alteration of Mediterranean habitats extends as far back as the Late Bronze Age. However, the world of “classical antiquity”—the Hellenistic and Roman societies that dominated from 700 BCE to the 7th century CE—significantly modified the biogeography of the entire Mediterranean Basin.8 Ecosystems were reconfigured as the region was subjected to agricultural growth via slave and peasant labour, as urbanised city states were established and as silviculture (forest management) was developed to service the shipbuilding requirements of maritime trade and imperial expansion. The socially determined land use practices that emerged reshaped the landscape through deforestation, afforestation, land terracing and the establishment of monoculture plantations such as olive groves and vineyards. Cicero’s 43 CE essay De Natura Deorum (“The Nature of the Gods”) contains a short paragraph that makes a bold statement on contemporary manipulation of Mediterranean habitats. It also hints at the rise of a proactive human ecology that environmentalists often assign exclusively to modernity:

We enjoy the fruits of the plains and of the mountains. The forests, the rivers and the lakes are ours. We sow corn, we plant trees, we fertilise the soil by irrigation, we confine rivers and straighten or divert their courses. In short, by means of our hands we attempt to create, as it were, a second world within the world of nature.9

Many of the land use techniques that shaped the Mediterranean Basin’s biodiversity spread throughout the wider Roman Empire and survived well into the medieval period. Then the Middle Ages ushered in a millennium of dramatic habitat changes across Europe.10 Feudalism stamped its presence on the biodiversity of the continent through its distinctive patterns of land ownership and labour. Europe’s forests—some four-fifths of its landmass in 500 CE, covering everything from swampland to dense woodland and wood pasture—came under the exclusive control of feudal lords and other elites of church and crown. These elites maintained their privileged land rights against other classes, enforcing tithes or rent for regulated use. As feudal class relations cemented, the ruling elites utilised the forests to enhance and exploit the growing availability of peasant serf labour. Higher labour availability combined with improvements in agricultural and silvicultural techniques so that, by the time the Black Death arrived in the mid-14th century, the continental coverage of woodland had declined to two-fifths of the land surface. Medieval Europe’s forests fell to the axe to be replaced with agriculture.11

Although this period witnessed the devastation of Europe’s forests and some of their accompanying large fauna (wolves, bears, aurochs and bison), other new and previously marginal habitats expanded under the feudal mode of production. Practices such as managing woodland coppicing, rotational cropping and fallow, pasture and hay meadow regimes produced extensive coverage of semi-natural grassland, arable and scrub habitats. Across Europe processes of “natural succession” were disrupted so that ecological niches that would have otherwise disappeared through woodland recovery were kept open.12 Previously isolated species such as grassland butterflies were able to establish themselves across the opening landscape of mixed farming. Other species strongly associated with woodland before the clearances also adjusted to new habitats. The whole category of “farmland birds” that exists today across much of Europe was derived from adaptation to peasant agriculture. Indeed, over the past half century, a wide range of farmland bird species have declined precisely because of their dependence on retreating “traditional” mixed arable and livestock farming.13

The mosaic of biodiversity-rich habitats created through peasant agriculture led to the cultural landscapes that were celebrated by early bourgeois naturalists (and are still valued by many today) as the “natural state”. This hides the reality that Europe’s biodiversity co-evolved with human civilisation. This is still a fact often only grudgingly acknowledged in passing by modern conservationists, who tend to restrict their analysis of human ecology to the modern industrial era.14

The fundamental impact of social form on biodiversity is confirmed by current designations of the world’s ecosystems. Despite, or rather because of, ecological changes driven by successive social systems, the Mediterranean Basin is today one of the world’s most important “biodiversity hotspots”.15 Several millennia of extensive farming and anthropogenic transformation of woodland into scrub and herb-rich habitats (the impenetrable “maquis” and the fragrant “garrigue”, respectively) have created some of the most stimulating and inspiring landscapes in human history. Agricultural techniques such as terracing, developed and maintained through high human labour inputs, have diminished natural land erosion in the region’s arid zones.16 Collectively, and in the service of societal goals, human actions laid the basis for regional ecological stability and the richest botanical biodiversity to be found outside the tropics.17

Despite the revolutionary shift from feudalism to capitalism, Europe’s biodiversity continued its strong interdependence upon inherited practices of extensive agriculture until well into the modern era. As Ian Newton writes, “Even as late as the mid-20th century…farmers produced biodiversity as effectively as they produced farm crops, the one an incidental by-product of the other”.18

Social diversity, racism and biodiversity

Acknowledging the links between social metabolism, corresponding cultural and social practices and biodiversity is a vital step towards understanding capitalism’s extinction crisis and socialist alternatives. However, before commenting on the notorious ecological character of bourgeois society, it is important to highlight the significance of social heterogeneity outside of Europe.

The social diversity of the pre-capitalist world is astonishing to consider. Archaeological and historical evidence suggests that the non-European world comprised a rich tapestry of interconnected and isolated human social formations; from city states to hunter-gatherer communities: from settled agriculture and orchestrated coastal fisheries to nomadic pastoralists and shifting agriculturalists.19 The variations in means of social reproduction were maintained in the service of equally diverse modes of class structure—from egalitarian to slavery-based. Significantly, they were also underpinned with their own cultural norms that governed their use of and reverence for surrounding forms of “nature”. Thus, the same interaction between social form and biodiversity that I have descrived above played out across the non-European world.

Today, our understanding of this historic interrelationship has been undermined through the ecological consequences of European contact, exploitation, colonialism and racism. Globalising capitalism, as it spilled out from its European origins along the routes of voyages of “discovery” and trade in the 15th and 16th centuries to today’s position of planetary hegemony, has entailed the often-violent erosion of social diversity. Entire civilisations—the Aztecs of Mesoamerica, the Taíno cultures of the Caribbean, Aboriginal Australia, and practically the entire patchwork of First Nation peoples in North America—have been subject to dispossession or outright bloody annihilation through disease, racialised wars, slavery and land grabbing.

