The end of the Cold War has loosened the paralyzing grip of ideology on the world's resources and imagination. There is an emerging awareness that now the real problems confronting humanity can and must be addressed. Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are beginning to deal with economic stagnation and environmental catastrophes. In the United States there is growing discontent with politics as usual. With the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, the global community took some tentative first steps toward dealing with the worldwide environmental crisis and advancing the cause of "sustainable development." Sustainable development can be defined as meeting the needs of the present without destroying resources that will be needed in the future. And, perhaps most remarkable of all, a nongovernmental revolution is already sweeping the Third World.
Unlike previous revolutions, it seeks not to violently overthrow and to replace existing governments but rather to challenge their inequitable and often repressive political monopoly by enlarging civil society. Since the early 1970s, more than a hundred thousand nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been founded in Asia, Africa, and Latin America by peasant women and professors, squatters and students, fisherfolk and unemployed intellectuals. Like some previous revolutionaries, nongovernmental activists target escalating poverty and the need for subjects to become citizens. Unlike previous revolutionaries, however, the nongovernmental movement challenges both the narrow scope and the top-down style of decision making