The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability

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Overview

How serious are the threats to our environment? Here is one measure of the problem: if we continue to do exactly what we are doing, with no growth in the human population or the world economy, the world in the latter part of this century will be unfit to live in. Of course human activities are not holding at current levels—they are accelerating, dramatically—and so, too, is the pace of climate disruption, biotic impoverishment, and toxification. In this book Gus Speth, author of Red Sky at Morning and a widely respected environmentalist, begins with the observation that the environmental community has grown in strength and sophistication, but the environment has continued to decline, to the point that we are now at the edge of catastrophe.

Speth contends that this situation is a severe indictment of the economic and political system we call modern capitalism. Our vital task is now to change the operating instructions for today’s destructive world economy before it is too late. The book is about how to do that.

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Editorial Reviews

Planet News

The Bridge at the Edge of the World may be the most concise analysis of the current state of the natural world and what might be done about it."—Brooke Williams, Planet News

— Brooke Williams

Booklist

"Acclaimed environmentalist Speth asserts that our capitalist economy, with its emphasis on continuous robust growth, is at loggerheads with the environment. He minces no words as he writes that to destroy life as we know it, all we have to do is 'keep doing exactly what we are doing today.'"—Booklist
Hartford Courant

"What is needed, Speth argues, is a radical change in the economic sysytem that takes into account the environmental costs of doing buisiness and refocuses society on building more sustainable ways of living."—David Funkhouser, Hartford Courant

— David Funkhouser

Washington Post Book World

"Contemporary capitalism and a habitable planet cannot coexist. . . . This book is an extremely probing and thoughtful diagnosis of the root causes of planetary distress."—Ross Gelbspan, Washington Post Book World

— Ross Gelbspan

Chicago Tribune

"With candor, cadence and clarity, Speth presents a compelling case for prompt action, making this book a must-read. . . . Like an evangelist, Speth draws not just on facts, but anecdotes, quotes, even poetry to make his point."—Le-Min Lim, Chicago Tribune

— Le-Min Lim

Bloomberg News

“With candor, cadence and clarity, Speth presents a compelling case for prompt action, making this book a must-read on the subject.”—Bloomberg News

The Futurist

“Are these solutions hopelessly idealistic and impossible to achieve? Speth’s passionate argument is convincing—it can be done, but it will require a great deal of effort.”—The Futurist

The Nation

“His call for a radical departure for the [environmental] movement’s current strategy comes from the ultimate environmental insider”—The Nation

Bioscience

“Speth’s indictment of the present state of our politics is precise and perceptive. . . . He urges a bold and broad agenda for systemic changes.”—Bioscience
Montreal Gazette

"In his severe indictment of our stewardship of the planet, Speth says all we need to do to destroy the Earth is to continue what we're doing now: overproduce and overconsume. He presents a scary compendium of all the damage we have inflicted. . . . But he's smart enough to know that if the market economy is a big part of the problem, it has to be a big part of the solution. . . . The book is a wide-ranging synthesis of many ideas in the realms of economics, politics, and ecology, and calls for some profound changes in the way the economy and political institutions are governed."—Peter Hadekel, Montreal Gazette

— Peter Hadekel

Boston Globe

Selected as a Top 5 Environment Book in New England by the Boston Globe

— Top 5 Environment Book in New England

New Leader

"Speth lays out the scientific consensus about climate change and ecological stress with authority. Global warming, he notes, has a terrible momentum. . . . [This book] is an excellent quick survey of global climate and ecological management at present. . . . [Speth's] aim is to improve the quality of life, foster social solidarity, and restore our connectedness to nature by making corporations accountable to society at large."—Brian Thomas, New Leader

— Brian Thomas

buzzflash.com

"James Gustave Speth, wrote the book The Bridge at the Edge of the World because he's worried about our future and he's right. We should all be very worried. . . . This book, both for it's brilliant articulation of the worlds' current system and, as Speth calls it, the 'crisis of capitalism,' is an important addition to your bookshelf. And it's sufficiently easy to read and accessible that it's a great gift for just about anybody!"—Thom Hartmann, buzzflash.com

— Thom Hartmann

OnEarth Magazine (NRDC)

"Speth pulls no punches. He offers a sharp, sometimes lacerating critique of the movement he helped establish, saying it has become swamped under 'environmental impact statements' and 'total maximum daily load' regulations. . . . His solution is to forge a new 'environmental political movement,' in which initiatives in human rights, social justice, politics, and the enviroment all work toward the same goal: a healthy planet that can fulfill the needs of all humanity. . . . [Speth says] 'the environmental community needs to become a political reform group.' It's a call we're hearing with increasing frequency, but this time it comes from a uniquely authoritative voice."—Molly Webster, onearth Magazine (NRDC)

— Molly Webster

Monthly Review

"Speth has emerged as a devastating critic of capitalism's destruction of the environment. In this radical rethinking, he has chosen to confront the full perils brought on by the present economic system, with its pursuit of growth and accumulation at any cost. . . . The crucial problem from an environmental perspective, he believes, is exponential economic growth."—John J. Simon, Monthly Review