The ecological impact of such social devastation has been misinterpreted when not completely ignored. This stems from racist perspectives on socio-ecological change that still cast their shadows today. Bourgeois judgements on property rights and Indigenous traditions of land use were informed by 19th century notions of private property and white supremacy. The theft of people and land by European slavers, colonialists and settlers pushed surviving Indigenous societies into unfamiliar livelihoods and new methods of subsistence. The devastating ecological impact of such contact was often judged as evidence of social backwardness and “savagery”. Slave raiding and trade across West Africa forced coastal and riverside communities into defensive stockade settlements, where they were compelled to shift their livelihoods, with mixed success, from fishing to subsistence farming. The resplendent bankside civilisations recorded by early conquistadors and explorers along the Amazon Basin were smashed or driven into the rainforests by slavery and disease. In North America, tribes that survived the early epidemiological devastation of European contact, such as the Comanches, were evicted from their agricultural land by settlers and forced into greater reliance on hunting buffalo on the plains of the Midwest (only to be “encouraged” into agriculture again by the nefarious actions of state-sponsored buffalo hunters and “Indian agents” in the late 19th century).20

As pre-capitalist societies collapsed or reconfigured themselves to resist the early waves of European exploitation and disease, continental patterns of biodiversity responded to the abandonment of land through reversion to natural succession or adapted, if possible, to new colonial agricultural regimes. The misinterpretation of resurgent biodiversity as “pristine wilderness”, and the accompanying racist doctrine of “terra nullius” (nobody’s land), created a mythical concept of the “wilderness frontier” that remains particularly effective at hiding the ecological consequences of bourgeois society.21 By the time European powers formalised their colonial rule across the world during the 18th and 19th centuries, entire civilisations and their corresponding ecosystems had been destroyed or fractured. The evidence of this socio-ecological disaster was in many ways submerged by the reversion of the land to wilderness, only re-emerging centuries later as deforestation and advanced Lidar laser-imaging archaeological techniques reveal their ghost-like imprints across the landscape.22

This inherent resilience of biodiversity—its ability to adapt to the ecological spaces filled or vacated by human social forms—is a significant theme that will be returned to. For now, it is important to note that this adaptability is particularly strong across the tropics. Early naturalists who travelled the tropical world “discovered” verdant landscapes of apparent untouched wilderness. As inspiring as their tales of nature’s beauty are, the likes of Henry Walter Bates and Alexander von Humboldt pushed their way into tropical landscapes that, unless being utilised for developing colonial monoculture, had been reclaimed by nature when Indigenous societies were dislodged.23 The eastern seaboard of North America also witnessed this phenomenon, leaving European settlers to gaze in wonder at an “empty” wilderness whose original inhabitants had been wiped out by earlier European contact. The traces of these Indigenous societies and their ecological substrates were simply erased by nature’s rebound through woodland regeneration.24

Across the Caribbean, after Columbus, European powers soon realised that the “New World” was not comprised of gold and two-headed monsters but rather potential rival civilisations and people of colour.25 Efforts were then fixed on achieving territorial hegemony, clearing accessible land, and pushing Indigenous people into forced labour to produce crops for European markets. Having worked the Taíno peoples into the grave, European colonists turned to the Atlantic slave trade to entrench and extend the range of commodity crops such as coffee, tobacco and, most devastatingly, sugarcane. There was no chance of wilderness resurgence here. Sugarcane production alone caused deforestation across thousands of islands and coastal zones throughout the Americas. Biodiversity loss in the Caribbean accelerated as Europeans moved tropical plants from their colonies around the globe (sugarcane is, for example, native to East Asia) together with other species introduced to bolster European styles and tastes in farming. Non-indigenous species such as the mongoose and cane toad were also deliberately introduced in efforts to control tropical agricultural pests and diseases of crops and livestock. These ecological impacts of colonialism were severe. Given its climate, topography, latitude and the uniqueness of species found on islands, the Caribbean ought to qualify as one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots. Before European contact and slavery, the region could well have witnessed some of the most impressive concentrations of biodiversity in Earth’s evolutionary history. Extinction was the ecological concomitant to slavery’s barbarism.26

Despite that barbarism, enslaved Africans brought and developed their socio-ecology with them as best they could. Enslaved women and children had often weaved rice grains and other seeds into their braided hair prior to their capture and embarkation. In such small acts of cultural defiance, they carried future world staples with them, and not just as a species of crop but rather as an entire agroecological system. These were transplanted into their small subsistence plots across the Americas.27 Slaves thus pioneered and developed significant “new world” agricultural traditions in ways long ignored by Western ecologists.28

Capitalism and the ecology of extinction

Returning to Europe, the biodiversity patterns set by feudalism’s agricultural forms and small landholding patterns started to break down under advancing capitalism from the mid-18th century. This process accelerated in the second half of the 19th century as scientific capitalist farming came to the fore, often conducting devastating experiments in agricultural intensification in the colonies. The major socio-ecological breaking point, as with so much else, was the Second World War. Our widening ecological metabolic rift from the mid-20th century—encouraged by unrestrained global commodity markets and the productivism embedded in profit-orientated initiatives such as the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy—has dismantled Europe’s remaining small and mixed farming traditions, which were inherited from the continent’s receding modern peasantry.29 By the end of the war, Britain’s peasantry had already been largely (often literally) cleared from the historical stage—a process that had unfolded from the mid-18th century as industrialisation and land enclosure pushed the rural population into wage dependency and proletarianisation.

Despite these changes to class composition, the core ecological methods of peasant agriculture and their interdependency with biodiversity were retained until the Second World War. From that point, habitats that carried some of the highest social values under feudalism became worthless or even a block on profit for post-war capitalist agriculture. European hay meadows were the nutrient- and species-rich fields of fodder that powered the horse and oxen “engines” of farming and continental trade throughout much of the past thousand years. These rainforests in miniature have been all but wiped out by the post-war rise of agricultural mechanisation and the shift towards fossil-fuelled intensive methods of fodder production such as monocultural silage; Britain alone has lost 95 percent of its hay meadows since the war. Over the past 75 years of advanced capitalist society, and most especially over the past 40, Europe’s biodiversity has been eroded and threatened by the twin forces of land abandonment and agricultural intensification. Both those tendencies are direct products of collapsing small mixed farms and rising monocultural agribusiness, with their deeper roots lying in the development of monopoly capitalism.

