The Billionaire Samaritans Can Gates, Soros and Branson Create a Better World?

Saving the planet used to be a hobby practiced by treehuggers and other romantics. Now it has become the business of executives and billionaires. Pragmatists like Bill Gates, George Soros and Richard Branson are outdoing themselves in a bid to save the planet by applying a good dose of entrepreneurial spirit.

Each day, the task at hand is to save the planet. And everybody’s on board, from Cape Horn to Hammerfest, Norway, from Siberia to Hawaii. The issues are the environment, hunger, AIDS. The issues are water, peace, trash. The issues are everything or nothing, the monumental and the insignificant. The race is on among all of those feeling the torment brought on by the fate of the world. Some take to the stage to give musical expression to their worries. Others toil away in isolation to crack the problems, big and small, that are besetting the planet.

Bill Clinton is sitting in a room on the 18th floor of the Waldorf-Astoria on Park Avenue in New York. Outside, it’s raining. Inside, young assistants are buzzing around him, whispering and telephoning while they work. Clinton’s wearing a light-blue shirt, a dark-blue tie and a dark suit. He’s sitting there as if he were still the man occupying the desk in the Oval Office, though his face may be a bit rosier. But he’s not in the Oval Office any longer. He’s in the Waldorf, and he’s speaking: "Doing is better than talking.”

For 90 minutes now, the conference room next door has been packed with people. It is the Starlight Room of the Waldorf-Astoria, a room of pillars and heavy drapes. The carpet emits a golden glow. The room is a grand stage for a grand opera. And the title of this production hangs on the wall: "Clinton Climate Initiative.”

"I’m in the doing business now,” Clinton says shortly before he gets his cue. It’s a puzzling sentence coming from the mouth of a man who once was the most powerful leader in the world, a person who held the levers of power for eight years. Once upon a time, Clinton could trigger a war and snuff it out, as he chose. He could call up the world’s elite any time, day or night. He’s sat across the negotiating table from them all, the government representatives, the corporate bosses, the warlords and the Nobel Prize laureates. But not until now, right now, does he feel as though he has gotten into the doing business.

There are moments of rumination in his life now, times when he reflects on his White House years. In such moments, Clinton says that he and the powerful people of the world -- that is, Clinton and a band of six or seven other rulers -- weren’t able to create another, better, world. He says they "just sat around a table and argued about which word would be added to a document and which wouldn’t be.” They grappled over words. They weren’t in "the doing business.”

When he left the White House in 2001, he felt that he actually hadn’t fulfilled his real mission. The world was just as it was before he took office, not better than it was the start of his administration but worse. Bill Clinton, the retiree, the man of independent means, asked himself whether, in reality, he had failed to do his most important life’s work: to make a true contribution to save the world.

And, now, it’s show time for Clinton, the citizen of the world, and he heads over to the Starlight Room. Mayors from around the world have gathered there, the chairmen of the biggest banks. Corporate bosses are here as well, movers, shakers, string-pullers.

Clinton steps onto the podium and begins to talk about climate change. He calls it a global problem requiring local action. Clinton informs the mayors that cities, their cities, consume 75 percent of all energy and that they produce 75 percent of all greenhouse gases. He says he intends to change that. "That’s why I’m here.” And he adds: "We can change things. It’s not that hard.”

The New York conference is being held to save planet Earth -- not from the top down, but from the bottom up. The environmental glue holding the meeting together is the drive to insulate 950,000 houses in New York and, if possible, all buildings in all of the world’s major cities so well that "the walls and the windows don’t give off cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter,” Clinton says.

He’s appearing today not as a politician flush with the powers of the presidency. He’s appearing just as Bill Clinton, the common man, the representative of a foundation based in Harlem that’s just a hop, skip and jump from the Apollo Theater. The William J. Clinton Foundation delves into matters that it considers to be vital to the world. It’s prodded corporations to provide affordable medications to Africa, and now it intends to act as a modern-day Johnny Appleseed laying a carpet of green throughout the cities of the planet. The foundation gets its seed money from people like Bill Gates, and its boss is the middleman between the deep-pocketed friends of humanity and the planet-rescuing pragmatists. Indeed, Clinton is a man without power. But he remains a person with connections, ties that give him even more influence than some government leaders.

