A Glimpse at the Earth’s Environmental Problems: The Bridge at the Edge of the World

A Glimpse at the Earth’s Environmental Problems: The Bridge at the Edge of the World

The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability
by James Gustave Speth
Pub. Date: March 2008, Yale University Press
ISBN- 9780812992182
237 Pages
Success Rating:4

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 responsibility. If I had to quickly sum it up, Speth’s thesis is as follows: as a result of an incredible desire to grow and consume as a country, an economy and a planet, our world is heading down a very dangerous path to environmental destruction, and the time is right this second to start doing something about it. I know it sounds extreme but you won’t believe the intensity of the statistics regarding population growth, fresh water use, polution, vehicle use, climate changes, temperature increase, and the list goes on. One thing is for sure. The author has done his research. It must have taken him years to put this together.

My good mate from Dubai was out visiting a few weeks back and gave me this book as a gift. He said it had a profound effect on him and felt it was his duty to offer me the same experience. I’m not sure whether to thank him or not… What a gift. As I read through the staggering statistics of how we are using, growing and consuming much too fast for our own good, I felt this massive call to action. The last time I really felt this way from a global perspective was after reading Thomas Friedman’s, The World is Flat a number of years ago. The only difference was that back then the call to action felt more like motivation to be as great as we (the U.S.) have been in the years and decades past. I was inspired, by both fear and excitement, to be better. Speth has taken more the approach of extreme fear and guilt to encourage action and I think he’s done it. From what I’ve heard, Friedman’s newest book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded takes a much more drastic approach as Speth has here. Be expecting a review on that shortly.

As the book reads, Speth begins with the major problems and potential upcoming disasters of the environment to get the reader legitimately frightened. He then covers some of the key causes to give the reader some understanding, and finally closes with some thoughtful approaches on what can be done about it to give the reader some action steps. The layout seemed to flow well, although for most of the book I kept thinking to myself, what the heck can I, as one person, do about these major issues. To my satisfaction, those ideas were eventually covered.

Something specific that stood out to me was the blame that he has put on modern day capitalism. As wonderful as capitalism has been as a tool to inspire great financial success and unparalleled innovation, it has left some terrible undoing in the dust. We have become so focused on economic growth at absolutely any cost that Corporate America has sacrificed the very thing that keeps it alive, mother earth. I must say it’s hard to blame them given the world is shoulder deep in a race to see who can be the biggest and the strongest, but it’s still no excuse. It’s a global issue and should be approached that way. There are so many standards for how a corporation operates and recognizes profits but there has been next to no accountability for the wake of their environmental impact.

Speth’s point is that as much as our current definition of capitalism has done for our country and world, it is glaringly clear that this same form of capitalism is anything but sustainable in the future. He then goes on to propose the shifts that should and need to be made in order to keep our quest for growth from destroying what makes life worth living–clean air, fresh water, a healthy family and so many other things we take for granted.

What really hit home for me was that Speth did not stop at the economy at large. He dug right into the reader’s core by identifying the very things each of us (as well as our society as a whole) have become accustomed to. It all starts with our addiction for over-consumption. The idea of not just being satisfied with “enough”, but instead needing and consuming “too much”. Most anyone of us reading this is guilty of it. Consumerism and materialism has taken over our society to a point where we often don’t even realize that half the things we buy are totally unnecessary. The problem is that as soon as we’ve convinced ourselves that we need them to be happy, we have fallen into the trap.

Gone seem the days of entertainment from simple time with friends, a nice book or a walk along the beach. That walk has turned into bike ride on a few thousand dollar bike. That time with friends has turned into a couple hundred dollar meal and drinks out on the town. And that book sadly has turned into cable TV or video games. The more we consume, the more we feel entitled to consume. Even if it’s totally irrational, that entitlement is still there. People talk about budgeting in this tight economy yet they are still going out to nice meals or grabbing their daily Starbucks. Since when are those not treats and privileges, but instead our rights?

The point is that all this adds up. It may not seem like much as one consumer. But have a look through your house, closet or credit card bill and make a list of things you could have easily done without. Now imagine a list like that times 300 or so million people. The materialism and entitlement adds up and quickly trickles into corporations motivations and before long you can see why this country and this world are running so terribly low on resources. Something must be done or it’s not going to end well.

Over the years, we have been brainwashed to think that success is directly related to the amount of money we have and the things we own. Hopefully by now, as avid readers of Reading For Your Success and these books, you have realized that couldn’t be further from the truth. Success is a dynamic concept in our minds that constantly changes as we learn and become aware of new ideas and priorities in our own lives and in the world in which we live. Please do not let your preconceived definitions of success blind you of the priorities of today. Our definition should be constantly growing and refining with every new thought that comes up, and I encourage you to always use the latest tools and minds to open up yours. The Bridge at the Edge of the World is just one of those tools.

This book is James Speth’s gift to our environment and our culture to get us fired up to do something about it so that there’s something left for our children and theirs. Without massive change, it looks as if we’ll continue down a pretty scary road. Speth is hoping he can inspire us enough to create a bridge to take us across to a more socially and environmentally conscious world and it will no doubt require the work of the whole crowd. At this point you should be wondering what you can do, or perhaps what you are already doing, to lend a hand. Might it be something as simple as starting to recycle or riding your bike to work, or perhaps more deep-rooted like focusing your life’s quest for success as an individual, entrepreneur, businessperson, mother or father in a way that will really change things. Fortunately (and unfortunately) the opportunities are practically untapped when it comes to doing your part. I’d say it’s never too late, but at some point it will be.

-Reading for Your Success

Buy The Bridge at the Edge of the World at Amazon

Valuable Quotes:

“When all is said and done, the only change that will make a difference is the transformation of the human heart.”

“Prisoners of plenty, we have the freedom to consume instead of the freedom to find our place in the world.”–Clive Hamilton