The replacement of wondrous biodiversity with monocultural monotony has become central to capitalism’s socio-ecological metabolism. The ecological dysfunctionality that arises from this trend is routine to capitalist society, and the system is resultingly replete with cases of irrationality. For example, pesticides such as neonicotinoids are routinely used to control crop pests and have taken a mighty toll on pollinating species such as bees and hoverflies—a situation that has unfolded at a time when populations of invertebrate pollinators were already under pressure from habitat loss. This self-made pollination crisis has not caused agribusiness to pause and contemplate its ecocidal behaviour. Instead, capitalist agriculture has turned to the commercial production of beehives to fill the shortfall. Britain’s soft fruit industry alone imports 65,000 bumblebee nests a year, even as the country exports the nests of buff tail bumblebees to Latin America, causing significant ecological problems for other pollinators there.30 Globally, such vicious cycles of dysfunctional ecology repeat themselves in various forms across land and sea. Even aside from the devastating impact of climate change, the world’s biodiversity is being rapidly eroded by the mundane ecological consequences of capitalist accumulation.31 Through its violent and profit-orientated re-calibration of the world’s ecosystems, capitalism has emerged as one of the most destructive forces in Earth’s history. Its ecological trajectory will cast a long shadow and is the regrettable context in which we must urgently attempt to restore nature through the historically viable ecology of socialism.

Conservation and society

The interrelationships between social form and biodiversity have been poorly understood by many environmentalists and conservationists. In searching for societal causes of extinction they tend to focus on the immediate or proximate causes of biodiversity loss—habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and overharvesting or hunting (usually described by the acronym “HIPPO”, which “population growth” also slips into with Malthusian grace). By presenting such surface trends as the essential “facts”, and with very few exceptions, conservationists gloss over the deeper roots of the extinction crisis that flow from capitalism’s social norms—poverty, inequality, commodification and corporate power. This leaves many placing enormous faith in international legal frameworks such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the seemingly endless reconfigurations of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, despite their litany of missed “targets” for biodiversity preservation. This frustrating and self-defeating trust in mainstream institutions is linked to the evolution and global domination of Western conservation science. Whereas human society is blamed for biodiversity loss, on-the-ground remedies are often guided by scientific biological concepts and purely ecological interpretations of interventions such as habitat management. As the noted conservationist William M Adams has argued, “Most people active in conservation are trained as biologists, yet most of the problems of conservation are to do with people”.32 The atomising traditions of Western science and its rigid academic disciplinary boundaries are partly to blame for this contradiction.

Instead of engaging with its societal context, conservation habitually theorises ecology as if we can “control” for humanity. Through scientific abstraction, attempts are made to isolate an objective world of nature that lies outside of human agency. When humanity does reappear in this mindset, it is usually through the prism of the separate discipline of “human ecology”. Unfortunately, this reductionist “dividing out” of anthropic influence reinforces the perspective that “we” are an aberrant ecological entity. This is partly how misanthropy has developed in the pursuit of biodiversity conservation. Nuances in the relationship between historical social forms and ecology have been overlooked, with humanity itself caricatured as a “disruptive” species. This is a historically inaccurate generalisation from the ecocidal nature of our current capitalist social mode. Popular media descriptions of the “facts” surrounding extinction use the terms “we” and “humanity” as if the entire social history of dominant ruling class ideas and structures were merely the expressions of our collective species being. Prevailing “deep green” narratives often extend this ahistorical misanthropy, picturing humanity as an unwelcome or “unnatural” intervention in the biosphere—akin to a plague, cancer or virus.

In amongst this misanthropic gloom, there have been some important attempts to incorporate societal forces into ecological science. Notable examples include Ruth Patrick’s pioneering mid-20th century work illustrating how river catchment biodiversity reflects both natural and human agencies (the “Patrick Principle”).33 The work of Piers Blaikie and his associates in the 1980s and 1990s explored the perceptions and realities of land degradation from the perspective of social and cultural practices.34 In the important area of agriculture and soils, radical authors such as David R Montgomery and Fred Magdoff have highlighted the socio-ecological roots and impact of capitalist intensive agriculture.35 Within the overall field of biodiversity conservation itself, the emerging school of “convivial conservation” is undoubtedly the most explicit and promising attempt so far to realise a vision of conservation through a critique of the degenerative relationship between capitalism and biodiversity.36

The need for total social overhaul has occasionally been acknowledged in international conservation circles. The 2019 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services correctly identifies the damaging social trends that require rapid and radical correction, euphemistically advocating “transformative change”.37 Unfortunately, many “official” attempts to highlight deeper social impacts are limited to the narrow field of economics.38 As with much of the theoretical work that underpins today’s fashionable “natural capital” concept, such approaches have been embraced in the hope that monetary or quantitative valuation of biodiversity will convince society of its benefits.39 Economic methodologies for biodiversity “valuation” are dominated by the neoclassical and neoliberal schools that have been midwives to the extinction crisis. They are also heavily influenced by Garrett Hardin’s fallacious “tragedy of the commons” hypothesis—itself a masterclass in bourgeois ecological cynicism.40 The uncritical promotion of market-based environmental economics, and its application through biodiversity offsetting, is endangering the core ethic of conservation itself.

Despite their dubious foundations, arguments for the quantification and financialisation of nature are increasingly discharged as polemic against qualitative arguments for protecting biodiversity based on ethics, cultural values, “natural beauty” and “intrinsic worth”. Non-monetary valuations are portrayed as old-fashioned, romantic and idealistic by neoliberal conservationists, consultant ecologists and environmental economists. Unfortunately, the traditional focus of conservation on “charismatic” species and habitats may have facilitated the quantitative audit culture that now seeks to commodify biodiversity. So too have oversimplified messages about the need to recognise the “ecosystem services” provided by wildlife such as pollinating crops, cleaning the air and mitigating human mental distress. Considered merely as “services”, these functions are disaggregated from their wider social and ecological backgrounds. Conservationists’ long-held hopes that wildlife can be saved through a mixture of social ethics, compassionate activism and biological science are being demolished from within by uncritical acceptance of the financialisation of nature.41

Surveying the ‘cene

It is the emerging concept of the Anthropocene that may finally force conservation to validate the central role of social agency in biodiversity.42 Most discussants understandably locate the Anthropocene’s inception within the past half millennium, the era of capitalism. However, our geological signature in the planet’s history appears at a moment contemporaneous with the birth of human civilisation. Advancing archaeological methods keep pushing the dates for the start of humanity’s indelible impression on nature further back into prehistory. At the very least, Earth’s biodiversity patterns and dynamics have been enmeshed within the past 11,000 years of social and cultural history. This longer socio-ecological perspective can enrich our temporal and geographical assessment of human ecology, calling into question the concept of “pristine” wilderness.