Take Klaus Wowereit, the mayor of Berlin who’s also sitting in the Waldorf-Astoria because he wants to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem. He receives a loud round of applause and a big hug from Clinton. He’s beaming, just like all of the others in the Starlight Room -- the people from Siemens who are lending Clinton their technology and know-how or the bosses from the five banks who, together, are chipping in $5 billion. And everybody seems to be floating on a cloud of morality, energy and charisma that few people can conjure up the way that Bill Clinton can.

Seen in the clear light of day, his project is an attempt to get at the world from the ground up, to link cities and towns, not countries, into a network and commit them to the right goals. It’s almost as though Clinton, the ex-president, has internalized the slogan of the very globalization critics who wished him such ill-will while being kept at more than arm’s length by barricades and legions of police officers at G-8 summits: "Think globally, act locally.”

Everybody’s on the same page now. Everybody knows the script. Nobody’s on the sidelines, not even those who have fueled the world’s problems in past decades. Oil giant Chevron is now taking out ads to explain what it can do for the future. BP and Total pay money to magazines so that they can advertise biofuels. In the French glossy Elle, Renault laces up its environmental combat boots, and the huge electronics company Canon appears as a recruit in UNICEF’s fight against hunger. Being a global lifeguard pays. It’s a job stamped with the good seal of righteousness, "environmentally correct.”

Competing for Favorable Social Rankings

But it’s not just companies that are serving the world. Above all, it’s executives and billionaires like Bill Gates, George Soros, Richard Branson and Warren Buffett who have sworn to clean up planet Earth. A new type of global good samaritan has emerged. The fight against AIDS, poverty, pollution and the advocacy of human rights is now in the hands of a group that, as people who are steeped in the ways of business, know how to identify a problem and fix it. Working on behalf of social and environmental causes no longer means standing on a street corner and handing out faded fliers and muttering bewildering notions. Today, the pros have gotten into the business of world improvement. Free of ideologies and full of pragmatism, they knit together networks while assuring that everybody remains well in the loop. They’ve learned the lessons that the last few decades have to offer. They feel and believe that the human race, their race, and the Earth are being brought to the brink of ruin by hunger and poverty, drought and water shortages, garbage and AIDS, poison and CO2.

This movement is buttressed by a collective feeling that the job of saving the world can’t be done -- or is being done much too lethargically -- by those "up there,” in Washington or Heiligendamm or the United Nations headquarters in New York. It’s a matter of the weakness of governments and the strength of societies. It’s not just a matter of hard facts. It’s a matter of belief as well: Something must be done. The momentum behind this movement of the salvation set has touches of the irrational and religious. They are being driven by the desire of wanting to have done something. This is a new phase of globalization. This is the hope for the birth of a global civil society that unites managers, politicians, scientists and the citizens of the world.

On the stock exchanges in London, New York and Tokyo, analysts pummel companies that run their businesses in societally unfriendly, non-environmental and outdated ways. Rating agencies are also in the process of "sustainably” reworking their catalogues of criteria. Last year, the British hedge fund manager Chris Hohn channeled €75 million into the relief organization run by his wife. Global corporations like Walt Disney, Ikea, UPS, Microsoft and Wal-Mart are competing to see who can do the most good and battling for positions in social rankings. Year in and year out, carmakers, chemical factories and pharmaceutical companies look forward with dread to the publication of the sustainability yearbook put out by the Swiss investment firm SAM that sizes up 1,200 companies on the criteria of sustainability.

Increasingly, grassroots movements are forcing entire industries to cry uncle. In Sweden, for instance, they report that supermarkets there are now free of Baltic cod. Greenpeace activists convinced them to get out of the business of selling cod, which is severely overfished in the region and often caught illegally. They report from Germany that major grocery chains are pulling pesticide-saturated foods from the shelves. Across Europe, they are conquering markets with fair-trade products.

