James Gustave "Gus" Speth, is the Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. Dean of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and Sara Shallenberger Brown Professor in the Practice of Environmental Policy
From 1993 to 1999, Dean Speth served as administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and chair of the UN Development Group. Prior to his service at the UN, he was founder and president of the World Resources Insti-tute; professor of law at Georgetown University; chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality; and senior attorney and cofounder, Natural Resources Defense Council.
Throughout his career, Dean Speth has provided leadership and entrepreneurial initiatives to many task forces and committees whose roles have been to combat environmental degradation, including the President’s Task Force on Global Resources and Environment; the Western Hemisphere Dialogue on Environment and Development; and the National Commission on the Environment. Among his awards are the National Wildlife Federation’s Resources Defense Award, the Natural Resources Council of America’s Barbara Swain Award of Honor, a 1997 Special Recognition Award from the Society for International Development, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Environmental Law Institute, and the Blue Planet Prize. Publications include The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment; Worlds Apart: Globalization and the Environment; and articles in Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, Environmental Science and Technology, the Columbia Journal World of Business, and other journals and books.
Question: Is climate change a human-rights issue?
Gus Speth: In so many respects climate changes is a human rights issue. In the biggest sense imagine-- remember what Amartya Sen, a famous economist said of development, you know, basically, "Development is freedom." By which he meant that as societies developed, if they did it properly they created new options for people. They opened horizon. They gave people more choices and more alternatives in life to realize their own potential. If we're moving into a world of rapid and destructive climate change, with sea level rises, and heat waves, and flooding, and spread of diseases and all of the other things that climate change could bring; enormous destabilization, vast numbers of ecological refugees, tremendous loss of production from natural areas and farms. If that's the world that we're going into, what we would see is a closing down of options for today's young people and our grandchildren. Where so much of life's energy and political energy is going to be spent defensively dealing with all of these problems that we didn't have to have. And options are narrowing. And in that broad sense it was sort of a reversal of Amartya Sen's vision of development as freedom. It's a curtailment of freedom on the gigantic human scale. Of course, there are many other issues that link into human rights issues. You know, if the Inuit today are losing their livelihoods and their villages, as they are in Alaska, if whole societies are being wiped out on some–- on islands as they are flooded, if societies are destabilized as a, you know, there's a exacerbation of this-- of a problem of cultural sustainability and cultural survival as real human rights issues of that type also.