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The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  293 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
How serious are the threats to our environment? Here is one measure of the problem: if we continue to do exactly what we are doing, with no growth in the human population or the world economy, the world in the latter part of this century will be unfit to live in. Of course human activities are not holding at current levels--they are accelerating, dramatically--and so, too, ...more
ebook, 319 pages
Published March 28th 2008 by Yale University Press (first published 2008)
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I have identified a sub-genre of book to be found in non-fiction; warnings of the impending environmental, largely climate-driven, crisis written by men who have been involved in the green movement in an academic and/or activist capacity for at least thirty years. Such books seek to cover very wide ground, begin with alarming descriptions of disaster to come, then segue into the prospects of solutions. They tend to end on a cautiously optimistic note, on the grounds that fatalism gets you nowher ...more
Scott Dinsmore
Why I Read this Book: I’ve always made it a priority to stay up to date on major world and environmental issues. This sums up some things we might want to be thinking (and worrying) about.

Topics Covered:

* Environmental Consciousness
* Environmental Degradation
* Global Warming
* Going Green


My mind was racing as soon as I finished the first chapter. It was almost painful. It was not a feeling of excitement that I get from many of the books I review, but instead a heavy feeling of responsi
Nov 07, 2013 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent examination of the environmental perils facing the world today. Some may argue that it is a depressing read, but that's hardly the fault of Speth. He is simply presenting the facts and laying out the most likely futures. If it is depressing, perhaps it is time to realize that there is a very real crisis looming in the near future that requires action.

To Speth's credit, he does lay out numerous alternatives available to us; however, they may not be to the liking of many that are deeply
Aug 30, 2009 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great survey of current views on the relationship between the economy and the ecology. Even though Speth doesn't present many original ideas, he also doesn't try to pass off a bunch of second-hand materials as his own, like many popular/journalist-type authors often do. His extensive use of citations is one of the best things about this book because it points to lots of other interesting reading. I think most of the book is very strong, and I would find myself nodding my head in agreem ...more
Dec 31, 2009 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was in large part a reiteration of what I've been studying for the past couple of years in environmental policy, and I recommend it to people who are interested in understanding more about the current state of the environment and the various policies that are being used or proposed to fix it. The book was particularly enjoyable since Speth includes some of the ideas that I've found most exciting in this program such as developing alternatives to GDP because of the perverse incentives c ...more
I found this book a little bit tedious and grumpy-old-man. But Speth also gave me some interesting things to think about. His chapters on human happiness and the problems with the prevailing model of capitalism are a comprehensive looking-down-from-the-hot-air-balloon overview of the theory and practical problems.

Of course, this book also gave me a horrible nightmare that raccoons and badgers armed with 19th century rifles were hunting me while I hiked through the woods. Don't read it before be
Nicole McCann
Jan 20, 2010 Nicole McCann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
not a great follow-up to michael pollan, but pertinent. this book was written by a yale professor. i'm sucking up and he has no idea! if only i could email him and say, "hey, keep in mind while you're reviewing my application that i just read your book!" ha! but really, the topic of capitalism and markets and how it affects environmental change is very relevant. this book focused primarily on the united states. i think i will read his book "red sky at morning" which focused on the same topic but ...more
Mar 24, 2011 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone should read this... even if you don't agree with everything Speth says (I don't - not everything), he'll challenge you to live more consciously and sustainably (the world is ours, not yours..!?) but also more freely. He acknowledges that "More and more people sense at some level that there's a great misdirection of life's energy." And I like his inclusion of Wendell Berry's "Manifesto":

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered al
Aug 24, 2010 Eric rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a good book. Interesting balance of economics, business, politics, environment and social movements. At times it feels like it's just a summary of all the books Speth has read, which can be a good and bad thing. It's great to pull info from other sources but in most cases it's just other opinionated authors who share Speth's views. Conversely, my reading list just got a big boost which is a good thing. In the end, Speth makes a compelling argument and offers some real solutions. Worth readi ...more
Jul 06, 2013 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an amazing, insightful book. It addresses so many of the world's problems including climate change, economic, environmental and social justice issues and even addresses the major flaws of capitalism. This book identifies key problem areas that human civilization must address to endure the future state of the planet while simultaneously offering logical solutions to avoid catastrophe. I urge everyone on Earth to read this book!
Anne Ipsen
Outstanding explanation of global warming, the energy crisis, and the looming economic disaster citing the work of many writers. In addition Speth has some suggestions for which fork in the road will lead to sustainability. It was refreshing to read a factual book that has an optimistic ending of a possible future for the earth--in places perhaps too optimistic. Kitty Beer has posted an insightful complete review on her blog:
Learned a couple of new things. Scary when you think about the climate approaching or already past it's tipping point. If it hasn't passed it yet, what are those factors that are getting ready to push it over the edge and what can we do to prevent it. Parts of the book seemed very fact and quote based. According to my rough estimate of the number of quoted books, I'm thinking James Speth actually ready over 100 during this compilation. I'm curious how his book "Red Sky at Dawn" is.
“Proposals for transformational change will be derided and, when they gain traction, resisted at every turn. It is true but too easy to say that resistance will come from entrenched interests. It will also come from ourselves. We are the consumers and the employees, and we are easily seduced. Still, there is a world at stake, the world our children and grandchildren will inherit. We must all be out to save the world, literally.” (235-236)
Dec 07, 2008 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
good review by Ross Gelbspan, author of "The Heat is On", here:

