James Gustave Speth, Co-Founder NRDC, and Former Dean, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

“We scientists don’t know how to do that”…..what a commentary!

Living on Earth – Gus Speth calls for a New Environmentalism

First aired on February 13, 2015

In conversation with host Steve Curwood, NRDC co-founder Gus Speth reflects on the environmental movement both as a previous ‘insider’ and now as a reformer. In his new memoir “Angels by the River” Gus Speth calls for deeper challenges to the economic status quo, and explores his life and career at the nexus of race, environment and politics.

Read the Interview Transcript >>

Gus Speth, a US advisor on climate change said:

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”



  1. Joachim Schoder

    Where is this quote supposed to be from? Neither scientist nor science is EVER mentioned in the transcript of the interview.

          • I. Oevermann

            What Gus Speth used to think, is still correct – the same problems remain.
            The BIGGER problems are twofold: 1) Scientists speak in dramatic negative
            fashion which makes people tune out, and 2) Scientists speak in detailed
            ‘Scientific Geek’ which is not understood by the average person. Like a
            teacher speaking trigonometry in Grade 1 arithmetic class – the message
            simply won’t be understood, and again people will tune out. That appears
            to be apathy, but it’s not – it’s just the result of poor teaching skills. When
            you speak to people with passion and conviction in terms they understand,
            people will listen and people will learn, and people will make better choices.
            Sincerely, I. Oevermann

  2. Nedim Kemer

    I would like to begin a talk that I will give in an international ‘Human Dimensions’ symposium with this quote. Any recommendations please! You will be greatly appreciated.

  3. Dr Speth is absolutely right. The top problems are not environmental health, air and water pollution and climate Change but unlimited human greed and yearing to possess and consume more and more. It is primarily because of pollution of mind and the disconnect with spirituallity in man.
    Scientific advancements and technological developments shall provide tangible solutions but it is the mental of man that will ultimately decide whether we have a better world or the worst.
    We need to pay a greater attention to developing responsible citizenship that cares for self and the Mother Nature . *Sustainability* need to be embedded in the DNA of Man to save us from disaterous concequences.

    Integration of education with universal values such as truthfulness, heartfulnes, compassion and care of Mother Nature will create a better world . But that will not absolve the governments of Nations from their responsibility of good governance protecting the interest of man and nature together.

  4. Pingback: Spirituality – A Bipartisan Antidote to Climate Change – Awakened Striving

  5. Nathan

    Original source appears to be Miami Herald article, “Religion rejuvenates environmentalism”
    February 18, 2010, by Courtney Woo, and quote is actually secondhand. http://tinyurl.com/y7mqtzzn
    Evangelical pastor Ken Wilson’s environmental conversion began a few years ago with goose bumps, watery eyes and an appeal for help.

    “I heard Gus Speth, the dean of forestry at Yale, say to a group of religious leaders, ‘I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation and eco-system collapse, and that we scientists could fix those problems with enough science,’ ” Wilson recalls. ” ‘But I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that. We need your help.’ ”

  6. Derek Snider

    Scientists do know to do this, and have known since the 1950s and 1960s. It’s just been suppressed, but is resurfacing again now.

    The real issue at hand is greed, and despite good intentions, no institution, no matter how noble, has managed to avoid greed and corruption, be it church, charity, government, corporation or any other institution.

    While charities, governments and religious institutions do manage to shake its members up for donations for those less fortunate, it’s what actually occurs with those funds that is in question here.

    So what are these hidden answers that science has? Well, there actually is a “medicine” scientifically shown to reduce negative patterns (including greed) and make “health normal” people more opened to sharing, cooperating and actually loving their neighbors. This isn’t abstract, but the hard science now exists to support it.

    I’m not going to go into too many details here, but for anyone serious about bringing about this sort of change, I recommend they read, “How to Change Your Mind”, by Michael Pollan.

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