The Orion magazine has an on-line interview with James Gustave "Gus" Speth, the dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. They talk about Mr. Speth’s new book The Bridge at the Edge of the World. I haven't read Mr. Speth's book, but his opinions put forward during the interview neither impressed nor convinced me enough to consider joining the "grassroots citizens’ movement" he is advocating to help save planet Earth.
If I understood him correctly, Mr. Speth is claiming that capitalism has been at the root of our growing environmental problems.
What [capitalism] really cares about is profits and growth, and the rest is more or less incidental. And until we change that system, my conclusion is that it will continue to be fundamentally destructive.I agree with him on that. But the ultimate cause of ecological degradation, human population growth, is getting sidetracked again. Mr. Speth is heading down the wrong track when he can make a statement like this with a straight face:
But the scale of the impact is really derived from the phenomenal amount of economic growth in rich countries, not from the phenomenal population growth.Even in scientific discussions of conservation biology the problem of human population growth gets swept under the rug. This was the point I tried to make in this recent post. But is is especially discouraging to hear from an environmentalist that population growth does not have an impact.
I also see a curious contradiction of premises. On the one hand, Mr. Speth is claiming that the developing countries "need to grow," but on the other hand, he seems to be blaming capitalism for many social problems of developed countries, including loneliness and bipolar disorders. Is he saying that the developing countries need capitalistic development now so that they can have their share of problems later?
If Mr. Speth is spearheading a revolution, you can count me out (in).
I also posted these comments in a slightly different and shorter form after the interview at the Orion site (comment #72).