The Anthropocene is arguably an inevitable geological consequence of a species that has—through social and cultural evolution and its struggle to “salvage” its own habitat—moved from the object to the subject of ecology.43 Humanity’s leading authorship of the living Earth’s poetry, to borrow Leon Trotsky’s wonderful phrase, has arisen thus through our simultaneous societal dominance of, and dependency upon, nature. This challenging metaphysical contortion has been the subject of philosophical, religious and scientific exploration for millennia. Yet the contradiction and its socio-metabolic tensions can be most fruitfully explored through a materialist and dialectical worldview; we are part of nature but act on it as if external.44

For the entire phase of post-glacial human history, just as we have developed and maintained social reproduction, we have also shaped our increasingly complex “second world within the world of nature”.45 Set against this background of social history’s Anthropocene, a central environmental problem for bourgeois society is revealed. Unlike previous forms of society, the world that capitalism creates within nature is based on intense competition; a rapacious capacity to exploit or displace non-human and other societal ecologies with its own profit-orientated ecological artifice. Irrespective of this suicidal tendency that destroys wider nature—the basis of our required habitat—the bourgeoisie actively seek to shape the contours of our second world within nature in its own narrow interests. It is not “humanity” but rather the ruling capitalist class that is acting as an agent of geological mass extinction: an asteroid elite.46

For conservationists, and anyone else concerned, capitalism’s horrendous rates of biodiversity loss can be disorientating and emotionally debilitating. Over the course of my own adult life in professional conservation, it has proved particularly hard to retain hope in the face of the shocking ecocidal power and pace of neoliberal capitalism; the burning Pantanal wetlands of Brazil are just one illustration that even a global pandemic seems incapable of slowing ecological barbarism.47 Statistics and graphs from metadata studies such as the Living Planet Index indicate a 60 percent decline in global biodiversity since the 1970s, and many field conservationists are falling into despair and depression.48 Ensuing pessimism, and a sense that we are running out of time, can all too readily tip into the advocation of misdirected and authoritarian responses such as “green militarisation”: the “use of military and paramilitary (military-like) actors, techniques, technologies and partnerships in the pursuit of conservation”, for instance, through the militarisation of anti-poaching efforts.49

Socialist ecologists can help deflect such fatalistic and self-defeating political trajectories by generating radical optimism. In the first instance, expanding the time frame for the socio-ecological Anthropocene—both backwards into human history and forwards into ongoing class struggles and socialism—enables us to highlight and explore the many ecological lessons available from our collective history. Critically, we can also acknowledge and learn from the positive biodiversity relations of other social and cultural forms that still exist despite our times. We can promote and support the progressive environmental initiatives that are marginalised under capitalism but would hold enormous potential under a sustainable social form. We can appraise emerging concepts, strategies and initiatives that are well-meaning but suffer from bourgeois contortion, working to develop their class potential. Above all, we can point out that—from the perspective of biodiversity and the biosphere—there is nothing wrong with the Anthropocene; what is wrong is how it is being shaped by capitalism’s malign forces.

Wilderness and protected area conservation

Reintegrating our understanding of biodiversity with its human social component is a critical first step towards reckoning with and resisting the mass extinction event that capitalism has swung into view. From this starting point, socialists can tease out the broad steps necessary to reverse centuries of capitalist ecocide and restore the biosphere, even as humanity’s own development is enhanced. Before discussing the outlines of a socialist ecology, however, we need to examine misguided approaches to defending nature that have emerged under capitalism, if only to critique these approaches and better comprehend the historical baggage that we will carry into a sustainable, socialist Anthropocene.

The task is straightforward for some recent approaches such as “natural capital” and those that suggest “payments for ecosystem services”. These must be rejected because they are specifically designed to reinforce capitalism’s accumulation process. Practically, and often unwittingly, conservationists who promote these approaches are limiting themselves to saving only the nature that capital can “see”, and that will not be a great deal. Politically, efforts to financialise nature are defining the “respectable” neoliberal parameters of biodiversity conservation while sapping science and activism of much needed energy.

The elitism of neoliberal conservation is obvious, and it has deep roots. For over a century, conservation has been dominated by a “protected areas” (PA) approach. Nature reserves, national parks and other spatial designations have been deployed to preserve areas of biodiversity importance. It is possible that the objective situation for biodiversity would have been worse without the 15 percent of Earth’s surface that is under such protection.50 Yet the means and methods of PA establishment have been problematic, and their protective capacity has been far from comprehensive.51 There is an urgent need to critique the PA tradition because many conservationists are advocating that it be applied to an even greater section of the planet’s surface. For example, the celebrated biologist Edward O Wilson advocates a 50:50 split between humanity and nature in his popular “half Earth” argument, with half of the planet designated as a human-free natural reserve.52

The historic character and origins of the PA tactic vary. Some are just remnants of pre-war agricultural land use—for example, those housing most of the remaining 5 percent of Britain’s hay meadows. Having been isolated or removed from market pressures, these patches of socio-ecological history have been saved from destruction through public campaigns, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and empathetic landowners. Their historic character is given insufficient weight, however, and their stewards often fail to realise that their noble efforts to micromanage the sites—through conservation grazing and volunteer labour—are really distorted attempts to recreate pre-war methods of agriculture.

The PAs of highest popular renown are the substantial “wilderness” reserves that were established around the world from the late 19th century onwards. Despite their inspiring natural history, portrayed through modern wildlife documentaries, these are not wholly natural phenomena but the results of political demarcation and the displacement or control of humans within the landscape. From the Soviet Union to the Australian outback, the design of these larger PAs has been informed by the model of North American initiatives such as Yellowstone National Park, and they have often inherited the elitism embedded within this model.53 The fact that US national parks such as Yellowstone were established off the back of the continent’s one-sided “Indian Wars”—and that early land clearances of Indigenous groups and marginalised settlers were policed through decades of military occupation—is acknowledged but seldom dwelt upon.54

In the Global South, many of today’s “wilderness” preserves are derived directly from colonial elitism. The “game parks” of Africa and the tiger sanctuaries of the Indian subcontinent were demarcated by ruling colonial powers who expelled pre-existing populations or criminalised their cultural dependence on biodiversity in order to maintain exclusive hunting and “safari” rights over exotic fauna. Enormous areas of East and Southern Africa were effectively converted into playgrounds for colonial power. The safaris and game-hunting “traditions” that lasted well into the 20th century were racist endeavours in which a handful of European hunters were serviced by literally hundreds of porters and servants. The function of these “native” assistants was to carry the cumbersome trappings of bourgeois life across hundreds of miles of savannah and forest. After a day of relentless wildlife slaughter, safari ­participants could sip gin next to animal corpses and contemplate the European mastery of entire continents. Amazingly, despite their mythological origins and the many thousands of conservation refugees that have been generated over the past century, these PAs are still presented as examples of pristine, pre-human wilderness—a characterisation that is particularly inappropriate in Africa, where humanity has interacted with wildlife and shaped continental ecology since the birth of our species.55