— John J. Simon

Gristmill

"Speth's well-reasoned call for a new environmental movement, for a new movement in which environmental issues are central, is a welcome and much-needed contribution, particularly for the climate and environmental movements. . . . Speth writes approvingly of a govenment-regulated market economy, one in which environmental impacts and the 'polluter pays' principle would be paramount, essentially a form of environmental social democracy. . . . And we are fortunate that 'ultimate insider' Gus Speth will continue to help lead us as we build towards the Environmental Revolution which must occur."—Ted Glick, Gristmill

— Ted Glick

The Washington Post Writers Group

"Speth laments the tortuously slow pace of environmental activism in the face of the near-calamitous decline of species, soils, forests and oceans, and the dangerous advance of global warming. . . . But the challenges are too grave to wait for a new president. Speth's book makes it abundantly clear: Start ourselves, while (hopefully) there's still time."—Neal Peirce, The Washington Post Writers Group

— Neal Peirce

Tikkun

"Speth understands that America's addiction to growth must be challenged, and that we need to learn to recognize what is 'enough'. In recognizing that what environmentalism needs most is the forging of a new consciousness, Speth's book becomes a powerful support to our Network of Spiritual Progressives—indispensable reading!"—Tikkun

Seventh Generation

"A great book that everyone concerned with the fate of the world must read. . . . The book is deeply thoughtful, thoroughly researched, and a pleasure to read."—Seventh Generation
Orion

“If America can be said to have a distinguished elder statesman of environmental policy, Speth is it. . . . He is after bigger game—the Wal-Martization of America, our slavish devotion to an ever-expanding gross domestic product, the utter failure of what [he] disparagingly calls ‘modern capitalism’ to create a sustainable world. What is needed, Speth believes, is not simply a tax on greenhouse gas emissions, but ‘a new operating system’ for the modern world.”—Orion

YBP Library Services

A 2008 Top Seller in Environmental Sciences as compiled by YBP Library Services

Wall Street Journal

"A highly respected environmental leader, Speth has come to the conclusion that our capitalist market economy depends on growth in material production at levels that cannot continue without destroying the earth's natural support system. His book makes a strong case for redefining the aims of the economy; but the path forward, especially as developing nations aspire to Western standards of living, is far from clear. He believes the environmental movement as well as the government is failing to lead the way to essential change."—Leslie Carothers, Wall Street Journal

— Leslie Carothers

Utne Reader

"Speth's passion for the environment and his unyielding desire to save our planet from destruction leads him to a conclusion that is slowly becoming more prevalent in the mainstream movement . . . a citizen-led movement that reimagines our current economy and state of mind in favor of environmental sustainability."—Chelsey Perkins, Utne Reader

— Chelsey Perkins

Science Books & Films

"Speth provides both specifics of what is wrong and a strong argument for change and then suggests some mechanisms to begin to get there."—Paul R. Cooley, Science Books & Films

— Paul R. Cooley

Environment

"A passionate and incisive call for the environmental movement to deepen its critique and enlarge its politics. . . . The resulting work is nothing short of pathbreaking. . . . This book should strike a resonant chord in a public growing increasingly apprehensive, and merits inclusion in the canon of environmental literature alongside the works of Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and Gro Harlen Bruntland."—Paul Raskin, Environment

— Paul Raskin

Environmental Information + Environmental Policy

"James Gustav Speth...leads us to a bridge at the edge of the world--an epic transformation of the way we live, produce, and consume. This is a fantastic, highly topical and potentially important book. It should widely be read, and translated into other languages."--Udo E. Simonis, Environmental Information + Environmental Policy

— Udo E. Simonis

New Scientist

"When someone as well placed as James Gustave Speth speaks out, you have to listen. . . . A masterly, uncompromising analysis and critique of where we are right now, a must-read."—Liz Elise, New Scientist

— Liz Elise

Physics and Society

"Destined to change the terms of the discussion."—Physics and Society

E Magazine

"Speth delivers a bracing critique of the environmental movement."—Melinda Tuhus, E Magazine

— Melinda Tuhus

The Environmental Forum

"For its sources alone, this is a book you might want to keep handy as we did, in the old days, a copy of the desk encyclopedia, this one a rather stark chronicle of the planet's vital signs that [Speth] calls 'looking into the abyss.' It is also an ordered intellectual climb, assembled in the manner of a people's brief, that makes a daring case."—Oliver Houck, The Environmental Forum

— Oliver Houck

Irish Times

"An important message from such an influential and mainstream figure in the environmental movement. . . . Speth's importance is to bring the relationship between capitalism and climate change into mainstream debate, where it should stay."—Paul Gillespie, Irish Times

— Paul Gillespie

The American Prospect

“Powerful. . . . The writing is deeply humane, witty, uplifting, and modest rather than pretentious. . . . A superb synthesis of the great economic questions of our time.”—Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect

— Robert Kuttner

Choice
“This volume should be read by anyone concerned about the future of humankind on the planet. . . . Highly recommended. All collections and readership levels.”—Choice
Washington Post

Selected as one of the best books of 2008 by the Washington Post in the Nature & The Environment category
Issues in Science and Technology