In India, they have slammed the brakes on the construction of Coca-Cola plants. In Cameroon, they have shut off the import of chicken offal from Europe. In Korea and Bolivia, they have massed their forces against Western energy corporations. In Bangladesh and Argentina, they are taking on air polluters. In Cologne and Nairobi, they are getting rid of toxin-tainted cut flowers. And in Cape Town, they are fighting for clean water -- and the problem, the truly bemusing thing, is that everything is connected to everything. The heavyweight issues and the flyweight tasks are simply pixels in one big picture.

And a lot of it’s being done to the accompaniment of music. Just take July's Live Earth environmental festival. They strummed their guitars, pounded their drums and sang their anthems in 10 cities around the world. But what good will it do the Arctic? The polar bears? The polar caps? Anyone who dares to raise such questions is sent off to the corner reserved for the doubting Thomases. And because the entire crusade has something of the religious about it, because it is a matter of buying absolution, of the good and upright way to live, doubting Thomases are dismissed as the new atheists. The dollars-and-cents value of the concerts may only amount to small change, but the "carbon footprint" is gigantic. Nonetheless, the real mission is another, symbolic one: The concerts are the attempt to give a score to a movement that, in fragments, has been at work for years, to lend it a label, to put down a starting line. It is the attempt to bind the old movement of romantics and moralists with the new movement of managers, billionaires and pragmatists.

For the longest part of the 20th century, when the human race recovered from the wounds of the world wars while wearing itself down in the East-West conflict, citizens and politicians drew their inspiration from the almightiness of government. The United Nations represented the dream of a peaceful, just world that was to be created together.

But ever since people have seen that the UN has a habit of showing up late for major political crises, ever since governments have begun to lumber over the globalized landscape like clueless dinosaurs, and ever since the credibility has drained out of pledges made by industry and business, the "third sector,” the nongovernmental, non-commercial one -- the civil society -- has awakened from its slumber.

The message is the proud, old questions of the past: Who, if not we? When, if not now? It has a much different ring to it than it did 10, 15 or 30 years ago. But unlike years gone by, everybody is part of the crowd now, and nobody dares to think about stepping out of line. In Hollywood, "being green” is in. On the Côte d’Azur, being "socially responsible” is cool. Morality is now a point of honor around the world. As a result, the great environmental hopes no longer go by the names of Romano Prodi or Angela Merkel. Rather, they are called George Clooney and Sharon Stone. They don’t go by the names of George W. Bush or Ban Ki Moon. Rather, they are called Elton John, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Bono.

Something is stirring. A fresh breeze of interest in the future is rising, an interest unleashed by society and business, no longer by the political leadership. But these new earth movers fuel new questions: What do you think about magnates like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett showering sums as big as government budgets on the world’s feeble and destitute? Has the knowledge of the civil society actually found a home in the boardrooms of the world? Can private commitments done on a massive scale really save the world? Do citizens’ action committees really change the course of events? The principles of today’s business world? Can citizens succeed where politicians failed? Or are the old dinosaurs really still needed after all? The heavyweights? The governments? The UN?

People turning over the possibility of a new global civil society in their minds, the opportunity of saving the world in a way that veers off the beaten path, have to get their arms around the actual meaning of "networked” today. To do so, you can dip your hand into a hat and grab a fistful of examples, thousands of them scattered across the entire planet. Take Malawi. When villagers make their annual stand against the swelling waters of the Thangadzi River, they don’t wage their fight alone or with a government working ever so benevolently in the background. Rather, they wage their battle using "networked” tactics.

Good-deed groups swing into action, groups like the global non-governmental organizations ActionAid or Oxfam. This is a polyglot affair at every interface: Swedish or South African or Indian scientists contribute their expertise via e-mail. German or British or Chinese development workers do the heavy lifting. And the money pours forth, from the United Nations in New York, from the European Union in Brussels and from churches in Germany. Perhaps a Belgian company will deliver equipment. Perhaps a French business will provide drinking water. The Americans will handle the Internet work, and the Kenyans will mind the media -- that’s what networking is all about today.

Civil Society Networks Tackle the Tasks

In many developing countries, where a functioning government has never taken root, everyday life has always been this way. There is no sort of political system in the European sense. Instead, there are only projects. In the place of parliaments and officials, civil-society networks tackle the tasks. Manifold in their complexity, these networks don’t decide up high what must happen down below. Rather, they have to decide on the fly, day in and day out, what has to be done when and by whom.

