James Gustave “Gus” Speth is currently serving as a Professor of Law at the Vermont Law School. His research involves how environmental changes can help alleviate America's problems, such as poverty and standard of living. The American political economy requires deep, systemic changes in order to improve societal conditions for the future. Before presenting his public lecture on System Change Not Climate Change: Manifesto for a New Economy, Courtney Wong '15 sat down with Gus Speth for a brief interview.
Courtney Wong (CW): How does global environmental sustainability help alleviate other issues, like poverty?
GS: It's easiest to think of of the environment's effect on poverty. On one hand, much of the world depends on its resource base -- whether its fisheries, agriculture, forestry, and those resources are being eroded at a rather rapid rate. Learning how to sustainably manage these resources and protect biodiversity can huge impacts on the poor. Take, for example, their access to clean water. On the other hand, if we continue with these devastating things like changing the planet's climate, it will disproportionately burden the poor. The combination of these two dilemmas is what I call the “food-energy-climate nexus”. How these issues will come to play out in the developing world may be the biggest challenge we may have to face.
CW: What can Dartmouth students do to get started on real environmental change?
GS: Students should be leading the charge! At Dartmouth, they should push the Board of Trustees and the new President to divest from fossil fuels (if they haven't already). I presume that Dartmouth has an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction plan. Students can also get involved with transforming the food system, like pushing for locally sourced foods in the dining halls.
CW: You've held a lot of positions - from being a dean at Yale University to working for the United Nations. Which has been the most rewarding for you?
GS: My work for the UN was the most demanding and the most educational for me. I learned a great deal about the problems of the world during that period. However, all the jobs I've taken have been very rewarding – I’ve been blessed in that way. It’s not work if you enjoy it. I've never felt like I was laboring for some goal that I didn't agree with.