"Speth has given us a fresh look at the question of reconciling economy with ecology. . . . This is a book of hope and inspiraton. . . . What Speth has done, like a good Zen master, is to open our minds to the possibilities of aspiring to human self-realization, societal transformation, and a livable planet without setting limits on economic growth."—Sheldon Krimsky, Issues in Science and Technology

— Sheldon Krimsky

Materials World

"Speth clearly demonstrates his mastery of the subject in this publication, which is well researched and written, providing a wealth of relevant references. It makes highly recommended and compelling reading for all those with a serious interest in the environment and the future of planet Earth, especially for existing and potential chartered environmentalists."—Alan Stainer, Materials World

— Alan Stainer,

Sojourners Magazine

"The Bridge at the End of the World . . . [is] required spiritual reading for our time." —David Hilfiker, Sojourners Magazine

— David Hilfiker

Quarterly Review of Biology

"In this book, Speth masterfully synthesizes a wealth of empirical scientific studies and social science theory. . . . Ultimately, Speth offers a hopeful message that the creativity, incentives, and energy of today's youth can achieve the fundamental transformation of modern capitalist democracy that is necessary to resolve pressing issues of environmental stewardship, and human solidarity within and among generations." —Christopher B. Barrett, Quarterly Review of Biology

— Christopher B. Barrett

Robert F. Kennedy

"the most compelling plea we have for changing our lives and our politics."—Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

David W. Orr

"Honest, insightful, and courageous. Dean Speth draws on his formidable experience and wisdom to ask why we are failing to preserve a habitable Earth. His conclusions are cogent, revolutionary, and essential."—David W. Orr, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics, Oberlin College. Author of Design on the Edge and Earth in Mind
Bill McKibben

“When a figure as eminent and mainstream as Gus Speth issues a warning this strong and profound, the world should take real notice. This is an eloquent, accurate, and no-holds-barred brief for change large enough to matter.”—Bill McKibben, author, Deep Economy and The Bill McKibben Reader
Richard Norgaard

"An extremely important book both for what it says and for who is saying it. The steady transformation of a solid, pragmatic, progressive negotiator into a 'radical and unrealistic' oracle concerned with the fundamental nature of modern economies is an important event."—Richard Norgaard, University of California, Berkeley

J. R. McNeill

"One can scarcely choose a more important or timely subject than this one. Speth writes about it with passion and conviction, and a touch of humor."—J. R. McNeill, Georgetown University
Donald Kennedy

“A powerful and ambitious attempt to characterize the changed strategies environmental organizations need to adopt to become more effective. This book challenges many things that would seem to have political immunity of a sort—among others, corporate capitalism, the environmental movement itself, and the forces of economic globalization.”—Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief, Science Magazine
Juliet Schor

"In this magisterial and hopeful book, Speth charts three compelling journeys—his own path from reformer to deep systems analyst, environmentalism's trajectory from inside player to social movement, and the nation's emerging great transition from a way of life rooted in economic scarcity to the discovery of nature's abundance. This is a profound book which deserves our deepest attention.”—Juliet Schor, Professor of Sociology, Boston College, and author of The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need

William Greider
"Gus Speth leads us to the formidable bridge we must cross -- an epic transformation in how we live, consume and produce -- to halt capitalism's destructive forces and to improve the human condition. A calm and persuasive guide, Speth is infused with the human optimism always needed for great historic shifts."—William Greider, author, The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy
George M. Woodwell

"What a delight to read Gus Speth's' new book, which no one else could write but all will admire, stunned by his remarkable talents. The book opens vast new opportunities for thought and discussion in science and public affairs and will undoubtedly long stand as the classic that it is."—George M. Woodwell, Founder, Director Emeritus, and Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center
Devra Davis

“Gus Speth’s critique of unbridled capitalism is riveting and haunting, and his solutions are poetic and inspiring.”—Devra Davis, author of The Secret History of the War on Cancer and When Smoke Ran Like Water
Honourable Gordon Campbell

“In The Bridge at the Edge of the World, James Gustave Speth gives us new lenses with which to see what we have done to our environment and, more important, to see what we can do to restore it. He challenges us all to act not for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. In particular, he takes on the most powerful guardians of the status quo—our mindsets. The bridge he hopes to construct has its bridgehead firmly based in today, because Speth asks us to think about it and then to use our creativity, imagination, and the power of common purpose to act to restore the environment and create a healthier world.”—Honourable Gordon Campbell, Premier, Province of British Columbia

Paul R. Ehrlich

"Gus Speth is one of the leaders in trying to steer humanity on a course to sustainability, and this is his most important book to date. Read it, and then take some action."—Paul R. Ehrlich, author with Anne Ehrlich of The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment
Planet News - Brooke Williams

The Bridge at the Edge of the World may be the most concise analysis of the current state of the natural world and what might be done about it."—Brooke Williams, Planet News

Hartford Courant - David Funkhouser

"What is needed, Speth argues, is a radical change in the economic sysytem that takes into account the environmental costs of doing buisiness and refocuses society on building more sustainable ways of living."—David Funkhouser, Hartford Courant

