Title: Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment
Author: James Gustave Speth
Published: 2004

Overview: The author provides a comprehensive view spanning the recent history of environmental action (and, more significantly, inaction), suggesting we pursue an immediate path of drastic action. The strong underlying message throughout the book is that public policy is not keeping up with the rates of change both in the developing world and the increasingly perilous environmental situation. Especially after outlining the failures of environmental protection, the task of getting where we need to be seems daunting. Following many of Speth’s suggestions seems unrealistic, though merely attempting to do so will at least put us on the right course.

Detail: Speth calls into question the ideology of American consumerism. The economic growth of the 20th century has reached a point where all else can be lost (human relationships, a meaningful life, and the environment) in pursuit of additional growth. The author is calling for a revolution in our attitudes on consumerism and other pillars of the modern American way of life. A prime example would be the US foregoing the Kyoto Protocol in favor of business and economic efficiency.

The author points to ten drivers of environmental deterioration: (1) Over population (2) Consumption (3) Technology {void of environmental benefits} (4) Poverty (5) Market Failure (6) Policy and Political Failure (7) scale and rate of economic growth (8) economic systems (9) culture and values (10) globalization.

He also provides transitions to a sustainable future:

1. Lowering the world population. Progression on this is better than previously expected, as projections for the mid 21st century are being lowered. Empowering women in oppressive or poor nations and educating them has been connected to lower birth rates. Some stats show that birth rates are now beginning to lower on their own without education.

2. Areas of poverty tend to destroy the surrounding environment in an effort to progress out of poverty. Therefore, raising populations out of poverty will benefit the environment. However, the somewhat unrealistic call to an end in poverty seems very difficult to achieve relative to other environmental actions.

3. Technology that helps the environment. Some progress has been made as new sources of energy are sought after. However, Speth is hoping that all technologies will be evaluated in terms of their environmental impact. Much of this will have to do with consumer demand.

4. Environmentally Honest Prices. Prices need to take into account the cost of environmental damage done. Producers must all begin to make durable goods recyclable.

5. Sustainable Consumption. We need to start viewing over-consumption as morally wrong and enforce that with our buying habits.

6. Knowledge and Learning. Ensure that every student who graduates from high school has a basic understanding of our interest to protect the environment. In 2002 a poll determined that only 1/3 of the adult population in the U.S. passed a quiz on environmental topics.