Sure, the Internet is a critical player in this type of project-based politics. It has bred new options for action. The Internet has generated interest in problems that, just a few years ago, fell through the cracks. In addition, and this is perhaps even more critical, people who once would have looked in vain for one another can now find each other. A community is arising, and this community uses e-mail and MySpace to bat around ideas and to give pep talks across half of the world.

The Internet helps to turn a fragmented world into a mosaic. It brings people together who belong together. It is an issues factory and a weapon that nobody can afford to cast a blind eye toward. There is no major corporation and no government that can escape the scrutiny of this Web-based citizenry. Anybody who makes a big mess can expect to be locked tightly into an electronic pillory by an Internet-organized pack of watchdogs that turns up out of nowhere. And that hits home, even on the balance sheet. The Internet is the medium of the world’s new EMS, the environmental management squad.

But it needs people who stoke it with content. It needs people like Bill Clinton, Richard Branson, Angelina Jolie or Laura Ziskin.

Laura Ziskin is sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Cleveland, a svelte blonde. One of Hollywood’s heavy hitters, she has the "Green Oscars” on her mind. She says the whole idea was developed at a dinner, in a totally conventional and trivial way. During the meal, she and her friends were chewing over the question of the environment, about the constant barrage of news stories that conjured visions of an environmental Armageddon. And then somebody popped the question: "What can we do?” It turns out they could do a lot.

They called Allen Hershkowitz, a man who happened to be sitting in his office on 20th Street in New York, an office jammed full of documents and magazines and posters with slogans like "garbage kills bears,” an office where the lights are turned on and off by motion detectors. Hershkowitz is the scientific brain behind the Natural Resources Defense Council. He is a poster boy for "green America.” Today, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, Warner Music and Disney are into saving energy and using recycled paper. The "Green Oscars” is right at home.

Ziskin and Hershkowitz met. He did the talking. She did the listening. And his words weren’t hard to understand. As a result, the 2007 version of Oscar Night in Los Angeles was one of recycled paper and returnable bottles. There was solar power and hybrid cars. Angelina Jolie, the multi-adoptive mother and UN goodwill ambassador, showed up, too. Together with Brad Pitt, she stood there, and both talked about "the responsibility of artists” and the "obligation to give.” They were all very convinced at the Kodak Theater. Reportedly, a whole lot of energy was saved, and, in the end, Al Gore walked away with an Oscar for his "Inconvenient Truth.”

In Cleveland, Ziskin said all Americans already knew that they would have to break their dependency on oil and coal. "We must lead by example. I hope a movement will arise and get stronger and stronger.” It sounded as if the words were coming right from the mouth of Hershkowitz himself. He says in New York: "America was criminal to ignore what was known for so long.” He adds that everybody could chip in, doing little things that would pack a huge collective punch. "Planes could be pulled onto runways before starting their engines. All of us could save electricity and water, with the easiest means, small tricks. And, together, we might even be able to get the Bush administration cracking.”

The world will be saved, and everybody is taking part. Any and all ideas are perfectly welcome, and nobody gets laughed at any more. Just a few blocks from Hershkowitz’s office, Richard Branson is speaking at the congress of the Clinton Foundation. With his goatee and mane of long, blond hair, he still looks like one of those rock stars whose songs made him rich and then richer.

Branson, a guy without a high school diploma, the fellow who came up with the idea of the record company Virgin Music in 1973 and gave a shot to Mike Oldfield, the businessman who later hired the Sex Pistols and Peter Gabriel, and the entrepreneur who established Virgin Atlantic airlines and then Virgin Cola and then the Virgin Galactic space travel company. In his wild, rakish life, he has piled up a tidy sum of around $6 billion. He has traversed the Atlantic in a balloon. He loves paragliding, bungee jumping, sex, Pilates and yoga. But he said: "When I think about how I’ll be remembered, I don’t want it to be as the guy in the hot-air balloon.”

