Many of us generally fall into two camps regarding environmental issues; we either believe the prognosis of impending ecological doom unless we change our lives to avert it; or we feel that the technological genius of human beings and the kindness of a benevolent creator will save us without drastic change to our lives—lives most of us in the West enjoy very much as they are and as they are becoming.
This is a book review of a book by someone who believes in the former, by someone who accepts the latter, making a good read.
“James Gustave “Gus” Speth is the consummate environmental insider. For over thirty years he has played a key role in the development of environmentalist organizations and agendas. He was present at the founding of the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970 and later launched the World Resources Institute, a $27 million enterprise that may be the most influential environmental think tank in the world. He served on, and eventually chaired, President Carter’s Council on Environmental Quality, where he oversaw production of the apocalyptic Global 2000 report. During the 1990s he worked on President Clinton’s transition team and headed up the United Nations Development Program, and he is now dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
“His prominence within the environmental establishment means that when Gus Speth speaks, environmentalists listen. He is not only an academic dean but, in many respects, the dean of contemporary environmental thinkers. Like others, he advocates ambitious and far-reaching environmental programs; unlike many, he has held positions in which to make such things happen. Few with his green bona fides have his currency in the halls of power or connections with global leaders. Yet like so many celebrated environmental thinkers, he lacks a clear or compelling vision of how to reconcile contemporary civilization with the need for environmental protection.
“In The Bridge at the Edge of the World, Speth argues that all the environmental progress of the past thirty to forty years may be for naught, as an environmental crisis of global proportions is still with us. The resource shortfalls and ecological ruin predicted by the Global 2000 report may not have come to pass on schedule, but they are imminent nonetheless. Thus, he seeks radical change to our economic, political, and social systems. “The end of the world as we have known it” is inevitable; the only question is whether we will suffer planetary ruin or a radically transformed civilization. Speth’s hope is to point the way to the latter course.”