With this issue, World Watch marks the end of its 20th volume and year of publication. The magazine was launched with the January/February issue in 1988, when the Worldwatch Institute was already 14 years old, and has published six issues every year since then (and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future). That amounts to 120 issues, several hundred articles, and, by a back-of-the-envelope calculation, over 3 million words—and counting.
Have the sacrifice of trees and the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars on materials, supplies, research, editing, art, design, printing, and mailing been worth it? Have we made any difference?
Tough questions. As the following essays attest, many of the issues that were important 20 years ago are still (or again) prominent on the radar. We’re still trying to persuade the world to act on climate change, pick renewables rather than nuclear power, stop clearcutting tropical forests and wiping out species, and so on.
While I doubt that we could point to a specific, worldchanging policy triumph traceable to the appearance of an article in these pages, only in our fantasies can most of us claim such unequivocal success. Progress in social and environmental change is generally measured in smaller increments. Society is more like an ocean current than a vehicle; it’s massive, highly inertial, vaguely delimited, and slow-moving, and shifting it peacefully in a new direction usually requires years of sustained effort.We’ve played a role in fueling that effort by helping to supply the information and analysis that should be prerequisites to thoughtful action. And by that measure, I think World Watch can hold up its head.
Over the years we’ve covered the environmental waterfront, showcased the work of some of the best writers, activists, and scientists of the day, broken some key stories, and won some awards. Among the more recognizable writers whose work has appeared here are Ed Ayres, Robert U. Ayres, Wendell Berry, Lester Brown, Mac Chapin, Andrei Codrescu,Herman Daly,Anne and Paul Ehrlich,Mikhail Gorbachev, Nadine Gordimer, James Hansen, Hal Kane, Frances Moore Lappé, Amory Lovins, Bill McKibben, Kim Stanley Robinson,Arundhati Roy,Vandana Shiva,Vaclav Smil, James Gustave Speth, Mike Tidwell, Edward C. Wolf, and George Woodwell—not to mention the dozens of gifted and impassioned people who are still with Worldwatch or have passed through on their way to distinguished careers in related fields.
The retrospective essays that follow are written by three longtime veterans of Worldwatch Institute and six former staffers who have moved on. All were on the staff of the Institute in 1988 and contributed articles to World Watch that year. We’ve asked them to touch on some topic they wrote about two decades ago and consider what has happened in the intervening years. As noted,many of the topics will seem familiar—perhaps depressingly so. But in all cases, it seems fair to say that things have indeed shifted in significant ways, often for the better. We’ll take a small share of the credit for that, and we expect to keep watching, informing, urging, provoking, and, I hope, inspiring anyone who will listen until it’s no longer necessary.