Washington Post Book World - Ross Gelbspan

"Contemporary capitalism and a habitable planet cannot coexist. . . . This book is an extremely probing and thoughtful diagnosis of the root causes of planetary distress."—Ross Gelbspan, Washington Post Book World

Chicago Tribune - Le-Min Lim

"With candor, cadence and clarity, Speth presents a compelling case for prompt action, making this book a must-read. . . . Like an evangelist, Speth draws not just on facts, but anecdotes, quotes, even poetry to make his point."—Le-Min Lim, Chicago Tribune

Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy - John D. Peine

"The Bridge at the End of the World was an epiphany for me. . . . I see it as a guide for moving toward cultural, social, and environmental equity that could in turn lead to balanced sustainability in the planet's future."—John D. Peine, Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy

Environmental Information + Environmental Policy - Udo E. Simonis

"James Gustav Speth...leads us to a bridge at the edge of the world--an epic transformation of the way we live, produce, and consume. This is a fantastic, highly topical and potentially important book. It should widely be read, and translated into other languages."--Udo E. Simonis, Environmental Information + Environmental Policy
Peter H. Raven

“If we are to pull away from the edge of catastrophe, in which everything that we value is at risk, the advice presented so clearly and masterfully in this book will help show us the way. It should be carefully studied by everyone interested in the world beyond our immediate future and daily preoccupations.”—Peter H. Raven, President, Missouri Botanical Garden

Montreal Gazette - Peter Hadekel

"In his severe indictment of our stewardship of the planet, Speth says all we need to do to destroy the Earth is to continue what we're doing now: overproduce and overconsume. He presents a scary compendium of all the damage we have inflicted. . . . But he's smart enough to know that if the market economy is a big part of the problem, it has to be a big part of the solution. . . . The book is a wide-ranging synthesis of many ideas in the realms of economics, politics, and ecology, and calls for some profound changes in the way the economy and political institutions are governed."—Peter Hadekel, Montreal Gazette


Boston Globe - Top 5 Environment Book in New England

Selected as a Top 5 Environment Book in New England by the Boston Globe
New Leader - Brian Thomas
"Speth lays out the scientific consensus about climate change and ecological stress with authority. Global warming, he notes, has a terrible momentum. . . . [This book] is an excellent quick survey of global climate and ecological management at present. . . . [Speth's] aim is to improve the quality of life, foster social solidarity, and restore our connectedness to nature by making corporations accountable to society at large."—Brian Thomas, New Leader
buzzflash.com - Thom Hartmann

"James Gustave Speth, wrote the book The Bridge at the Edge of the World because he's worried about our future and he's right. We should all be very worried. . . . This book, both for it's brilliant articulation of the worlds' current system and, as Speth calls it, the 'crisis of capitalism,' is an important addition to your bookshelf. And it's sufficiently easy to read and accessible that it's a great gift for just about anybody!"—Thom Hartmann, buzzflash.com
OnEarth Magazine (NRDC) - Molly Webster

"Speth pulls no punches. He offers a sharp, sometimes lacerating critique of the movement he helped establish, saying it has become swamped under 'environmental impact statements' and 'total maximum daily load' regulations. . . . His solution is to forge a new 'environmental political movement,' in which initiatives in human rights, social justice, politics, and the enviroment all work toward the same goal: a healthy planet that can fulfill the needs of all humanity. . . . [Speth says] 'the environmental community needs to become a political reform group.' It's a call we're hearing with increasing frequency, but this time it comes from a uniquely authoritative voice."—Molly Webster, onearth Magazine (NRDC)
Monthly Review - John J. Simon

"Speth has emerged as a devastating critic of capitalism's destruction of the environment. In this radical rethinking, he has chosen to confront the full perils brought on by the present economic system, with its pursuit of growth and accumulation at any cost. . . . The crucial problem from an environmental perspective, he believes, is exponential economic growth."—John J. Simon, Monthly Review
Gristmill - David Roberts

"When Gus Speth gets radical, it's time to start digging bunkers. . . . He's been a major player in the modern environmental movement—and he says that movement is failing. In his new book . . . Speth argues that the progress of the green movement has been no match for the far larger tide of ecological destructon that now threatens to submerge humanity entirely. It's time to question the political economy that dominates the developed world, time to ask whether it's providing benefits commensurate with the massive environmental deterioration it generates. It's time to question capitialism."—David Roberts, Gristmill
Gristmill - Ted Glick

"Speth's well-reasoned call for a new environmental movement, for a new movement in which environmental issues are central, is a welcome and much-needed contribution, particularly for the climate and environmental movements. . . . Speth writes approvingly of a govenment-regulated market economy, one in which environmental impacts and the 'polluter pays' principle would be paramount, essentially a form of environmental social democracy. . . . And we are fortunate that 'ultimate insider' Gus Speth will continue to help lead us as we build towards the Environmental Revolution which must occur."—Ted Glick, Gristmill

