The Political Economy of Half-Earth

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1752 ... January 30, 2019

The Political Economy of Half-Earth

Troy Vettese

That the "extermination, enslavement, and entombment of the aboriginal population in mines […and] the transformation of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black skin" was essential to capitalism’s emergence has long been recognized. Few, however, realise that capitalism has been changing the climate since its "rosy dawn."

An estimated sixty million indigenous people lived in the Americas in 1492, but by the mid-seventeenth century only six million remained due to genocide, epidemics, enslavement, and war. Over four centuries twelve million West Africans were sent along Middle Passage in shark-trailed ships, though only ten million survived the voyage. The ecological implications were equally dramatic. Millions of hectares of cropland were left fallow by New World... and West African farmers, allowing forests to invade abandoned fields.

These tragedies were intertwined. Mass death in the New World catalysed the trans-Atlantic slave trade, a profitable business that would undergo three centuries of expansion. As early as 1516, Bartolomé de las Casas advocated the enslavement of Africans so he could liberate indigenous peoples from the Spanish yoke. By the time the English had settled Barbados in 1627, they had already adopted much of Spain’s novel racialized caste-system. Within four decades, the majority of Barbados’ population were Black slaves and the tiny island had become England’s most lucrative and most populous colony in the New World. The profitability of the Barbadian system led to its proliferation across the Caribbean Sea, increasing demand for slaves.

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