James Gustave (Gus) Speth came out with a two-part enviro-activist “manifesto” last Spring in Orion. It’s quite a declaration, bringing contemporary environmentalism securely into harness with the broader socio-eco-political concerns that have fueled the 99%/Occupy movement. Time only will tell whether the yoking takes.
But Speth’s reformist plea has had at least this result: it inspired me to select his 2008 Bridge at the Edge of the World as one of the texts for the Environmental Ethics & Activism (EEA) course we’ll be commencing at the end of the month at my school.
Speth begins with a statement of genuine patriotism, the sort Mark Twain had in mind when he said real patriots support their country all the time and their government when merited.
I love my country, its wonderful people, its boundless energy, its creativity in so many fields, its natural beauty, its many gifts to the world, and the freedom it has given us to express ourselves. So we should all be angry, profoundly angry, when we consider what has happened to our country and what that neglect could mean for our children and grandchildren.
What has happened? Well, we’ve allowed ourselves to become 2d-rate. Our national decline (compared to the U.K., France, Germany, Japan, Canada, and Norway among others) registers in many distressing indices, including
• the highest poverty rate, both generally and for children;
• the greatest inequality of incomes;
• the lowest social mobility;
• the lowest score on the UN’s index of “material well-being of children”;
• the worst score on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index;
• the highest expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP, yet all this money accompanied by the highest infant mortality rate, the highest prevalence of mental health problems, the highest obesity rate, the highest percentage of people going without health care due to cost, the highest consumption of antidepressants per capita, and the shortest life expectancy at birth;
• the next-to-lowest score for student performance in math and middling performance in science and reading;
• the highest homicide rate;
• the largest prison population in absolute terms and per capita;
• the highest carbon dioxide emissions and the highest water consumption per capita;
• the lowest score on Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (except for Belgium) and the largest ecological footprint per capita (except for Denmark);
• the lowest spending on international development and humanitarian assistance as a percentage of national income (except for Japan and Italy);
• the highest military spending both in total and as a percentage of GDP; and
• the largest international arms sales.
His manifesto, and our course, are all about connecting the dots in those bullets and formulating the basis for an active and rational response that can begin to redress our deficiencies.
This must be the latter half of August because I can honestly say: I can’t wait to begin.
Tags: Gus Speth