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The Bridge at the Edge of the World:…

The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and…

by James Gustave Speth

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This book, from a leading US environmentalist, argues that the environmental situation is critical, not just in terms of global warming, but also in terms of the extent of species extinction taking place, and the destruction of many major ecosystems. It claims that capitalism as it currently works is the major cause of this, as growth is the prime purpose of companies and governments, but this necessarily comes at the expense of natural resources and the environment. It claims that our obsession with growth is misplaced anyway, since beyond a relatively modest salary, happiness doesn't increase. Instead, happiness is primarliy supported by social and communal ties, which modern capitalist habits erode. The book then goes on to suggest potential solutions, by changes on a personal, corporation and government level.

I think that Speth makes a convincing case for how dire the environmental crisis is, and for how destructive and misguided capitalism can be. However, the book is very largely about the US, which frustrated me enormously, firstly because many of the problems are (hopefully) specific to the Bush administration, and secondly as this is a world crisis and many different countries are facing these problems in different ways. When it comes to the solutions, Speth comes across as a teenage idealist in many ways: naive and vague. There is no detailed economic discussion of what kind of system could replace capitalism and yet stabilise wealth, no detailed blueprint for how government can stabilise carbon emissions, or what role the individual can play. Although at times Speth recognises the complexities of the situation, he makes no attempt to provide pragmatic analyses of these complexities, in order to provide some guidance. This over-general approach to providing a "bridge" over the abyss ended up making me feel more pessimistic rather than less, and I found the book keenly frustrating overall, particularly since the style is rather repetitive and wildly overburdened by quotations. I'd say worth reading for the first half, and aggressively skimming for the second.

((I read this book on the recommendation of a series of articles in the New Scientist (see Opinion Section from 16 October 2008), and actually found those articles considerably better and more succinct.)) ( )
  RachDan | Jan 24, 2009 |
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"In this book Gus Speth begins with the observation that the environmental community has grown in strength and sophistication, but the environment has continued to decline. Something is badly wrong, and a deeper critique is needed. Speth contends that this critique leads to a severe indictment of today's economic and political system - capitalism as it now actually operates. Our task is to change the operating instructions for the modern economy before it is too late"--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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Yale University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Yale University Press.

Editions: 0300136110, 0300151152

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