There’s no use denying it; we live in troubled times. These days the word "global" is more often attached to a problem than to a piece of good news: global recession, global poverty, global warming, global ecological crisis. At the local level, American cities are sending up warning flares, Eastern Europeans are realizing that freedom and affluence are not a package deal, and the Earth’s poorest people – whether they live in what we call the "third world," the "South," or the "ghetto" – are getting poorer while watching the very rich get still richer.
Concerned individuals everywhere – from grassroots leaders in Kenya to middle-class Americans – are calling for change. They may not always know or agree on what kind of change they want, but much of it is economic: they sense that business-as-usual is as bankrupt as a scandal-ridden savings and loan.
This is the backdrop for the growing interest in sustainability, and in healing the awkward relationship between "environment" and "development." The words are in quotes because they have meant so many things to so many different people that they, like dancers in a grueling marathon, are nearly exhausted.
"Environment" is what we used to call nature, the great ordered jumble of life on Earth. "Development" is human progress, though even that term is now confused with the mere advancement of technology. The two meet on the dance floor of economics, a dilapidated structure badly in need of refurbishing.
Their pas de deux has been decidedly ungraceful. The dance floor is full of holes, and "environment" is staggering. It has been dragged around relentlessly by its insistent partner, "development," who clearly does not know how to dance. "Environment" may soon collapse, pulling "development" down with it. It may cast off this dangerous partner, heal its wounds, and go on. Or – and this is our hope, as well as our task – the potentially graceful body of humanity may learn in time the steps, rhythms, and playful nuances of this dance.
In this issue we discover that a wide variety of people – ranging from community activists and environmental scientists to heads of state and Army generals – are working to promote this more positive outcome. We also look at the reality, as well as the wisdom, of the physical limits to our economic growth. And we explore some of the features of sustainable development – a development that knows the meaning of balance, knows when to lead and when to follow, and knows how to dance divinely with its partner toward a greener, and more graceful, future.
Special thanks to contributing editor David C. Korten, who served as chief advisor to us on this issue.