He, too, saw the light through Al Gore, the Saint Peter of the new religion, the first pope of the green globe. After Branson had a little chat with Gore -- the man who almost became president of the United States -- in London, he said: "I've found my calling." Gore told him all about climate change and then let him in on something else: Kyoto won’t get the job done, treaties won’t cut it either. The world needs great men, role models, leaders.

Branson listened, and thought: men like me.

Soon after, he launched the Virgin Earth Challenge. He surrounded himself with chemists, biologists and physicians, 25 people all told, and listened for a long time. Then he donated a $25 million prize to be bestowed on the true rescuer of the world, for the very researcher who came up with the golden idea of how we can preserve our standard of living without spewing out so much carbon dioxide. "It’s astonishing to see how promising the research in this field is and how little has been invested in it up to now,” Branson says. And if nobody is going to do it, then he’ll take care of it himself.

Some people think Branson’s a nut, and just about everybody thinks he’s an egomaniac. He says that capitalism is indeed the only system that functions, but decries it for its blatant unfairness: "A few earn billions. But others don’t, even though they work just as hard. It would simply be morally irresponsible to just spend my money on the next biggest private jet.” For this reason, he’s also gotten into the "doing business.” After all, nobody can just sit back and watch the world go under. Everybody must pitch in, as best he or she can, in his or her own way. "I refuse to believe that we can’t do it,” Branson said. It sounds naive. But, still, one would much rather listen to him than to what Robert Watson has to say.

It is a Friday morning in Washington, fourth floor of the World Bank building on H Street. Robert Watson is the chief scientist of the World Bank and director of its environmental department. He’s been at the bank for 11 years. His hair is tousled and his beard long. He slides under the table while talking for hours in his fine British accent. He praises this new citizenry of the world and makes fun of it, too.

Sure, everything helps, Watson says. Everything yields knowledge and, of course, everything is useful, even little things like protecting trees and upgrading homes to make them more energy-efficient. But the really big matter at hand, the rescue of planet Earth, he says, can’t be pulled off by the likes of Branson, Gore and Clinton.

'You Can't Buy a Better World'

You can’t buy a better world, he says. Or a better climate, for that matter. Both have to be created in a painstakingly slow, persistent process. It’s a complicated task, very complicated. After all, it would require entire nations of people to go through a form of environmental re-education, Watson says. And they would have to be rewarded and chastised along the way, he adds. You would have to reshape cultures, he argues, and only the governments of the world’s approximately 200 countries could shoulder such a load. Or the organizations that these countries have indulged themselves in: the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund. Watson is a skeptic, not one who views the world through rose-colored glasses.

He says everything is interconnected -- water supplies with the rain forests, with biological diversity, with poverty, with the rise of megacities, with transportation, with climate change.

Sure, he says, the world could take on each problem individually. Any foundation could handle the job, he says. But none of these problems can be solved individually, he adds, and that’s the crux of the real problem looming over us: The scourges aren’t local anymore. They’re not even national any more. As a result, they can’t be eradicated by all of the pint-sized players, no matter how much they try and no matter how bloated their bank accounts may be. "We have a very, very complex interactive system,” Watson says. "And we don’t have the right structures on the national and international levels to deal with it.”

The framework for the grand design is lacking, he says. Actually, it does exist, he adds, but it just doesn’t have the strength it needs because all of the players are biting their nails, worried that their interests will take a bruising. Watson doesn’t sound like someone who believes the world can be pulled back from the brink. What else is it supposed to mean when he describes the UN, the elder statesman of world bodies, as still not having a framework that is "robust enough"?

Still, he says, an organization like the World Bank is indispensable in these times, "particularly in these times.” The bank, Watson says, is in constant contact with finance ministries everywhere. It passes on its expertise. And it twists arms, hands out loans to people who want to preserve their rain forests and punishes those who shamelessly spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It can also give a financial boost to technology, doling out funds to researchers like those trying to get to the bottom of ways that coal can be burned without emitting CO2, he says. And the World Bank can use its aid projects to help developing countries adapt to climate change, and learn to use wind and solar energy, he adds. For such work, the bank has $250 million each year. It could use 10 to 100 times as much.

