FDL Book Salon Welcomes Gus Speth, Angels By The River: A Memoir
Gus Speth’s Angels by the River is not an autobiography or traditional memoir, it’s a series of reflections on the life of one of the nation’s most influential environmental activists, selectively chosen for how they relate to our current and future struggles. As we confront an environmental crisis that is growing increasingly dire, we have to turn to our past failures and successes before we proceed.
Speth is the perfect guide in this reflection. The narrative of his environmental career is in many ways the narrative of a growing movement. He was born and raised in Orangeburg, South Carolina, a town where he says the best and worst of the South shone through. The civil rights movement was emerging alongside the horrific Orangeburg Massacre. His roots in the civil rights movement—which he also connects to the South’s agrarian roots— shaped his involvement in the environmental movement.
There’s no question Speth should be regarded as one of the forefathers of the modern environmental movement. In addition to his academic career at Yale, he helped start two of the most influential environmental advocacy groups, worked with the White House on climate and other emerging issues, and led the UN’s development efforts around the globe. He is currently a professor at Vermont Law School and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan public policy research and advocacy organization.
Angels by the River is a reflection on Speth’s life, but more importantly it’s a tool for strategizing what’s to come. As Speth notes, “The past is passage to understanding the present and the opening to future possibility.” The environmental movement, he says, is failing. Environmental organizations are stronger than ever before, but the state of the earth has never been more dire. How can that be?
To move forward effectively, Speth argues, we need to confront the consumerism and ideologies of limitless growth and greed. As Speth has written:
The never-ending drive to grow the overall U.S. economy is ruining the environment; it fuels a ruthless international search for energy and other resources; it fails at generating the needed jobs; it hollows out communities; and it rests on a manufactured consumerism that is not meeting the deepest human needs. Americans are substituting growth and consumption for dealing with the real issues — for doing things that would truly make us and the country better off.
Please join me in welcoming Gus Speth to the FDL Book Salon.