This year, some of the foremost environmental thinkers of our time have articulated their visions of a sustainable future in books that are all very different but share a common theme: the world is running out of time to deal with a set of seemingly overwhelming environmental threats. Reading these books over the summer made for a somewhat depressing holiday, especially when one of the most articulate leaders in environmental governance, Gus Speth, proposes nothing short of an economic and political revolution to get us out of the mess.
Although the rapid economic growth of the twenty-first century has made the situation even worse, many of us have heard all this before. There has been no shortage of books over the past 30-odd years warning us of the dire problems we face and calling for change. (Remember the 1990s as the “turnaround decade”?) Yet we have failed to measure up to the threats that seem about to overwhelm us. Why is this? There are plenty of reasons, most of which are articulated in these books: the lack of political champions, inadequate financial resources, the lack of vision, and the sheer scale of the challenge itself. Others can be found in the voices of the scientists who make up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. But our failure to dramatically reform our domestic institutions and create an international architecture to respond to the challenges of sustainable development must rank at the top of the list. Sustainable development is not for the faint of heart.