Gus Speth
Dean, Yale School of Forestry & Environ. Studies; Author
02:37

Dean Gus Speth on the Environmental Movement

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Learning how to swim with the current, not always against it.

Gus Speth

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.

Transcript

Question: What is missing from the environmental movement?

Gus Speth: Well, you have to start with this paradox. The paradox is that we've got stronger, more sophisticated and the environment kept going downhill. And so you ask why has that happened. The things that we've been doing, have to do with raising public awareness about issues, developing really interesting well thought out proposals for dealing with these issues, lobbying to get them enacted into law, litigating to get the law effectively carried forward. So this is really working within the system. This says that the system will deliver. If we try hard enough, we work within the system, things will be fine, we'll eventually succeed. We're swimming upstream, but we'll get stronger and we'll prevail against the current. Turns out, that's not what's happened. We've certainly made some big improvements. The world would be a much more threatening place than it is today even without this environmental movement, so to speak. But we haven't succeeded, by and large, is my conclusion. And so you have to say, well, then we're up against a system that's condemning us to losing. We're playing a loser’s game and we have to ask, then, don't we need to challenge the system? Rather than always swimming upstream against that current, don't we need to ask what's making that current get stronger and stronger as we get stronger and stronger, so we're not making real progress, we're drifting away. And the system that we're operating in, in my book, I refer to, you know, put the label on it, it's today's capitalism. It's capitalism as we know it today. And we are not-- I think we are fundamentally incapable of prevailing against that system, so we need to change the system. Clearly, we don't try to find a socialist alternative to today's capitalism, but we do need to look for a non-socialist alternative to the capitalism that we have today. And the book is really an exploration of that alternative.

Recorded: 3/23/08

 

 


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