The Hour Glass


A Copernican shift is underway in fields as diverse as agriculture, materials science, architecture, engineering, business, economics, urban planning, waste management, national security, and many others. In every case, it is driven by the need to discover patterns and larger systems essential to reaching higher levels of efficiency and lower environmental impacts—and by the requirements of fairness and human decency. The second driver is the need to extend horizons for planning, accounting, and decision-making to a longer-term view, in order to improve resilience and stability. This revolution in design goes by a variety of names: natural-systems agriculture, biomimicry, green business, the fifth discipline, green building, ecological economics, ecological engineering. By whatever name, it reflects common purposes and similar dynamics across fields, and it arises from a common set of principles. But the various conversations arising from the design revolution are still confined to separate disciplinary arenas, each with its own jargon, methods, and focus.

The editors of this journal aim to foster a wider and deeper dialogue that bridges seemingly separate endeavors and fields around the common purpose of remaking our human presence on Earth in ways that are durable, fair, decent, and lovely. We intend, for example, to connect matters of soil erosion, food, and health with those of urban planning and ecological economics. And there are countless other examples. We do not regard this as a scholarly journal in the traditional sense but rather as a bridge between the world of ideas and that of practical application. We are as interested in helping the industrialist as we are the urban planner, the small-town mayor, or the pentagon general charged with improving our national security. We intend to foster a large and practical dialogue. The conversation arising now from the concern for the sustainability of humankind on Earth in many ways resembles that of the 18th century Enlightenment, which aimed to free humanity from superstition and tyranny in their many guises. The global conversation about sustainability, similarly, aims to free humankind from the superstition that we are separate and isolated from each other and nature and the tyranny arising from those who would exploit our ignorance of our deep interdependence. The goal is to establish the analytical abilities, perspectives, and practical wherewithal to build a larger community that embraces humankind, natural systems, and life yet unborn. This requires a more rational rationality and a more systematically scientific science. It is the Enlightenment of the 21st century.

Were I to propose a physical shape for this endeavor, I would choose the hourglass turned on its side. On the left are the many fields of the revolution mentioned above, having to do with how we are provisioned with energy, food, water, material, waste cycling, livelihood, shelter, transport, and urban life. On the right are the people who need better tools, wider horizons, larger questions, and more practical answers. This journal is the neck of the hourglass, a broker between the advancing science and understanding of systems and connections on one side with the world of application on the other.

Skeptics might propose a different shape: perhaps the windmill in the belief that we are tilting like Don Quixote to do what cannot be done. Perhaps, but I for one don’t believe it. This is the time to join impossible dreams with practical reality: the world of ideas and science with Main Street. And that bridge must be built rapidly before we cross thresholds that are irrevocable and irreversible. Their many differences notwithstanding, all of our various conversations are only strands in one large conversation that concerns how we might build a world that is decent, fair, just, and durable. And there is no other conversation more worth having. We ask you to join this endeavor and contribute your voice, skills, perspectives, and passions to the making of what will someday be seen as humankind’s finest hour.