As the interview draws to a close, Watson says that the bank must, wants to and will contribute all of its resources to an effort that must become the goal of all political activity: a treaty on saving the world. And when you listen to him, you come to the realization at some point that in Watson’s world it is only the governments, it is only the United Nations, it is only the World Bank that really count. All of that other stuff -- the concerts, the initiatives, the foundations, the great ideas -- is just tomfoolery, a big act. Or a fashion, a fad.

Now, Watson says, without a real agreement, without a "global, long-range, stable set of regulations” with benchmarks set in stone for 2020, 2030 and 2050, without such a treaty, the mass movement that must arise never will. What Watson is actually saying is that you can’t start something on a small scale that you want to accomplish on a big scale anyway. That is the old UN way of thinking, the all-or-nothing game that has yielded nothing in 60 years. It’s an attitude that brushes off the power of the civil society. And that, perhaps, has not gotten acquainted with the new citizenry of the world.

Celso Grecco was working in advertising when he received his social calling. He had gotten tired of producing slick posters for slick products and of dreaming up slogans for things that nobody needed. It meant nothing to him any more, he says. But, on the other hand, he didn’t want to become one of those Don Quixote types who tirelessly and senselessly tilt at windmills, railing the great and sweeping injustice of the world. He still had profit on his mind, a concrete payoff.

Grecco still looks the part of a member of the business class, a man of dark gray, the hair on his head and face kept neatly trim. And the real killer of the joke, he says, is that, at heart, he’s still a businessman, "with a completely different business plan.”

Grecco is talking in Canterbury. In the shadow of the cathedral, a conference is being held. The topic: "social banking.” Fundraising people for good causes have congregated here, philanthropists and bankers who invest only in clean businesses, in sustainability, in social projects. Grecco is here representing his organization Atitude and is speaking about "building a strategic bridge between the profit and non-profit sectors,” between the world of commerce and the ER staff for planet Earth. His idea is to list social projects on the stock markets.

In Brazil, his home, he’s shown that the idea works. He’s turned 50 social projects into joint-stock companies. You can buy their shares on the "Social Stock Exchange.” Businessman Grecco notes that 250,000 people have already benefited. UNESCO has praised his project, and you could say Grecco has come up with a new way of making a financial donation, but that sounds a bit stale to German ears. The truth of the matter is that this is a revolution.

Grecco is intent on turning social groups, charity organizations and loosely run grassroots groups into muscular, professional companies that fish for their funds in the marketplace. For a long time now, the good and right causes of the world have been in the hands of rank amateurs who didn’t have the faintest notion about business administration and lean management, he says. An IPO changes everything, Grecco adds.

Those who want to get into the game must meet clear criteria. They must use transparent accounting methods and develop strategic plans, both for the mid- and long term. They must accept "control on disposition of funds” and monitoring, and whatever other terms get bandied about in the business world. After all, this is a profit-driven game.

Grecco has a nice little speech ready for anyone asking about his ideas. "Yes, the profit,” he says. To get this idea in your head, you need to take a trip, Grecco says. You need to climb into a plane in Sao Paulo and fly five hours to the north. Then, you need to climb into a smaller plane and fly for three more hours. Then, you need to get into a boat and travel for 12 hours, deep into the heart of the Amazon delta.

There, you’d finally find the 247 villages where infants and children were dying in droves just a few years ago because the gold miners were poisoning the water with their production methods. "And I would show you solar-powered water filters that stockholders had financed with their money and then I would tell you that no more children are dying from poisoned water. That’s their profit.”

Grecco is a member of the new citizenry of the world. You'll find them on the invitation list the networkers from Civicus send out to their annual conference in Glasgow. You can chat with them at the Paris and Berlin meetings of Euclid, a new association of European NGO. Not one day goes by without people sitting down together someplace in the world, be it luxury hotels or tin huts, to plot out local strategies to combat global warming, hunger, HIV, poverty and the scourges of humanity.

'The Banker for the Poor'

One of their saints is Muhammad Yunus. He is in Dhaka, Bangladesh, sitting in front of walls of books in a lifeless concrete building without air conditioning. He greets his visitors from a simple desk. He really could be an abbot. Or he could be the good, wise father in a Bollywood production. But he’s not. He is an economist, the "banker of the poor,” as he’s called, the inventor of microcredits that are issued to people who were written off long ago as "non-creditworthy.”