"Acclaimed environmentalist Speth asserts that our capitalist economy, with its emphasis on continuous robust growth, is at loggerheads with the environment. He minces no words as he writes that to destroy life as we know it, all we have to do is 'keep doing exactly what we are doing today.'"—Booklist
May 07, 2009 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A survey of the environmental crisis we find ourselves in, followed by a plea for changing the 'in-capitalism-growth-is-everything' paradigm which has helped bring about that crisis. Speth is a major academic whose book is useful precisely because it is reasoned, dry, and calm. It is not a battle-cry. One question. Why is the cover depicted in the thumbnail not the cover on my physical trade paperback book?
Jun 28, 2009 Frances rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As one reviewer (Liz Elise of Nes Scientist) said so very well: "A massive plea for junking capitalism as we know it". The sub-title of this book is "Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainabilty". Reading this on last week's bike tour through beautiful Colorado was ideal - it's so much easier to put things in persective when there is a little distance from one's everyday life. This is a FABULOUS thought-provoking and inspiring read.
Feb 05, 2011 Lucius rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kind of a must read for... everyone. Questions the whole status quo, re: our valuation scheme (is the GDP really a meaningful measure of how well a country is doing?), as well as providing some key guidelines for what's important economically, ecologically, and politically, if we hope to ever become a "sustainable" nation.
J. D.
Oct 06, 2008 J. D. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author envisions the need for a "new consciousness" to transform the current apparent impasse in worldwide political and institutional will. The object of this transformation: to avert global social and ecological catastrophe. I have found his prognostications compelling, but, not much of a visionary myself, I don't share his optimism. I hope I'm mistaken.
Nov 23, 2009 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great overview of far-left, far-thinking environmentalism from the former presidential adviser and UNEP chief. The content is mainly a cut-and-paste gallery from other works, and it doubled my To Read list (offline, not over here, sorry). What's missing is a user-friendly bibliography and/or "where to get involved" list.
This was the second book we read for Montserrat. It was a little harder to get through than the first book we read because it was heavy with economic facts and stuff, but it was still interesting, and it made for good discussions in class this week.
I usually find, as is with this book, the more credentials that the author holds, the less quality will reside in the pages of the piece. This is popular culture at its finest, a really hopeful portrayal of the future consciousness change.
Apr 27, 2008 Anthony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"And then there's the one about the Russian peasant whose neighbor had a cow while he did not. When God asked how he could help, the peasant replied, 'Kill the cow!' Numerous studies confirm that happiness levels depend inversely on one's neighbors' prosperity." -p. 133
R Ann
Jan 08, 2011 R Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting insight into the current state of affairs in the U.S. with particular focus on the nexus between environmental issues and the other problems we face. Taking a class from the author last semester also helped make it a fun read!
A reasonably good overview, but doesn't bring much new thought to the topic. I did find it useful as a pointer to other books I want to read though!
Sep 30, 2009 adam rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
i don't remember it being a bad read, but i also can't remember any especially brilliant solutions from it after a year.
Feb 11, 2014 Aubrey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thought provoking read, this book really challenges our society's perception and adherence to capitalist and consumerist philosophy. With that being said, I found it a little self-indulgent.
Kris Becker
Oct 13, 2012 Kris Becker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A must-read for eco-warriors and anyone concerned about the survival of the planet. Only question: does it go far enough?
David Biello
environmentalism as we know it has failed but ecological failure may be the greater threat to capitalism than social inequality (or at least equal)
Oct 15, 2010 Karen is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
This is required reading for my Environmental Economics class, but it's also pretty interesting.
Jun 24, 2008 June rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Gus Speth is a compelling speaker, but as an author...not so much...The book was mainly an overview of the relevant literature.
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“In the end, despite the large volume of bad news, we can conclude with an affirmation. We can say with Wallace Stevens that 'after the final no there comes a yes.' Yes, we can save what is left. Yes, we can repair and make amends. We can reclaim nature and restore ourselves. There is a bridge at the end of the world.” 1 likes
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