Most Recent SCC Webinar

Changing the System: A discussion with Gus Speth and Thad Williamson

Monday, February 8, 2021
2:00 PM Eastern/11:00 AM Pacific



The recognition is growing: truly addressing the problems of the 21st century requires going beyond small tweaks and modest reforms to business as usual—it requires “changing the system.” But what does this mean? And what would it entail? The New Systems Reader, edited by Gus Speth and Kathleen Courrier, highlights some of the most thoughtful, substantive, and promising answers to these questions as the world grapples with the effects of a global pandemic on top of the looming climate crisis, chronic structural racism, and worsening wealth inequities. The book draws on the work and ideas of some of the world’s key thinkers and activists on systemic change. Amid the failure of traditional politics and policies to address our fundamental challenges, an increasing number of thoughtful proposals and real-world models suggest new possibilities.
This book convenes an essential conversation about the future we want. As one reviewer wrote: “This impressive collection of essays… offers numerous suggestions on how to build truly new and resilient systemic changes in the economic, social and environmental spheres. Each of the 28 essays addresses issues that are urgently needed to reach the sustainable future we have been dreaming about for the past decades. It is now crystal clear that small adjustments to the existing system will no longer suffice. The systemic transformation needed must be global, courageous, inclusive and provide for previously disconnected issues to be considered together. The New Systems Reader is well positioned to play an important role in helping us move rapidly to create a new way forward for our planet and all of its inhabitants.”

The Next System Reader Guide, written by Thad Williamson, is intended to help readers think critically, creatively, and synthetically about the diverse, challenging, and wide-ranging ideas within the compendium. Informed by familiarity with the literature as well as the realities of political engagement and policy development, the Guide is intended to help readers think critically about each proposal on its own terms; to see connections (and contrasts) between different proposals and ideas; to help readers in both developing their own visions of a better future and identifying concrete action steps in support of those visions. This session will focus on general questions to pose of any account of systemic change: what values guide the proposal, how the proposal would modify or replace capitalism, what specific institutional changes are involved, and the underlying theory of social change, as well as questions specific to the imperative of achieving ecological sustainability.

Gus Speth served on the faculty of the Vermont Law School as Professor of Law from 2010 to 2015. He now serves as a Fellow at the Tellus Institute, the Democracy Collaborative and the Vermont Law School. He is Co-Chair of the Next System Project at the Democracy Collaborative. In 2009 he completed his decade-long tenure as Dean, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. From 1993 to 1999, Gus Speth was Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and chair of the UN Development Group. Prior to his service at the UN, he was founder and president of the World Resources Institute; professor of law at Georgetown University; chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (Carter Administration); and senior attorney and co-founder, Natural Resources Defense Council. 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, the Blue Planet Prize, the Thomas Berry Great Work Award of the Environmental Consortium of Colleges and Universities, and the Thomas Berry Award of the Forum on Religion and Ecology. He is the author, co-author or editor of eleven books including the American Crisis series published by Yale University Press: Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment (2004), The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability (2008), and America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (2012). In 2014 he published a memoir, Angels by the River(Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014), and in 2019 and 2020 he published two books of poetry and edited The New Systems Reader: Alternatives to a Failed Economy (with Kathleen Courrier). He graduated summa cum laude from Yale University in 1964 with a BA in Political Science, and subsequently earned an MLitt in Economics from Oxford University in 1966 as a Rhodes Scholar and his JD from the Yale Law School in 1969. After law school, he served as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black. Speth and his wife Cameron split their time between central Vermont and coastal South Carolina.

Thad Williamson is Associate Professor of Leadership Studies and Philosophy, Politics, Economics & Law at the University of Richmond. He is author of What Comes Next? Proposals for a Different Society (1998), co-author (with Gar Alperovitz and David Imbroscio) of Making a Place for Community: Local Democracy in a Global Era (2002) and most recently co-editor (with Melody C. Barnes and Corey D. Walker) of Community Wealth Building and the Reconstruction of American Democracy: Can We Make American Democracy Work? (2020). From 2014 to 2016, he served as inaugural director of the City of Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building, the first municipal agency of its kind in the United States.

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