The transatlantic vision of reserve-based biodiversity conservation persists, but today it is driven by large Western-based conservation NGOs and their allies in government who favour PAs because of the profit potentials of wildlife tourism and exclusive hunting. This ongoing process—increasingly associated with international carbon and biodiversity offsetting initiatives such as the United Nation’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme—is counterproductive for biodiversity because it alienates Indigenous communities whose ways of life were previously closely entwined with local ecology.56 Local populations that have been expelled or relocated from reserves are driven to conclude that wildlife is valued more greatly than their livelihoods, and relationships with nature break down as conservation itself is interpreted as a tool of oppression. As their hunter-gathering and farming traditions are relabelled as destructive “poaching” or “slash and burn” practices and they are forced off their ancestral lands, conservation refugees are entitled to conclude that Westerners are still land grabbing even if they are shooting wildlife with cameras rather than with guns.57

The ecological disruption that comes from the exclusion of human communities locks these wilderness reserves into a spiral of scientific administration. Reserve managers, these days utilising complex database software in an echo of industrial managerialism, end up producing countless iterations of five-year “management plans” to conserve biodiversity features that were originally co-dependent on human interaction. The sudden loss of human influence causes ecological disruption that can cascade across the landscape to produce as many losses as gains for biodiversity as organisms and ecosystems adapt to the removal of the human keystone species. For example, the sudden increase in herbivore populations can cause woodland regeneration failures and even trigger distressing incidents of ecological collapse such as the mass mortality of elephants during times of climatic stress in East and Southern Africa. It is at such points of ecosystem adjustment that conservation scientists seek to rectify habitat management problems through the “reintroduction” of non-human keystone species (such as the wolf in Yellowstone) in the hope that charismatic carnivores and other fauna can rehabilitate landscapes to an assumed pre-human ecological balance or “natural state”.

With its emphasis on segregation between humans and wildlife, much Western-influenced conservation lacks empathy towards wider human ecology and largely ignores the socio-ecological forces that have framed global biodiversity patterns. This skin-tone deafness to our biosphere’s total orchestration—to paraphrase Malcolm X—has not merely hidden the cultural and social foundations of Earth’s diverse ecological palette; it has also reinforced cultural elitism and racism.

The dubious assumptions underlying wilderness PAs also result in a weakening of environmental politics. By ignoring the class and cultural elements of habitat manipulation, the relationship between Indigenous populations and biodiversity is underplayed or distorted. Focusing on exclusionary PAs as the chief means of biodiversity protection, Western conservationists have ignored the fact that biodiversity can be just as significant where it is Indigenous communities that are actively conserving it while defending their landscapes against capitalist incursion.58 The reluctance of conservationists to immediately include such culturally managed landscapes within their percentage targets for protected land is inexcusable. Active political support for Indigenous livelihoods through solidarity against corporate and state land-grabbing interests would go a long way towards enhancing biodiversity conservation.

The political and cultural difficulties that plague exclusionary PAs are enough to question their conservation efficacy. However, their ecological viability has also been increasingly undermined by their own scientific assumptions because PAs have been strongly influenced by the erroneous notion of “the balance of nature”. In reality, ecosystems comprise non-linear and dialectical interactions between their components and actors. Habitats are characterised by dynamic processes rather than conditions of steady-state balance. As such, attempts to “manage” the balance of PAs are informed as much by socially constructed aesthetic values as by scientific rigour. Indeed, the concept of “natural balance”—with its emphasis on maintenance of a dehumanised status quo—both reflects and encourages further conservation elitism.

The greatest ecological weaknesses of the PA approach are derived from its reliance on spatial demarcation in wider landscape contexts. Many PAs were originally established as representations of the biodiversity and habitats that could be found across the broader landscape. Having been relatively detached from market forces, however, they have become increasingly isolated ecologically as the land surrounding them has been agriculturally intensified, converted to monoculture, urbanised or fragmented by infrastructure and transport developments. The inability of species to move between PAs across fractured landscapes is a major force behind their collapsing ecosystem functionality. For the Global South, nearly a half century of debt-enforced neoliberal diversion of land towards cash crops, and a corresponding dismantling of peasant agroecology, have boxed in PAs. Across the world, many PAs are in danger of becoming islands of biodiversity as species become unable to move across the wider landscape. Ecological connectivity is collapsing due to habitat destruction, and the resulting isolation threatens to collapse biodiversity inwards through genetic stagnation. The lack of connectivity between PAs also means that these areas themselves may act as prisons for biodiversity under rapid climate change. Unable to alter their geographical or altitudinal ranges and behaviours to adapt to climate change, as they have done for millennia, species are becoming trapped within artificial boundaries. PAs are in danger of becoming culs de sacs of extinction rather than havens of biodiversity.59


As accelerating biodiversity loss leads to collapses in ecological functionality across Earth’s habitats, the resulting trauma is leading some environmentalists to advocate a more dramatic approach towards the extinction crisis. The exciting possibilities of “rewilding” conservation have gained popularity as positive and proactive visions for a world repopulated with locally extinct or endangered species and naturally run ecosystem. These are stimulating antidotes to the managerialism of PAs and the species-targeted efforts that have failed to stem the biodiversity crisis, instead becoming dominated by large NGOs with neoliberal structures and philosophies. In place of attempts to restore biodiversity through human intervention, rewilding advocates call for a relaxation of habitat management regimes such as scrub removal as well as the reintroduction of apex predators like the wolf or significant keystone herbivores such as the beaver.

