James Gustave Speth announced as Unity College commencement speaker

Nov 10, 2012
James Gustave 'Gus' Speth

Internationally acclaimed environmental educator, writer, and scholar James Gustave "Gus" Speth has been named the 2013 commencement speaker at Unity College.

The 44th commencement exercises will be held Saturday, May 18, at 1 p.m. in Tozier Gymnasium on the campus of Unity College, 90 Quaker Hill Rd., Unity.

Speth joined the faculty at Vermont Law School in 2010. A Distinguished Senior Fellow with Demos, a United States-based research and policy center founded in 2000 that maintains a non-partisan role in policy change and reform work to revitalize American democracy, he completed a decade-long tenure in 2009 as dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

From 1993 to 1999, he was administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and chair of the U.N. Development Group. Prior to his service at the U.N., he was the founder and president of the World Resources Institute; a professor of law at Georgetown University; chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality in the Carter administration; and senior attorney and co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Throughout his career, Speth has provided leadership and entrepreneurial initiatives to many task forces and committees whose roles have been to combat environmental degradation, including the President's Task Force on Global Resources and Environment; the Western Hemisphere Dialogue on Environment and Development; and the National Commission on the Environment. Among his awards are the National Wildlife Federation's Resources Defense Award, the Natural Resources Council of America's Barbara Swain Award of Honor, a 1997 Special Recognition Award from the Society for International Development, Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Environmental Law Institute and the League of Conservation Voters, and the Blue Planet Prize.

He is the author, co-author, or editor of six books, including the award-winning "The Bridge at the Edge of the World": "Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability" and "Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment."

“In my view, all of his books should be accessible to first-year college students,” said Stephen Mulkey, president of Unity College.

Mulkey singled out "Red Sky at Morning" and "America the Possible" for particular praise.

“In essence, Professor Speth is a political economist, and his focus is on creating a ‘sustaining economy.’ He realizes that there are two fundamental aspects to our sustainability crisis; macroeconomics largely controlled by corporate and political interests, and personal desires driven by inappropriate sense of need. Although not an evolutionary psychologist, he wades into the latter with mastery in two of his works.”

In her review of Speth’s book entitled “America the Possible,” Hazel Henderson, author and founder of Ethical Markets Media LLC, wrote that he is, “one of the most prominent, knowledgeable global environmentalists of our time. A quintessential insider, Speth began as an anti-nuclear activist in the 1970s and later chaired President Jimmy Carter's Council on Environmental Quality. In the 1980s, he founded and led the influential World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., and in the 1990s became the administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). He promoted the understanding that global environmental sustainability rested on alleviating poverty, promoting human rights, economic and social justice, better education and health, stabilizing populations, expanding the rule of law, protecting our global commons and addressing conflicts with more diplomacy and fewer weapons.”

Mulkey framed "America the Possible" as "one of the most important books in decades to address transformation in America and, through my inference, U.S. higher education.

“On the whole, I think his work is not only germane, but it should be required reading for all of our students,” Mulkey continued. “We hope to place a copy of his most recent work on the seat of every student at commencement.

“We are delighted and humbled that Professor Speth will serve as our commencement speaker,” Mulkey said. “For generations he has served as one of the most insightful environmental thinkers in America. As our graduates venture out into a world in desperate need of wise environmental stewardship to preserve its very existence, it is entirely appropriate for them to evaluate and internalize the wisdom that their commencement speaker offers. There is no better individual to step forward and offer that wisdom than Professor Speth.”

Unity College is a small private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated, engaged students with a liberal arts education that emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to be environmental stewards, effective leaders and responsible citizens through active learning experiences within a supportive community.

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