Humans interact with our environment in a fundamentally different way from all other species: we are the only species on Earth capable of achieving a deeper understanding of our world through scientific discovery; and from these discoveries, we are able to transform and utilize the resources available to us. Nothing in nature is static, but as humans, our means of sustaining life—and the means of all human achievement above the subsistence level—has a much more rapid rate of change compared to that of other animals. These concepts are fundamental to scientific socialism. As Friedrich Engels wrote in Dialectics of Nature:1
“In the most advanced industrial countries we have subdued the forces of nature and pressed them into the service of mankind; we have thereby infinitely multiplied production, so that a child now produces more than a hundred adults previously did. And what is the result? Increasing overwork and increasing misery of the masses, and every ten years a great collapse. Darwin did not know what a bitter satire he wrote on mankind, and especially on his countrymen, when he showed that free competition, the struggle for existence, which the economists celebrate as the highest historical achievement, is the normal state of the animal kingdom. Only conscious organisation of social production, in which production and distribution are carried on in a planned way, can lift mankind above the rest of the animal world as regards the social aspect, in the same way that production in general has done this for men in their aspect as species. Historical evolution makes such an organisation daily more indispensable, but also with every day more possible. From it will date a new epoch of history, in which mankind itself, and with mankind all branches of its activity, and especially natural science, will experience an advance that will put everything preceding it in the deepest shade.”
As in many of his writings, in Dialectics of Nature, Engels connects socialist theory to the history and philosophy of science. This perspective is more relevant than ever in the twenty-first century: a scientific, historical materialist basis for the implementation of a rationally planned economy is the only way out of the environmental and economic crises of today.
In our time, we are facing a natural limit in our means of energy production and consumption: we know that we must move beyond the combustion of fossil fuels as our primary energy source. The response to this fact is not to curb or stop consuming energy, reducing the standards of living of people worldwide. Not only is this fundamentally anti-human and anti-life, it reinforces the misconception that the combustion of fossil fuels is synonymous with energy production; rather, energy is something far more fundamental to our physical experience in the world. The rational response is to develop a new energy source, founded in our scientific knowledge.
Our lives on Earth depend on fusion reactions taking place within the Sun’s core. In our time, the development of fusion energy technology here on Earth is the vanguard of scientific accomplishment. Fusion energy has many advantages in terms of economics, environmental protection, safety, and international relations. It would provide a virtually limitless energy supply without releasing greenhouse gases or producing an abundance of dangerous radioactive waste products. As opposed to fission energy reactions, nuclear fusion reactions use a much smaller quantity of the elements involved and meltdown is impossible. Additionally, largely replacing the combustion of fossil fuels with fusion energy would relinquish the power that oil monopolies exert through their control over the world’s oil, which has been and continues to be an impetus for imperialist wars.
Currently, a large-scale international effort to develop fusion energy technology is underway. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is a collaborative project between the European Union, the United States, Russia, China, India, Korea, and Japan located in the south of France. Each member contributes both funding and physical components of the reactor. The aim of the ITER project is to initiate a nuclear fusion reaction between two light elements, the isotopes of hydrogen deuterium and tritium, by heating them to an extremely high temperature, creating a “burning plasma.” The fusion reaction between deuterium and tritium yields helium and a neutron. The neutron collides with the walls of the tokamak (the vessel used to contain the plasma, which is confined using powerful magnetic fields), transforming its kinetic energy to heat, which converts water into steam. If the experimentation at ITER and similar projects is successful, this process will be used to generate electricity.2
The Center for Political Innovation proposes the establishment of an international project to develop fusion energy in the United States. An international community, “Fusion City” would crop up around this nuclear fusion facility, creating a prosperous community with a variety of job opportunities. ITER, the current international effort to develop fusion energy, is a valuable precedent for us to study in our efforts to establish Fusion City in the United States. We know that international collaboration to develop fusion energy is feasible because it is already happening; however, considering the situation we are in today, we ought to invest more in developing this technology, collaborate with more nations of the world, and begin building the infrastructure for fusion energy development in the United States.
The timeline for ITER and similar projects is decades long. Though it cannot be denied that such an incredibly complex project will necessarily take time to complete, scientific research would be accelerated in the context of a rationally planned economy in which resources can be more effectively directed towards projects that serve the interests of humanity. The pessimistic attitude that large-scale, international efforts to develop fusion energy are too difficult, too expensive, too cumbersome to manage, and coming too late to solve the problems we are facing, is a manifestation of the Malthusian perspective of the current political establishment and the anti-collaborative, weapons development and national security-oriented motivations underlying scientific research today.
Technological progress in itself does not threaten the safety of humanity; it depends on how the technology is used. The enormous amount of energy released in a nuclear reaction can be utilized for creation or destruction; therefore, an international effort for research, with the aim of fusion energy development and subsequently, widespread production is necessary. The anarchistic nature of production inherent to a capitalistic economy hinders human progress. Only through the implementation of a rationally planned economy and cooperation on a global scale can progress in the development of fusion energy technology be realized to its full potential in our time.