Episode 7: Why Climate Change Necessitates System Change w/Gus Speth

September 26th, 2017

Environment & Energy Movement Strategy & History

Next System Project Co-Chair Gus Speth joins the Next System Podcast to discuss his experience with the environmental movement and how that led him to the work on systemic change that he pursues today.

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Adam Simpson:Welcome

back to the Next System Podcast. Today’s guest is Co-Chair of the Next System Project, James “Gus” Speth, here to talk about his experience with the environmental movement how that led him to system change. In addition to co-chairing the Next System Project, Gus holds fellowships at the Democracy Collaborative, the Tellus Institute, and the Vermont Law School. His history of environmental activism includes the founding of the World Resources Institute and co-founding the Natural Resources Defense Council. He’s also served as the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Chair of the US Council on Environmental Quality during the Carter Administration, and Dean of Yale’s Environmental School.

Gus, welcome to the Next System Podcast.

Gus Speth:Thank you, I’m delighted you’re doing this series.

Adam Simpson:Yeah. I’m delighted to have you today. I actually want to start beyond the biography and the resume that I just read. Because as someone that comes from the American South, it’s always interesting when I meet another progressive Southerner. I understand that you’re from South Carolina, and I have to be honest, I’ve only just scratched the surface of your memoir. The first chapters were quite fascinating, but I’m wondering if you might comment on what that kind of context and background meant to you in your kind of journey to where you are today with the Next System project as well as with the environmental movement and broader progressive ideas.

Gus Speth:I think a critical thing is growing up in a rural area. We were outside. We were in the woods. We were on the streams. We were on the ponds fishing, hunting and just tremendous exposure to what was, at that time, clean environment and a nice place full of wildlife. When we started the Natural Resources Defense Council officially in 1970, we all realized that something had predisposed us to get into this area—usually when we were quite young. That background in the rural part of South Carolina was certainly what did it for me, plus the fact that one time I went to visit my grandmother who lived in the summers on a beautiful lake in North Carolina, and when we got back, a long stream of visits that I made to her every summer, we found that the lake was dead. Totally polluted. Totally destroyed. No fishing. No swimming. Stay out signs all over the place.

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