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: What does an environmental citizen look like?
Gus Speth: Well, I think we have to make personal statements ourselves. In my case, we bought two hybrids. We bought a solar affordable tank unit, a three kilowatt unit for our electricity. We have tried to recycle, we go on the internet and offset our carbon emissions, and that's all good. And I wish everyone would. But the truth is that my wife and I have two decent salaries which we spend most of, and have a very large environmental footprint, regardless of-- among other things, we eat out a lot. It turns out that restaurants and eating out are a real problem environmentally in terms of their impact. Food is a big issue for anybody who is concerned about the environment. For example, it takes 1,300 gallons of water to make a hamburger. If you look at the whole agriculture food chain on average today, that's what's going on, and maybe 90 gallons of water to make a cup of coffee. A kilogram of beef has the environmental impact in terms of pollution, including greenhouse gas pollution, of driving an average car for three hours while you leave all the lights in your house on for those three hours. So, you know, there's huge impacts even after we clean up our acts individually, okay, which is another way of saying that, yes, it's important that we do the right things personally. It'll save our souls and help the environment at the same time, but it's also very important that we become engaged politically to make these changes. So, if I were a young person today for example, I would, you know, rather than go directly into the environmental movement itself or the environmental community itself, personally, this is a very personal preference, I think I'd start working on political reform issues. Because I don't think we're going to solve any of these problems with today's politics. It's just incapable, it's so under the thumb of powerful interest and is so screwed up in term of the process from electing the president right on down, that until it's changed, we won't make the big changes that we need to make. And there's an additional issue here. The studies are showing that this split in the country between the rich and the poor is also being translated into additional excess in power on the part of the rich in the political process. So, the very democratic process that is suppose to help equal things out in society is being eroded and you get this vicious cycle where, you know, we're losing ground socially, but that social inequality is affecting the political inequality. And the political inequality then cannot correct the social inequality. And we have a problem with an erosion of democratic governance and popular control in our country.