The prospect of restocking the world with wildlife is exhilarating, particularly after neoliberalism’s heavy toll. However, we need to consider how this approach is shaped by prevailing social conditions if we are to learn lessons from history. As with other environmental philosophies, there are strong and soft varieties of rewilding. Softer versions—which dominate debates in Britain—aim for manipulation or regeneration of the existing farmed landscape. Through reversion of some “marginal” and “unprofitable” farmland to woodland regeneration via tree planting or “natural regeneration”, rewilding conservationists are hoping to reintroduce an (imagined) primeval landscape. The aim is to resuscitate biodiversity in countries that have witnessed significant forest loss and agricultural intensification since human settlement. In tandem with reforestation, reintroductions of large “wild” herbivores such as bison and beaver—species that act as ecosystem engineers—are encouraged in order to maintain the dynamism of these habitats. Where wild species reintroduction is unachievable or unacceptable, “domesticated” replication of their impact is urged through the introduction of small herds of “traditional”, hardy breeds of livestock such as highland cattle and feral species such as konik horses. The hope is that rewilded ecological recovery will encourage habitat diversity and the return of other species that have been lost.60

These restorative approaches have proved to be reasonably successful on small scales. Celebrated cases such as the Britain’s “Knepp experiment”, in which a former arable farm in West Sussex has been allowed to rewild, and the controversial Dutch Oostvaardersplassen initiative have undoubtably enriched local biodiversity.61 Yet their ongoing ecological isolation and dependence on ecotourism are problematic. These soft restorative approaches towards rewilding are romantically painted as the return of Palaeolithic or even primeval ecosystems. However, their restricted geographies (surrounded as they are by fences and biosecurity measures) mean that they are currently more akin to zoos or theme parks. Ecologically, in their reuse of extensive agricultural methods such as wood pasture, their emerging habitats are more feudal than prehistoric.

Stronger and scaled-up versions of rewilding advocate the clearance of human presence and the replacement of less productive “marginal” farming with completely wild ecosystems. This approach is influenced by the case of Chernobyl, where biodiversity has flourished for a generation as humans have been actively excluded from the site after the 1986 nuclear disaster. The advocates of “clearance rewilding” are pushing an extreme model of “land sparing”.62 In land sparing models, the productivity of agricultural land is raised so that other land can be “spared” and turned over to conservation purposes. This approach dovetails with the PA philosophy, in which areas of wildlife and human land use are exclusionary, and it shares many of the same elitist assumptions. The weaknesses of this approach to rewilding stem from a premise that human activities such as agriculture can or should be separated out from “natural” systems. Under that logic, farming of the most favourable agricultural land will need to be intensified—further dismantling landscape ecological connectivity—or food will increasingly need to be created through artificial industrial production, which agribusiness has a growing interest in. The land sparing argument that food should be intensively grown on “productive” land and wildlife should be “grown” on the margins is ahistorical. For example, the sparsely populated Scottish glens may appear ecologically ideal for large scale rewilding and the reintroduction of wolves, beavers and bears. However, the open landscapes that make such species reestablishments seem feasible are the result of the 18th and 19th centuries’ Highland Clearances rather than some natural process of human migration.

Clearance rewilding is coming to the fore partly because of the agricultural crises that have developed under neoliberalism. The naive hope—akin to disaster environmentalism—that such sectoral crises will encourage greater reversion to wilderness through land abandonment ignores the political economy of capitalist land ownership. Under neoliberalism, larger industrial farm units are a far more likely product of agricultural crises than resurgent wilderness. As state subsidies for production are dismantled or reallocated under neoliberal austerity policies, small and medium sized farms are coming under increased pressure from international and domestic market forces.

British rewilding activists may be hoping that the post-Brexit agricultural crisis will likewise release land to nature. There may be some minor biodiversity gains ahead, but the devolved governments’ plans to completely scrap agricultural subsidies from 2030 are more likely to usher in a period of greater monopolisation of landholdings and intensification of farming. In the Global South, pressures to service national debts and the enforced liberalisation of agricultural markets has encouraged extractive commodity production. That has combined with corporate, state and elite land grabbing to accelerate a monopolisation process whereby landholdings are growing and ownership is being concentrated in fewer hands. The agribusiness model of monoculture and intensive pasture is pushing marginal and landless farmers into biodiverse regions such as the rainforests even as it actively destroys biodiversity through capitalist ecology.

Some rewilding arguments focus on extending areas for nature under a land sparing model by encouraging the end of agricultural production on “marginal”, unprofitable agricultural land. For example, Friends of the Earth have campaigned recently for extensive tree-planting schemes on “poor quality” agricultural land in Britain.63 However, the very concept of “marginal” agricultural status is problematic because it is rooted in the prevailing capitalist modes of production wherein profitability is seen as the yardstick of agricultural efficacy. The “sheep-wrecked” hills of upland Wales that journalist George Monbiot targets for rewilding are marginal and unprofitable not because of their ecology, but because of the irrational contortions of capitalist globalisation. It is often cheaper for consumers in Wales to buy lamb imported from New Zealand than to consume meat produced from their own landscape.64

Globally, marginal farms that are presumed to be “inefficient” face threats from market liberalisation, aggressive agribusiness, foreign “aid” and neoliberal NGOs. Yet these farms are precisely those that are still relatively biodiverse because their methods are more extensive and “traditional”. Any push for farming to adopt profit-orientated intensification threatens further destruction of biodiversity as small farmers and peasants are dispossessed through bankruptcy and land grabbing.65 The predictable consequences of market reforms in agriculture have seen enormous waves of protests in India in the first few months of 2021. Ecologically, those millions of small farmers are also effectively striking on behalf of biodiversity.

Rewilding that is based on seemingly apolitical land sparing ideas and judgements of farm “efficiencies” contradict social and environmental justice agendas. The approach makes virtually no contribution towards resistance against privatisation and land theft. Nor is it tied to activism that seeks democratic controls over multinational agribusiness, with its market forces and speculators, or the associated dictates of aid and debt-relief conditionality. Indeed, many emerging rewilding schemes are linked to the rise of dubious neoliberal biodiversity and carbon offsetting schemes across the Global South. Multinational NGOs such as the World Wide Fund for Nature—who have already been embroiled in controversy over human rights abuses in the Congo—are in danger of greenwashing corporate and state actions through participation in elitist land grabbing initiatives that are tied to “offsetting”.66

Whatever the claims and aspirations for rewilding it is still an artificial intervention and, as such, is subject to class influence. Private landowners and wealthy interests are at the forefront of many of today’s celebrated initiatives, and this has led to a distortion of the ecological potential of rewilding. The fetishisation of large and exotic fauna such as top carnivores, and the simplistic “tree planting” narrative that has dominated rewilding discussions, reflects the long-held bourgeois aesthetic prejudice that nature is best appreciated through dramatic spectacle. However, the most objectively important elements of ecosystems and habitats are the less glamorous and hardly perceivable species of bacteria, fungi, algae, micro-organisms and invertebrates (with their equivalent biodiversity in the oceans’ plankton). These components of microecology are the organic bedrocks of all food chains and habitats that cascade upwards from the soil in organism size and complexity. From our perspective, it is important to remember that it is the human relationship with functional soil ecology that has allowed our species to maintain itself up to this point. Conversely, it is the horrendous capitalist abuse of that relationship that is driving our metabolic rift with nature.

