Environmentalists Take On The Economy.

Author:Flavin, Christopher
Position:The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability - Book review

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

Yale University Press, 320 pages

Earth: The Sequel, by Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn W.W. Norton & Co., 279 pages

Until recently, environmental problems were seen as peripheral to the economy--annoying "externalities" that were mainly of concern to the wealthy. Today, the prospect of uncontrolled climate change and collapsing ecological systems has presented a far different reality in which the economy itself is driving environmental breakdown--and which in turn is undermining the economy.

It's a sign of the times that two titans of the environmental movement have just produced new books. Together, these very different volumes provide insiders' insights into the unprecedented dangers and opportunities created by the modern economy.

James Gustave (Gus) Speth co-founded the National Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute, and is a former chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. In the 1990s, Speth headed the United Nations Development Programme and now serves as dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Fred Krupp has led the Environmental Defense Fund, a leading U.S. environmental NGO, since 1984, and is known for building strong relationships with corporations and advocating market-based solutions to environmental problems.

Neither author is in any mood to celebrate past successes. Both start from a sobering conclusion: the world is on the edge of an environmental abyss, and vast changes will be required to avoid a spiral of ecological collapse. Speth ruefully describes the optimism he felt in the 1970s and 1980s that policymakers would soon respond to the environmental threats that were then emerging. He writes in The Bridge at the Edge of the World, "Now one can see, more than two decades later, that the road to sustainability was the road not taken."

Both of the new books conclude that an economic transformation is our only hope of coping with the global environmental crisis now upon us. But their visions of the economic changes ahead are hardly identical. Krupp's focus is on the economic opportunities presented by the transition to a low-carbon economy. Drawing on the Environmental Defense Fund's tireless efforts to enact a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions, Krupp argues that this single policy reform will...

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