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Gus Speth, dean of Yale's School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, contends that "Henceforth, it will be impossible for politicians to ignore the issue" of climate change.

F&ES dean is an advocate for environmental
action on and off campus

For more than three decades, J. Gustave Speth, the Carl W. Knobloch Dean of Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (F&ES), has tried to make the world’s citizens aware of the urgent need to change habits that are destroying the planet.

In a major federal report issued more than 25 years ago, called the “Global 2000 Report,” Speth called for prompt action to curb the use of fossil fuels and other human activities that contribute to an increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

He made a similar plea for a global mobilization of resources to preserve the Earth and move to sustainable living in his 2004 book “Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment” and in the newly released “The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment and Crossing from Crises to Sustainability.” Both books focus mainly on actions that are needed.

“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,” comments Speth in “The Bridge at the Edge of the World.” “Of course, human activities are not holding at current levels — they are accelerating, dramatically, and so, too, is the pace of climate disruption, biotic impoverishment and toxification.”

Speth has spread this message in the various capacities in which he has served: as co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, chair of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality under President Jimmy Carter; president and founder of the World Resources Institute, as the chief executive officer of the United Nations Development Program; and in his role at Yale, where he has been dean since 1999.

In his own research, he also examines the issues that have contributed to such global-scale environmental issues as species and biodiversity loss, tropical deforestation, desertification, climate change, ozone layer depletion, overfishing, fresh water shortages and environmental toxification. For his contributions, he has won many international honors, including the prestigious Blue Planet Prize, one of the world’s top environmental awards.

While he acknowledges an increase in public awareness of the problem of global climate change, he is not as certain that governments will take timely action to remedy the problem.

“I think we’ve passed a threshold on the climate issue,” he said in a recent interview. “Henceforth, it will be impossible for politicians to ignore the issue. Whether they’ll behave responsibly at this point remains to be seen. But the fact is, whether they take action now or later, they recognize that they have to do something.”

Under his leadership as dean, Speth has helped enhance environmental education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He assisted in the establishment of the environmental studies major for undergraduates and has shepherded F&ES in a process of major change and expansion. He has also been instrumental in ensuring that the new home of F&ES, Kroon Hall, will be a fully sustainable building. The building will be completed in 2009. (See related story.)

Speth, who has also been an outspoken advocate for a greater environmental consciousness at Yale, applauds members of the University community and President Richard C. Levin for their commitment to making dramatic changes in operational and day-to-day practices to create a more sustainable campus.

“Our president has taken a leadership role not only in creating a greener Yale, but in encouraging other higher education institutions in the world to do the same,” says Speth, who is also the Sara Shallenberger Brown Professor in the Practice of Environmental Policy. “Students in Yale College, at F&ES and in other places across the campus are determined to tackle global environmental issues, and Yale staff members are actively engaged in seeking and practicing more environmentally friendly methods of doing all the various kinds of business that go on here.

“We’re just at the beginning of an environmental revolution on our campus.”


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