The Bridge at the Edge of the World Book Summary, by James Gustave Speth

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1-Page Summary of The Bridge at the Edge of the World

“System Failure: Looking into the Abyss”

An environmental timeline from 1750 through 2000 would show how humans have affected the Earth. In that time, there has been a huge increase in population and people’s use of water, fuel, and fertilizer. Despite our great wealth, nature is being destroyed; rainforests are being cut down and fish stocks are declining. All these trends point to the eventual end of human life on Earth.

Environmentalists have been warning us for years that we’re destroying the environment. We’ve seen some progress, but we haven’t fixed the problem. The global warming phenomenon and other issues are now becoming more apparent to everyone.

The warming of the planet is a serious threat to life on Earth. Human actions, such as using petroleum and coal without restraint, razing forests and paving over fertile land have hurt the environment by releasing massive quantities of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. These actions increase global temperatures significantly.

An international group of scientists, called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has been monitoring and analyzing problems related to climate change. Their 2007 report documents rising temperatures, shrinking glaciers, melting icebergs, higher sea levels, and increasing drought and flooding. If we don’t stop this problem from getting worse then there will be less fresh water available for people to drink; animals that can’t adapt to changes in their habitats will become extinct; more regions along the coasts will be flooded because of rising sea levels; air pollution caused by increased carbon dioxide emissions will cause more illnesses such as asthma attacks; polar ice caps are expected to melt completely which would erase entire ecosystems; diseases like malaria could spread into new areas with warmer climates resulting in millions of deaths around the world.

Industrialized countries are the most responsible for climate change, but developing nations will be affected by it the most. NASA scientist and early environmental advocate James Hansen believes that the planet is quickly approaching a point of no return. To measure how much carbon dioxide is in our atmosphere, scientists use parts per million (ppm). They report that to protect life on earth, we need to keep CO2e levels at around 450 ppm—just 20 ppm higher than they’re currently at. The U.S could achieve this goal with an aggressive campaign of vastly better energy efficiency and improved farming/forestry practices.

Wildlife is in trouble because of the destruction of their natural habitat. Farming, grazing and fishing are destroying the planet. Overfishing has destroyed three quarters of ocean fisheries. The United Nations found that 40% fewer species exist now than they did forty years ago; things have not improved since then. Deforestation, acid rain and use of pesticides are also making matters worse for wildlife.

Scientists have been concerned about this problem for a long time, but it’s not getting any better. Global Footprint Network says that we use more resources than the Earth can provide. Some people are resigned to disaster, others deny there is a problem and say we should just fix it with technology or economic solutions. But those don’t work so well, so now is the time to try something new.

“Modern Capitalism: Out of Control”

Growth is essential to prosperity. Capitalism is so widely embraced that some people view it as a religion. Yet growth can have a negative impact on the environment, and we need to consider sustainability in our economic development.

The Bridge at the Edge of the World Book Summary, by James Gustave Speth

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