The Washington Post Writers Group - Neal Peirce

"Speth laments the tortuously slow pace of environmental activism in the face of the near-calamitous decline of species, soils, forests and oceans, and the dangerous advance of global warming. . . . But the challenges are too grave to wait for a new president. Speth's book makes it abundantly clear: Start ourselves, while (hopefully) there's still time."—Neal Peirce, The Washington Post Writers Group
Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy - Philip J. Vergragt & Halina S. Brown

"Speth is at his best analyzing the nature and the complexity of the problem, and displaying the debates among various academic disciplines and in multiple circles: scholars, policy analysts, activists, opinion leaders, and policy makers. His prodigious knowledge of these debates and his ability to render them in a crisp, clear prose, densely sprinkled with great quotes from great minds, make the book a fine read and a valuable resource. It should be standard reading for students who care about sustainability, regardless of their area of study and future career plans."—Philip J. Vergragt & Halina S. Brown, Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy
Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy - Edward Sanders

"An important contribution to the growing body of visionary literature dealing with the challenges of sustainability. In addition to his own thought-provoking observations, Speth's extensive references offer an excellent introduction to many other authors who address our daunting global environmental problems, capitalism's role in exacerbating them, and the core sufficiency principles that many observers believe will be required to deal with them. The book provides a smorgasbord for future readings by those who want to dig deeper into the issues of sustainability."—Edward Sanders, Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy
Wall Street Journal - Leslie Carothers

"A highly respected environmental leader, Speth has come to the conclusion that our capitalist market economy depends on growth in material production at levels that cannot continue without destroying the earth's natural support system. His book makes a strong case for redefining the aims of the economy; but the path forward, especially as developing nations aspire to Western standards of living, is far from clear. He believes the environmental movement as well as the government is failing to lead the way to essential change."—Leslie Carothers, Wall Street Journal
Utne Reader - Chelsey Perkins

"Speth's passion for the environment and his unyielding desire to save our planet from destruction leads him to a conclusion that is slowly becoming more prevalent in the mainstream movement . . . a citizen-led movement that reimagines our current economy and state of mind in favor of environmental sustainability."—Chelsey Perkins, Utne Reader
Science Books & Films - Paul R. Cooley

"Speth provides both specifics of what is wrong and a strong argument for change and then suggests some mechanisms to begin to get there."—Paul R. Cooley, Science Books & Films
Environment - Paul Raskin

"A passionate and incisive call for the environmental movement to deepen its critique and enlarge its politics. . . . The resulting work is nothing short of pathbreaking. . . . This book should strike a resonant chord in a public growing increasingly apprehensive, and merits inclusion in the canon of environmental literature alongside the works of Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and Gro Harlen Bruntland."—Paul Raskin, Environment
New Scientist - Liz Elise

"When someone as well placed as James Gustave Speth speaks out, you have to listen. . . . A masterly, uncompromising analysis and critique of where we are right now, a must-read."—Liz Elise, New Scientist
E Magazine - Melinda Tuhus

"Speth delivers a bracing critique of the environmental movement."—Melinda Tuhus, E Magazine
The Environmental Forum - Oliver Houck

"For its sources alone, this is a book you might want to keep handy as we did, in the old days, a copy of the desk encyclopedia, this one a rather stark chronicle of the planet's vital signs that [Speth] calls 'looking into the abyss.' It is also an ordered intellectual climb, assembled in the manner of a people's brief, that makes a daring case."—Oliver Houck, The Environmental Forum
Irish Times - Paul Gillespie

"An important message from such an influential and mainstream figure in the environmental movement. . . . Speth's importance is to bring the relationship between capitalism and climate change into mainstream debate, where it should stay."—Paul Gillespie, Irish Times
The American Prospect - Robert Kuttner

“Powerful. . . . The writing is deeply humane, witty, uplifting, and modest rather than pretentious. . . . A superb synthesis of the great economic questions of our time.”—Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect

Tikkun - David Korten

"Speth takes a hard look at the research on growth and environmental damage in relation to gross domestic product and concludes that despite a slight decline in the amount of environmental damage per increment of growth, growth in GDP always increases environmental damage. . . . He recommends a redesign of 'the operating system of capitalism' to support the development of local economies populated with firms that feature worker and community ownership and to charter corporations only to serve a public interest."—David Korten, Tikkun
Issues in Science and Technology - Sheldon Krimsky

"Speth has given us a fresh look at the question of reconciling economy with ecology. . . . This is a book of hope and inspiraton. . . . What Speth has done, like a good Zen master, is to open our minds to the possibilities of aspiring to human self-realization, societal transformation, and a livable planet without setting limits on economic growth."—Sheldon Krimsky, Issues in Science and Technology
Orion Society - Orion Book Award

Finalist for the 2009 Orion Book Award, given by The Orion Society.
Materials World - Alan Stainer

"Speth clearly demonstrates his mastery of the subject in this publication, which is well researched and written, providing a wealth of relevant references. It makes highly recommended and compelling reading for all those with a serious interest in the environment and the future of planet Earth, especially for existing and potential chartered environmentalists."—Alan Stainer, Materials World
Resurgence, No. 253 - John Whitmore

“… a wealth of information and insight on the full spectrum of the environmental, economic, political, social and psychological challenges that we face … the most condensed, comprehensive and convincing book of its kind … the one that I would like to throw at every politician and every corporate leader … clarifying, reinforcing and supportive.” - John Whitmore, Resurgence, No. 253

