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On the Commons

America The Possible: A Manifesto For A Brighter Future

In America the Possible : A Manifesto —a riveting two part excerpt in Orion Magazine from a forthcoming book— environmental strategist and scholar Gus Speth crafts a practical agenda for the future of the American Dream that brims with optimism, decency and common sense. He envisions a future for the United States that takes full advantage of our youthful dynamism as a nation but that also benefits from an evolving maturity about our responsibilities to each other, the rest of the world and the planet itself.

Without explicitly using the word “commons,” he nonetheless has given us a remarkable vision of a better world based on economic equity, sustainable development and democratic participation. (Speth did tell me in an email that “I ring the commons bell at several places in the book”.)

The word “manifesto” is thrown around rather casually these days, but this is the real item. You can’t help but detect hopeful new evidence for what’s possible even as he lays out a sobering scenario for what happens if we stay on the present course. Speth’s book is the culmination of his long career at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Science, the World Resources Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the White House Council on Environmental Quality and, currently, the Vermont Law School.

Among the many insights in Speth’s manifesto, I was struck by one in one in particular: how our current economic and environmental policies are so un-American in their essence.


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“High on any lists of our duties to future generations must be the imperative to keep open for them as many options and choices as possible. Here, the first order of business is to preserve the possibility of a bright future by preventing any of today’s looming disasters from spinning out of control or otherwise becoming so overwhelming that they monopolize resources of time, energy and money, thus foreclosing other options.”

Whatever its faults, the United States has inspired people as a land of hope, where families dared to dream of a brighter future full of plentiful choices for their children. That is the core of the American Dream. But our leaders’ reckless disregard for perils like climate disruption, economic collapse, militarism, nuclear disaster, plutocracy and corporatocracy is turning this golden dream into a hollow shell.

Safeguarding children’s ability (in the U.S. and everywhere) to enjoy choices about their future is the strongest reason I can think of to protect and restore the commons.

Gus Speth’s book America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy appears in September from Yale University Press. Part one of the Orion excerpt is here . Part two is here.

Jay Walljasper

Jay Walljasper

Jay Walljasper, editor of and author of "All That We Share: How to Save the Economy, the Environment, the Internet, Democracy, Our Communities, and Everything Else That Belongs to All of Us" and "The Great Neighborhood Book," writes widely about cities, community, sustainability and travel. On The Commons is a commons movement strategy center.

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