James Gustave "Gus" Speth joined the faculty of the Vermont Law School as Professor of Law in 2010. In addition to his position as Senior Fellow at the Democracy Collaborative, he is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos and Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute. In 2009 he completed his decade-long tenure as Dean, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. From 1993 to 1999, Gus was Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and chair of the UN Development Group. Prior to his service at the UN, he was founder and president of the World Resources Institute; professor of law at Georgetown University; chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (Carter Administration); and senior attorney and cofounder, Natural Resources Defense Council.
Throughout his career, Gus has provided leadership and entrepreneurial initiatives to many task forces and committees whose roles have been to combat environmental degradation and promote sustainable development, including the President’s Task Force on Global Resources and Environment; the Western Hemisphere Dialogue on Environment and Development; and the National Commission on the Environment. Among his awards are the National Wildlife Federation’s Resources Defense Award, the Natural Resources Council of America’s Barbara Swain Award of Honor, a 1997 Special Recognition Award from the Society for International Development, Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Environmental Law Institute and the League of Conservation Voters, the Blue Planet Prize, and the Thomas Berry Great Work Award of the Environmental Consortium of Colleges and Universities. He holds honorary degrees from Clark University, the College of the Atlantic, the Vermont Law School, Middlebury College, the University of South Carolina, Green Mountain College, the University of Massachusetts, and Unity College. He is the author, co-author or editor of seven books including the award-winning The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability and Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment. His latest book is America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, published by Yale Press in September 2012.
Gus currently serves on the boards of the New Economy Coalition, Center for a New American Dream, Climate Reality Project, and the Institute for Sustainable Communities. He is an honorary director of the World Resources Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council and is an advisory board member or associate for the Democracy Collaborative, United Republic, 350.org, EcoAmerica, Labor Network for Sustainability, New Economy Working Group, SC Coastal Conservation League, Environmental Law Institute, Vermont Natural Resources Council, Southern Environmental Law Center, Heinz Center, Free Speech for People, Vermont Institute for Natural Science, and the Northwest Earth Institute.
He graduated summa cum laude from Yale University in 1964 with a BA in Political Science, and subsequently earned an M.Litt. in Economics from Oxford University in 1966 as a Rhodes Scholar and his JD from the Yale Law School in 1969. After law school, he served as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black.
In Angels by the River, James Gustave “Gus” Speth recounts his unlikely path from a southern boyhood through his years as one of the nation’s most influential mainstream environmentalists and eventually to the system-changing activism that shapes his current work.
Born and raised in an idyllic but racially divided town that later became the scene of South Carolina’s horrific Orangeburg Massacre, Speth explores how the civil rights movement and the South’s agrarian roots shaped his later work in the heyday of the environmental movement, when he founded two landmark environmental groups, fought for the nation’s toughest environmental laws, spearheaded programs in the United Nations, advised the White House, and moved into a leading academic role as dean of Yale’s prestigious School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Yet, in the end, he arrived somewhere quite unexpected—still believing change is possible, but not within the current political and economic system.
Throughout this compelling memoir, Speth intertwines three stories—his own, his hometown’s, and his country’s—focusing mainly on his early years and the lessons he drew from them, and his later years, in which he comes full circle in applying those lessons. In the process he invites others to join him politically at or near the place at which he has arrived, wherever they may have started.
- Valley News
I had something like a vision not long ago as I was enjoying my breakfast. It began when I looked out the kitchen window and saw, instead of my front yard, a community going about its everyday affairs. I now spend some time almost every day looking through this window and observing the changing scene. My conclusion, based on what I have seen, is that I am viewing a vision of a new, much better and, to me, a very attractive America. It’s clear to me that the people I am watching are building this new America themselves — in their homes, neighborhoods and communities — without waiting for big government or anybody else.
- YES! Magazine
Policy expert Gus Speth talks about Our Children’s Trust’s lawsuit, explaining the U.S.’s longtime knowledge of climate change even as it pushed fossil fuels. But now we've got a fighting chance.
- Common Dreams
When compared to countries with democracies of similar strength and similar levels of development, the U.S. falls tragically behind in nearly every category. "If we fail to come together to address these challenges, we will remain mired in desperate needs, split by deep divisions, and endlessly burdened and diverted by the cumulative consequences of global warming," writes Gus Speth.
- In These Times
In this article, Kate Aronoff describes the feasibility of a new proposal published by The Next System Project, a vision that combines Modern Monetary Theory with the urgent need to scale down fossil fuel consumption:
- The Next System Project
This new working paper from The Next System Project—prepared as an invited contribution to the "After Fossil Fuels: The New Economy" conference in Oberlin, Ohio from October 6-8, 2016—explores the intersections of systemic economic and ecological crisis, and propose that only a break with the mechanisms of corporate capitalism is capable of guaranteeing a sustainable future.