A more rational approach towards ecology would see conservationists spend as much time advocating the rewilding of our industrially abused agricultural soils as they do promoting the survival or reintroduction of larger, charismatic species. By looking down the right end of the ecological telescope, rewilding advocates would also be able to better connect with ongoing struggles for social and environmental justice because their arguments could be deployed in defence of existing soil conservation techniques that are rooted in agroecological practices (working with nature rather than against) so that wildlife can once again co-exist with food production under a “land sharing” approach. Larger areas that are needed to provide some protection for megafauna and migratory species could be interpreted as scaled-up examples of land sharing, and convivial relationships with human communities could be encouraged rather than cast aside through the social clearances that are favoured in the fallacious pursuit of “primeval” ecosystems.67

A land sharing and convivial approach would also help conservationists realise their desire for humanity to share our planet with living nature. Wilson’s influential “half Earth” argument is currently offered as a misanthropic land sparing approach of global proportions. Yet the need for our species to share the world with biodiversity is only achievable if we reintegrate humanity with nature from the soil upwards. The only distinctions between human and non-human habitats ought to be their assemblage of higher plants and animals. Under agroecology they will be destined for or dependent on sustainable human consumption; under “nature” they will play their roles in the planet’s wonderful ecological diversity despite human presence.

Despite all its failings, rewilding conservation has done environmentalism a great service by highlighting the regenerative capability of nature. Under favourable social conditions, biodiversity—except where species become extinct—can recover from environmental degradation. All such optimism is dependent on a radical, revolutionary shift in society’s metabolism. Capitalism is simply not fit for that purpose. Socialist ecology holds the key to a rewilded Anthropocene.

Conclusion: Rewilding the socialist Anthropocene

Humanity determines its unique impact on the biosphere through social form; we tailor the conditions to which biodiversity must adapt for good or ill. Within half a million years, the geological blink of an eye, our species has moved from the animal state where habitat is an implicit “given”, to the condition whereby our supporting ecology is explicitly carved or “salvaged” from nature.68 Pre-capitalist societies engaged in social reproduction and manipulated nature to those ends, but—as innovative as they were—they could not predict the consequences of their ecological impact beyond their embedded cultural parameters. Capitalist society, in the very act of creating a metabolic rift with nature, is the social form that has come closest to scientifically understanding the biosphere. In that respect it is the first human social form that knowingly manipulates nature to its overall detriment in the broad pursuit of ruling-class goals: profit and elite privilege. The political implications of that central social trait are now clear. Capitalism is actively engineering a dead-ended version of the Anthropocene that, should it be allowed to continue, will weigh like a nightmare on the lives of present and future generations as we attempt social reproduction in the fading light.

The route towards the desired open-ended Anthropocene lies through fully formed socialism. Unfortunately, much of the world that we take for granted today will have been ecologically undermined by the time humanity finally embarks on that project. Human reordering of the biosphere has been going on for millennia but the shift towards systemic ecocide and mass extinction is unique to bourgeois society. It will only accelerate under the rapid climate change that capitalism has likewise manifested. To heal our metabolic rift, we will be faced with no option but to continue reshaping our habitat in order to restore the biosphere following half a millennium of capitalist socio-ecological malaise. Socialist humanity will need to reorder the biosphere through ecological planning as it seeks to secure social material needs under a strategy of nature recovery. Between our moment in history and then, broad and unpredictable environmental hurdles will reveal themselves as we strive towards a viable mode of social reproduction. Although it may not be possible to predict their exact nature, we can be confident that these challenges will require internationalism, intergenerational planning and democratic coordination—the very antitheses of capitalism’s social norms.

What we can predict is that the longer capitalism continues, the further its shadow of ecological dysfunction will extend, the more biodiversity will be lost to extinction, and the more complicated and unpredictable ecological restoration will become. If we arm ourselves today with radical visions for biodiversity conservation—socio-ecological rewilding through agroecology, land sharing and convivial conservation—we have a stronger chance of sowing the necessary seeds for biodiversity restoration into the cracks of today’s ecocidal society. These humane strategies also hold greater promise for application during revolutionary change because they are connected to grassroots struggle for sustainable livelihoods. As such, they also have greater potential to assist in the deployment of the rational and democratic food chain that would be needed to meet the material requirements of a successful working-class revolution.

The socialist potential of today’s Western-dominated global conservation movement, however, is unclear. Saturated with over a century of bourgeois hegemony, and increasingly infused with the neoliberal agenda of biodiversity financialisation, conservation needs a radical overhaul. At an objective level, the conservation ethic could be interpreted as anti-capitalist, but so long as the societal requirements for biodiversity are poorly understood, concepts such as “natural state” will remain influenced by elitist and racist assumptions. Interpretations and scientific responses to biodiversity loss will be shaped in similar ways.

In response, we must make the goal of a convivial Anthropocene central to socialist ecological strategies by lifting the fight for biodiversity into class struggles and solidarity.69 Under capitalism it is hard enough for the working class and other exploited groups to compete with elite power. It will prove virtually impossible for Earth’s biodiversity to do so without its interdependent sections of humanity—Indigenous groups, peasants, progressive farmers and fishers, radical conservationists and the working class—struggling in unity. Solidarity between these groups is likewise central to ongoing environmental campaigns against roads, dams, fracking and pollution.70

Rewilding initiatives, even where distorted today by profit, are testament to the vitality and resilience of living nature. In that context, the significant and emerging possibilities of rewilding will come into their own through socialism.71 Combined with a democratised science of “restoration ecology” (currently used to “repair” industrially ravaged landscapes) and biodiversity’s own response to the changing biosphere, rewilding has the potential to assist humanity in the three major areas of nature interaction that will dominate the post-capitalist world.72 Firstly, in relation to our need to exploit nature for sustenance and shelter, rewilding applied through land sharing agroecology and sustainable fisheries can help to bridge and abolish the metabolic rift. Secondly, socialist rewilding will assist society’s recovery from capitalism’s barbarism. We will be able to utilise rewilding for “nature-based solutions” towards climate change and other ecological issues, and biodiversity itself will return to its historic function as an ally of human society—albeit on an explicitly scientific footing. Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, socialist rewilding will replenish humanity’s cultural palette of nature valuation. In the context of ecological sustainability, landscapes and seascapes will be conceived by democratic means to enhance societal aesthetics and the arts. Rewilding through socialist ecology will help us develop a civilisation that maintains its social reproduction through democratic oversight of our dynamic interrelationships with nature rather than some fantasy of natural balance. We will gain the ability and right to learn from our inevitable ecological mistakes even as we rewild our ecology and render Earth habitable.

