Can humankind find its way to a world that is cleaner, safer, and fairer than the one we inhabit today-and can we do it with 50 percent more people? The answer is, possibly. It will require a complex interaction of vision, innovation, and policy all coming together at precisely the right moment. We will need leaders who have the foresight, financial wherewithal, and public standing to set the stage for global change. Just as important, we'll need grassroots activists around the world working on innovative small-scale projects and implementing visionary technologies. Perhaps the most important thing policy makers can do is allow those efforts to flourish.
Our best intentions often seem to get hijacked by a Hobbesian political reality. Efforts to protect our world's forests, oceans, and climate stall as a result of short-sighted economic and political calculations. In 2000, for example, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals-the most significant and comprehensive effort yet to move us toward that better world-promised that by 2015 we would make great strides in raising the living standards of the poorest among us by reducing poverty, tackling disease, educating the young, and reversing environmental degradation. Halfway down the road, despite some successes, the United States, European Union, and Japan are falling far behind on their aid commitments, and several recipient countries lack the will or capacity to make full use of the assistance.
There has been some progress made, but not through official political channels. Instead, it's come about through grassroots and nongovernmental initiatives.