Sojourners Magazine - David Hilfiker

"The Bridge at the End of the World . . . [is] required spiritual reading for our time." —David Hilfiker, Sojourners Magazine
Quarterly Review of Biology - Christopher B. Barrett

"In this book, Speth masterfully synthesizes a wealth of empirical scientific studies and social science theory. . . . Ultimately, Speth offers a hopeful message that the creativity, incentives, and energy of today's youth can achieve the fundamental transformation of modern capitalist democracy that is necessary to resolve pressing issues of environmental stewardship, and human solidarity within and among generations." —Christopher B. Barrett, Quarterly Review of Biology
http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/podcast/Addendum_Speth.mp3

Click here to listen to an interview with the author on the Yale Press Podcast.

http://www.thebridgeattheedgeoftheworld.com/events/

Click here for information on upcoming events, available on the author's website Bridge At the Edge of the World.com.

http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/discussionswith/james_speth.asp

Click here for an extended question & answer discussion with the author.

New Leader - Brian Thomas

"Speth lays out the scientific consensus about climate change and ecological stress with authority. Global warming, he notes, has a terrible momentum. . . . [This book] is an excellent quick survey of global climate and ecological management at present. . . . [Speth's] aim is to improve the quality of life, foster social solidarity, and restore our connectedness to nature by making corporations accountable to society at large."—Brian Thomas, New Leader
Choice

“This volume should be read by anyone concerned about the future of humankind on the planet. . . . Highly recommended. All collections and readership levels.”—Choice
Ross Gelbspan
This book is an extremely probing and thoughtful diagnosis of the root causes of planetary distress. But short of a cataclysmic event—like the Great Depression or some equally profound social breakdown—Speth does not suggest how we might achieve the change in values and structural reform necessary for long-term sustainability.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300151152
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 3/10/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 793,057
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

James Gustave Speth, a distinguished leader and founder of environmental institutions over the past four decades, is dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. He was awarded Japan’s Blue Planet Prize for “a lifetime of creative and visionary leadership in the search for science-based solutions to global environmental problems.” He lives in New Haven, CT.

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Read an Excerpt

The Bridge At The Edge Of The World

Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability
By James Gustave Speth

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2008 James Gustave Speth
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-15115-2


Chapter One

Looking into the Abyss

If you take an honest look at today's destructive environmental trends, it is impossible not to conclude that they profoundly threaten human prospects and life as we know it on the planet. That is the abyss ahead. Robert Jay Lifton has said, "If one does not look into the abyss, one is being wishful by simply not confronting the truth.... On the other hand, it is imperative that one not get stuck in the abyss." Confronting the truth about environmental conditions and trends is the first step.

I remember looking into another abyss, when I was a sophomore at Yale in 1961, one closer to Lifton's main subjects. It was the prospect of thermonuclear war. My guide was a wonderful professor, Brad Westerfield, who taught Yale's principal course on the Cold War at the time. He took it upon himself to inform us that we had to take seriously the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. I tried to absorb that, but it was in some way unimaginable. And then one day in 1962, there was President Kennedy on television informing us of the Cuban missile crisis. And at that moment it became all too easy to imagine nuclear war.

I feel now a little like Westerfield must have felt at that moment. I have been sounding off, Dr. Doom-like, about the risks of climate change and other large-scale environmental threats since 1980, when I was in President Carter's White House and we released the Global 2000 Report. And, now, sad to say, Global 2000's forecasts are coming true. Those forecasts were issued as warnings, but like many others, they went largely unheeded.

It was not always this bleak. Both in the final days of the Carter administration and in the years that immediately followed, many of us undertook to do the policy analysis that could be the springboard to tackling global-scale environmental challenges. The hopefulness of that era is reflected, for example, in Robert Repetto's volume The Global Possible (1985). In my foreword to Repetto's book, I wrote: "This book gives grounds for informed optimism about how the world's governments, businesses and citizens can make headway against an array of difficult environmental challenges.... [The book's recommendations] have taken an important step in proposing initiatives for public and private action, thus allaying the restive pessimism that stands between the world we have and the world we want." Now one can see, more than two decades later, that the road to sustainability was the road not taken. The disturbing trends set out in Global 2000 continued, and we find ourselves where we are today.

The World We Live In

To assess environmental performance to date, it is useful to distinguish two sets of environmental challenges. A set of predominantly local and regional concerns drove the first Earth Day in 1970. The insults then were acute and obvious: air pollution; water pollution; strip mining; clearcutting; dam building and river channelization; nuclear power; loss of wetlands, farmland, and natural areas; massive highway building programs; urban sprawl; destructive mining and grazing practices; toxic dumps and pesticides; and so on. On a portion of these first-generation Earth Day issues, the United States has made progress. Some see the part of the glass that is filled. Others, including our leading environmental groups, point to the continuation of these problems, the still unmet promises of the far-reaching legislation of the 1970s, and the emergence of serious new threats. Environmental deterioration in the United States remains surprisingly severe (see Chapter 3).

