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A great swing

The journey that these processes set in motion is a long one. It takes many years and does not proceed without constant pressure and action from many sectors of society. A profound set of changes, which were only hinted at in the early years of the century, gradually unfolds, quietly most of the time, not so quietly at others. People everywhere begin to embrace the idea of a 'new sustainability paradigm' that promises to transcend conventional values and lifestyles. This new paradigm combines a powerful personal and philosophical dimension with concern over economic growth, technological potential and political eventualities.

'A profound set of changes gradually unfolds, quietly most of the time, not so quietly at others. People everywhere begin to embrace the idea of a 'new sustainability paradigm.'

Among more affluent people and groups, disenchantment with consumerism sparks off a quest for more fulfilling and ethical ways of living that can restore a sense of meaning and purpose to their existence. The values of simplicity, cooperation and community begin to displace those of consumerism, competition and individualism. More time is spent on study, art, hobbies and engaging in the wider community.

The success of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa, East Timor and elsewhere stimulate similar exercises in other places, including less strictly political settings, such as within the tobacco and chemicals industries. The positive results of the peacemaking process in Northern Ireland and Bosnia enhance efforts in other regions. Dialogues between the world's major religions, directly stimulated by the terrorist activities against the United States and subsequent retaliation, further help to create the foundation for greater understanding and cooperation.

In some regions, the mood of society is a mixture of battle fatigue and disgust with current leaders. Small-scale but locally significant environmental disasters also have an effect on this mood. These factors combine to make more people willing to explore and question fundamental beliefs.

Citizens and consumers, where possible with their votes and wallets and otherwise with their feet and their voices, make it clear that progressive businesses and governments will be rewarded while others will be rejected. At some point, a critical mass is reached, whereby activities that have until now appeared isolated and of little consequence, begin to spread and affect broader regions.

In developing regions and amongst indigenous communities everywhere, a new generation of thinkers, leaders and activists emerges to join and shape the global dialogue. Many regions draw on the dual legacy of nature-conscious traditional societies and ideas of visionary thinkers seeking better paths for development. Cultural renaissance evolves in many regions, rooted in respect for tradition and an appreciation of local human and natural resources. Young people from all regions and cultures play a key role in promoting these values. The increased opportunity to meet and learn from others of their generation, both virtually and in person, fuels a rediscovery of idealism as they join together in the project of forging a global community.

What is new in the current discussion is the willingness of people to reflect upon the positive and negative aspects of their own actions and legacies as well as those of other cultures. Many of these debates are launched within the developing world, engaging an ever-expanding circle of stakeholders.

The notion that the prevailing market oriented wisdom is both insufficient and undesirable garners more and more support. This switch is most significant in North America and Western Europe, as well as among many of the affluent in other regions, who have been seen as the key purveyors and beneficiaries of this approach to development. At the same time, it is recognized that the increasing openness and participation in governance have played a key role in the advances that have improved life for many people in many parts of the world.

This change of heart gives rise to more measured discussions about the seemingly inexorable spread of globalization in all of its forms. The realization grows that, even if it were possible, it would not be desirable to stem this tide completely. Around the world, from Latin America to Africa to West Asia, the re-examination of history leads to new approaches for dealing with the changes happening in and outside their regions. Inevitably, this re-think is influenced in part by the return of many former emigrants, for brief periods or permanently, who have gained experience and understanding of how cultures can learn from each other without losing their own identity.