America today faces unprecedented economic and environmental crises that demand urgent action, yet at almost every turn our leaders and our institutions are failing to act. Join renowned environmental leader James Gustave Speth (America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy) and ecological economist Rob Dietz (Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resource) in an online conversation about our broken economic and political systems — and what we can do to fix them. Hosted by Post Carbon Institute Executive Director Asher Miller.
James Gustave Speth joined the faculty of the Vermont Law School as Professor of Law in 2010. He also serves as Distinguished Senior Fellow at both Demos and the United Nations Foundation.
In 2009 he completed his decade-long tenure as Dean, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. From 1993 to 1999, Gus Speth was 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 Institute; professor of law at Georgetown University; chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (Carter Administration); and senior attorney and cofounder, Natural Resources Defense Council. Throughout his career, Speth has provided leadership and entrepreneurial initiatives to many task forces and committees whose roles have been to combat environmental degradation and promote sustainable development, 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, Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Environmental Law Institute and the League of Conservation Voters, and the Blue Planet Prize. He holds honorary degrees from Clark University, the College of the Atlantic, the Vermont Law School, Middlebury College, the University of South Carolina, and Green Mountain College. He is the author, co-author or editor of seven books including the award-winning The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability and Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment. His latest book is America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, published by Yale Press in September 2012.
Professor Speth currently serves on the boards of the Natural Resources Defense Council, New Economics Institute, New Economy Network, Center for a New American Dream, Climate Reality Project, and the Institute for Sustainable Communities.
He graduated from Yale University in 1964 with a BA in Political Science, and subsequently earned an M.Litt. in Economics from Oxford University in 1966 as a Rhodes Scholar and his JD from the Yale Law School in 1969. After law school, he served as lawclerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black.
Rob Dietz unwittingly discovered the recipe for understanding the limits to growth. Start with a suspicion that there’s something rotten at the core of consumer culture. Simmer that suspicion in four years of formal education in environmental science. Add a bachelor degree’s worth of study in economics, and stir in just a dash of doubt about the validity of the mainstream economic viewpoint.
Set aside those initial ingredients for the time being, and get to work combining a series of career moves. Begin with several years as an economic analyst at consulting firms in Washington, D.C., culminating in an overwhelming desire to get back to the basics of science. Add in a graduate degree in environmental science and engineering, including studies in geography and biology. Stir vigorously with a governmental stint (starting as a Presidential Management Fellow) at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey. While stirring, be sure to add plenty of influential readings from authors like David Orr, Donella Meadows, and Herman Daly. Don’t forget to sprinkle in facts about species extinctions, climate change, and other environmental calamities as documented in countless articles from peer-reviewed scientific journals. Slow-cook all these ingredients in one brain, especially a brain that craves a strong balance between work and play, and you’ll see why the pursuit of infinite economic growth on a finite planet is a bad idea.
What to do once you’ve followed such a recipe? Rob’s first response was to freak out. He got a little grouchy. Then he got a lot sarcastic. Then when people stopped wanting to be around him, he took some more constructive steps.
First, he took a couple of deep breaths. Then, with his wife and young daughter, he moved to an aspiring ecovillage in Corvallis, Oregon. The idea was to try to live the good life in a community that strives to leave light footprints. Next, he became the first executive director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, a nonprofit organization that promotes a prosperous, yet nongrowing economy. He served in that role for four years, before taking a crack at making it as a writer. Enough Is Enough is his first book.