A different agenda emerged a decade later in the Global 2000 Report of 1980 and elsewhere. The issues on this newer agenda are more global, more insidious, and more threatening (see table 1).

On these "global change" issues, as they are sometimes called, progress has been dismal. As I noted in Red Sky at Morning, my generation is a generation of great talkers, overly fond of conferences. We have analyzed, debated, discussed, and negotiated these global issues almost endlessly. But on action, we have fallen far short.

As a result-with the notable exception of international efforts to protect the stratospheric ozone layer and the partial exception of progress on acid rain-the threatening global trends highlighted a quarter century ago continue to this day and have become more serious and more intractable. It is now an understatement to say we are running out of time. For such crucial issues as climate change, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity, we ran out of time quite a while ago. Appropriate action is long overdue.

Let us review where we stand with the eight major global-scale challenges where progress has been seriously lacking. The presentation of conditions and trends in these eight areas does not always make for easy reading, but understanding what's happening to the planet is the backdrop to concern and action.

Climate Disruption

Of all the issues, global warming is the most threatening. The possibilities here are so disturbing that some-like Sir David King, the chief scientist in the British government-believe that climate change is the most severe problem the world faces, bar none.

Scientists know that the "greenhouse effect" is a reality: without the naturally occurring heat-trapping gases in the earth's atmosphere, the planet would be about 30°C cooler on average-an ice ball rather than a life-support system. The problem arises because human activities have now sharply increased the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These gases prevent the escape of earth's infrared radiation into space. In general, the more gases that accumulate, the more heat the atmosphere traps.

The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas contributed by human actions, has increased by more than a third over the preindustrial level due mainly to the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) and to large-scale deforestation. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now at its highest level in at least 650,000 years. The concentration of methane, another greenhouse gas, is about 150 percent above preindustrial levels. Methane accumulates from the use of fossil fuels, cattle raising, rice growing, and landfill emissions. Atmospheric concentrations of still another gas, nitrous oxide, are also up due to fertilizer use, cattle feedlots, and the chemical industry, and it is also an infrared trapping gas. A number of specialty chemicals in the halocarbon family, including the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) of ozone-depletion notoriety, are also potent greenhouse gases.

The major international scientific effort to understand climate change and what can be done about it is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The fourth of its periodic reports, released in 2007, underscores the reality that human activities are already changing the planet in major ways:

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level."

"Eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850)." "Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-twentieth century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns." "Mountain glaciers and snow cover have declined on average in both hemispheres. Widespread decreases in glaciers and ice caps have contributed to sea level rise. New data ... now show that losses from the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica have very likely contributed to sea level rise over 1993 to 2003."

"More intense and longer droughts have been observed over wider areas since the 1970s, particularly in the tropics and subtropics. Increased drying linked with higher temperatures and decreased precipitation has contributed to changes in drought."

"The frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased over most land areas, consistent with warming and observed increases of atmospheric water vapor."

The IPCC's Fourth Assessment also identifies the likely future impacts of climate change in a variety of contexts-the larger the buildup of greenhouse gases, the more severe these impacts will become. Here are some of the IPCC's projections:

The availability of fresh water will shift. Some areas will get much wetter, others much dryer. Both drought and flooding will likely increase. Water stored in glaciers and snowpack will decline, reducing water supplies to more than a billion people.

The health of ecosystems will be damaged by an unprecedented combination of climate change and other drivers of global change such as land use change, pollution, and overexploitation of resources. About 20 to 30 percent of the plant and animal species studied so far will be at increased risk of extinction. As the oceans take up more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, shellfish and corals will be harmed. The oceans absorb a large portion of all carbon dioxide emitted, and as the resulting carbonic acid increases in the seawater, the extra acidity hurts the ability of marine organisms to form shells. The impacts could eventually be devastating. On top of that, ocean warming will lead to more frequent coral bleaching and mortality.

Coastal and low-lying areas are expected to be hard-hit. Rising sea levels will increase coastal erosion, flooding, and wetland loss. The IPCC report concludes that "many millions more people are projected to be flooded every year due to sea-level rise by the 2080s. Those densely-populated and low-lying areas where adaptive capacity is relatively low, and which already face other challenges such as tropical storms or local coastal subsidence, are especially at risk. The numbers affected will be largest in the mega-deltas of Asia and Africa while small islands are especially vulnerable." The IPCC ominously notes that "the last time the polar regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to 4 to 6 meters of sea level rise."

Human health will also suffer in various ways. As the IPCC concludes: "Projected climate change-related exposures are likely to affect the health status of millions of people, particularly those with low adaptive capacity, through:

increases in malnutrition and consequent disorders, with implications for child growth and development; increased deaths, disease and injury due to heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts; the increased burden of diarrheal disease; the increased frequency of cardio-respiratory diseases due to higher concentrations of ground level ozone related to climate change; and, the altered spatial distribution of some infectious disease vectors."