Ian Rappel is a conservation ecologist and member of the Socialist Workers Party.


1 Davis, 2020; Amos, 2020. This article is the culmination of many years of thought and activism, and the multitudes (human and non-human) that have inspired me along the way. For specific comments, advice and encouragement, I thank Joseph Choonara, Richard Donnelly, Martin Empson, Guy Freeman, John Molyneux, Jess Spear, Sian Sullivan, Colin Tudge and Sarah Woodcock.

2 Andermann and others, 2020; Stephens, Ellis and Fuller, 2020.

3 Wells, 2010; Ashton, 2017; Stephens, Ellis and Fuller, 2020.

4 A “keystone” species is one whose biology shapes wider biodiversity. The loss or reintroduction of a keystone species can impact ecosystems significantly. For example, the reintroduction of the wolf to the Yellowstone National Park in the United States enhanced habitat diversity through impacts on deer behaviour and numbers.

5 Empson, 2014; Trow-Smith, 1953.

6 From Karl Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte—see Marx and Engels 2014, p85.

7 Marx and Engels, 2014, p3.

8 Stephens, Ellis and Fuller, 2020.

9 Cicero, 1933, p271.

10 Williams, 2006.

11 Harman, 2008; Williams, 2006; Tow-Smith, 1953; Mazoyer and Roudart, 2006.

12 “Natural” succession is the term used to describe changes in vegetation composition over ecological time, culminating in a “climax” habitat type that is determined by climate and geography—broadleaf woodland in the Britain. Succession is often interrupted by external forces to create a range of alternative habitats.

13 Newton, 2017.

14 Ausden, 2007.

15 Birdlife International, 2017.

16 Blaikie and Brookfield, 1987.

17 Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, 2021.

18 Newton, 2017, p7-8.

19 Shillington, 2012; Harman, 2008; Galeano, 2010; Miller, 2007.

20 Hemming, 2008; Brown, 1991. Indian agents were US state officials empowered to interact with Native American leaders.

21 The legal doctrine of “terra nullius”, under which land can be claimed due to its supposed uninhabitedness, continues to legitimate the dispossession of Indigenous people in settler-colonial states such as Canada, the United States and Australia. See the article by Brian Champ and Michelle Robidoux elsewhere in this issue.

22 Bower, 2020; Geggel, 2020.

23 Bates, 2009; Wulf, 2015.

24 Cronon, 1983; Mann, 2011.

25 Abulafia, 2008.

26 Clay, 2004; Kemp and others, 2020.

27 Agroecology concerns how ecological systems and agricultural practices interact.

28 Carney, 2004 and 2020; Penniman, 2018.

29 Foster, Clark and York, 2010. The term “metabolic rift” refers to Marx’s theorisation of a rupture in the metabolic interaction between humanity and the rest of nature created by capitalist agricultural production and the growing division between town and country.

30 Gammans and others, 2018.

31 Rappel, 2015.

32 Adams, 2007, p275.

33 See Bott and Sweeney, 2014.

34 Blaikie and Brookfield, 1987.

35 Montgomery, 2012; Magdoff, Foster and Buttel, 2000.

36 This approach is “built on a rejection of both nature-people dichotomies and a capitalist economic system demanding continual growth via intensified consumerism”—Büscher and Fletcher, 2020, p9. The term “convivial” is being used here in its etymologically orginal sense of “living with”, that is, humans and nature living with one another. See also the “CONVIVA: convivial conservation research project”—

38 Jones, 2014; Dasgupta, 2021.

39 Proponents of the natural capital approach propose assigning monetary values to biodiversity, ecology and nature in order to overcome capitalism’s failure to reflect the environmental costs in the prices of commodities. I have put forward a detailed critique of natural capital in a previous issue of this journal—see Rappel, 2018.

40 Hardin argues that the sharing of a resource such as a pasture or the ocean will result in its depletion because none of the individuals who use it have an interest in restricting their own consumption of it. This argument is used as a legitimation of the privatisation of communal resources. For a response to this theory, see Rappel, 2018.

41 Apostolopoulou, Greco and Williams, 2018, O’Neill, 2020. See also See Sian Sullivan’s website—

42 Corlett, 2015; Angus, 2016; Lewis and Maslin, 2018; Royle, 2016.

43 Berger, 2005, p72.

44 Tallis, 2011.

45 Cicero, 1933, p271.

46 The last episode of mass extinction took place 65 million years ago, ending the dinosaurs’ reign, when an asteroid hit Earth in modern-day Mexico (Brusatte, 2018). Neoliberalism’s brutal recalibration of the planet’s ecology in the narrow interests of the ruling class carries a similar geological impact.

47 Einhorn and others, 2020.

49 Lunstrum, 2014, p817.

50 Dudley and Stolton, 2020.

51 Kashwan, 2017, p148.

52 Wilson, 2016.

53 Brockington and others, 2008.

55 Adams and McShane, 1992.

56 For critiques of REDD, see

57 Dowie, 2009.

58 Schuster and others, 2019.

59 Lovejoy and Hannah, 2019.

60 Macdonald, 2020; Monbiot, 2014.

61 Tree, 2019; Kolbert, 2012.

62 Grass and others, 2019.

64 Monbiot, 2014.

65 Urhahn, 2020.

66 Baker and Warren, 2017.

67 Büscher and Fletcher, 2020.

68 Berger, 2005.

69 Ensor, 2019.

70&#9#9;Rappel, 2019.

71 The specific attention towards environmental issues in the context of socialism is described as “ecosocialism” by some on the left. See Molyneux and Spear, 2020.

72 Falk, Palmer and Zedler, 2006; Thomas, 2017.


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