Other reports besides that of the IPCC have drawn special attention to particular risks. The Arctic is warming at nearly twice the rate as the rest of the globe. Projections see the Arctic icecap continuing to diminish and eventually disappearing altogether in the summer, perhaps as early as 2020. Governments of the circumpolar north have begun positioning themselves strategically to claim sovereign control over new shipping lanes opened up by the disappearing ice. In an ironic twist, they all seek also to exploit the region's large fossil fuel resources. The loss of ice on Greenland more than doubled in the last decade of the twentieth century and may have doubled again by 2005.

On human health, the World Health Organization estimated in 2004 the loss of 150,000 lives each year due to climate change. Its most recent report projects that loss of life caused by climate change could double by 2030 due largely to diarrhea-related disease, malaria, and malnutrition. Most of the casualties would fall in the developing world.

A major area of ongoing climate change impact is in the North American West, where tens of millions of acres of forest are being devastated by bark beetles and other infestations. The pests-which have attacked pine, fir, and spruce trees in the western United States, British Columbia, and Alaska-are normally contained by severe winters. The milder winters in the region have increased their reproduction, abundance, and geographic range.

Natural areas in the United States could be hit hard. Assuming business as usual in greenhouse gas emissions throughout this century, the maple-beech-birch forests in New England could simply disappear, while much of the Southeast could become a vast grassland savanna, too hot and dry to support trees. Meanwhile, other studies project that human-caused climate change is likely to lead to extreme drought throughout the Southwest, starting soon. The Great Lakes also appear to be undergoing disruptive changes due to climate change. Not only are the lakes warming, but water levels are declining and fish disease is increasing.

A major concern is sea level rise, and the greatest fear is a catastrophic rise caused by movement into the oceans of landed ice on Greenland and Antarctica. Disturbing and unpredicted movements of ice have occurred in both places. Ten thousand years ago, when the continental ice sheets melted, sea levels rose more than twenty yards in five hundred years. While the IPCC is projecting somewhat less than a three-foot sea level rise in this century, some scientists believe that a continuation of greenhouse gas emission growth could lead to yards of sea level rise per century.

Even with "modest" sea level rise, we could see the displacement of large numbers of people from small island nations and the low-lying delta areas of Egypt, Bangladesh, Louisiana, and elsewhere. Today, as Alaskan permafrost melts, Inuit villages are being moved inland. Beaches, coastal marshes, and near-coast development in the United States and elsewhere could also be severely affected. Related to this, evidence is accumulating that ocean warming and increased evaporation are contributing to stronger hurricanes.

Sea level rise is only one of the consequences of climate change that could contribute to the forced migrations of large numbers of people. Depletion of water in regions supplied by glacial melt, changes in monsoon patterns, and spreading drought could combine to cause many refugees from climate change. One study has estimated that as many as 850 million people could be displaced in these ways later in this century. Prospects such as these are a reminder that climate change is not only an environmental and economic issue. It is also a profoundly moral and human issue with major implications for social justice and international peace and security.

Although many people assume that the impacts of climate change will unfold gradually, as the earth's temperature slowly rises, the buildup of greenhouse gases may in fact lead to abrupt and sudden, not gradual, changes. A National Academy of Sciences report in 2002 concluded that global climate change could have rapid impacts: "Recent scientific evidence shows that major and widespread climate changes have occurred with startling speed.... [G]reenhouse warming and other human alterations of the earth system may increase the possibility of large, abrupt, and unwelcome regional or global climatic events."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Bridge At The Edge Of The World by James Gustave Speth Copyright © 2008 by James Gustave Speth. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xviii

Introduction: Between Two Worlds 1

Part 1 System Failure

1 Looking into the Abyss 17

2 Modern Capitalism: Out of Control 46

3 The Limits of Today's Environmentalism 67

Part 2 The Great Transformation

4 The Market: Making It Work for the Environment 89

5 Economic Growth: Moving to a Post-Growth Society 107

6 Real Growth: Promoting the Well-Being of People and Nature 126

7 Consumption: Living with Enough, Not Always More 147

8 The Corporation: Changing the Fundamental Dynamics 165

9 Capitalism's Core: Advancing beyond Today's Capitalism 183

Part 3 Seedbeds of Transformation

10 A New Consciousness 199

11 A New Politics 217

12 The Bridge at the Edge of the World 233

Notes 239

Index 281

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  • Posted November 12, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Sobering facts on the state of the planet

    An Ivy League dean trained as a lawyer, James Gustave Speth lays out evidence to show that life on this planet is being pushed to an end. Marshalling sobering facts, he illustrates how humankind has taxed the Earth¿s resources beyond its capacity to regenerate. By creating a culture that worships consumption, capitalism has combined with political self-interest and misguided policies to hasten the environment¿s demise. An international community of scientists has provided staggering proof of global warming, yet U.S. political leaders have denied the problem and delayed action. Speth worked to protect the environment within the bureaucracy¿s sanctioned processes for years, but he now concludes that the environmental movement launched in the 1970s is a failure. He urges citizens and leaders to readjust their priorities. He also advocates public policies that provide financial incentives for sustainable practices, and says governments should hold corporations accountable for the true environmental costs of their products. getAbstract recommends this book to readers who are interested in economics and social trends, and who want their great-grandchildren to live here ¿ on this planet.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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