He’s interested in turning people into entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs of their own lives. Yunus is convinced that all people have the talent to live responsibly, to assume responsibility for themselves and for the entire world if given the chance.

In truth, he’s been giving the same speech about his work over and over again for years. And that’s not because he can’t come up with a new one. It’s because this one is just so good. He says the dominant theory of capitalism is wrong because it defines the entrepreneur solely as the "money maker” instead of viewing this person as a human, as a social being, brimming with ideas, dreams and spirituality.

Outside the open window, the air is filled with the drone of Dhaka, the capital of one of the most densely populated countries of the world, where beggars line every intersection, where grubby children hawk sticky pieces of candy from grungy bags and where entire families claw through the mountains of garbage lining the streets, hoping to strike upon bits of tin and glass. Despite such scenes, however, Dhaka and the entire country of Bangladesh are on the right path.

Yes, 48 percent of all children under 5 are malnourished. Yes, 50 percent of all citizens live in abject poverty. And yes, nearly 60 percent are illiterate. A transition government supported by the military took power at the beginning of the year. Still: Bangladesh offers hope because the society is making progress, despite all of the reoccurring natural disasters. In the race to cross the UN finishing line of the century, the country is out there with the pacesetters.

The share of malnourished citizens may still be high. But it’s slipping year after year. Average family income is growing. Illiteracy is shrinking. The fight against child labor is on in earnest. The health care system is being stabilized. The strategies against flooding are so sophisticated now that officials at the World Bank maintain that the country is better prepared to fend off natural disasters than the United States is. Bangladesh is on the move. Its pace may still be snail-like. But it’s heading in the right direction.

The World Bank shares in this success. The United Nations and its departments do, too. The British are pitching in, as is the European Union. But the real driving forces of this development are the little people, from the society itself. Yunus, above all, has awakened hope in the country by pulling millions of poor out of poverty and enabling them to begin leading worthy lives.

Yunus has the "social entrepreneur” on his mind. And, by that, he means much more than the words express. The truth of the matter is that he’s turning popular ideas upside down. As far as he’s concerned, profit can’t be measured by the balance sheet. Rather, it’s reflected in the obtainment of the right goals. He has visions of companies that work according to market principles, but with new core businesses. They should trade in health. In education. In a clean environment. In sustainability. In hope.

He has little use for the new philanthropists who are so fond of congratulating one another. "If someone makes $100 profit and donates $5 to a good cause, and possibly only to save on taxes, that doesn’t impress me very much,” Yunus says. "But if you take the $100 and invest it in the right projects -- that would be something else.”

Yunus is "not impressed” by Bill Gates and his foundation, "not impressed” by Warren Buffett, who is giving away $37 billion. He’s not interested in buying absolution. He wants a new ethical code, a world system of morals. He says: "Impressive would be if Buffett, with his billions and his know-how, would provide health insurance to the nearly 50 million Americans who don’t have it --that would be a project.”

Yunus does a lot of traveling. He’s one of the most sought-after speakers in the world, and his ideas fuel discussions around the entire globe. On the day of this interview, he had just pulled into town from Hainan, China. A manufacturer of refrigerators, who had just made a cool billion himself, just had to get to know him. Yunus really didn’t care much about making the trip. But the Chinese businessman sent his private jet, and Yunus hopped aboard. Once on the ground again, in Hainan, he heard what he’s heard so often before.

"Many business people are looking for new ways of doing good, but not as philanthropists. They really want to go in a new direction to do the right thing,” Yunus says. "Unfortunately, they don’t have the faintest idea how.”

He recalls an evening he spent in Paris. Frank Riboud, the head of Danone, kept bombarding him with requests. He wanted, just had to speak to him. Finally, a meeting in a restaurant was arranged, and Riboud brought along a whole cadre of executives with him. And as they sat there, the Danone chief asked: "What can we do to help?” Yunus, his mind just brimming with ideas, said: If Danone really wanted to pitch in, then the company should set up a non-profit company in Bangladesh that would produce affordable dairy products. That, Yunus said, would be extremely helpful to the malnourished children in his country.

Riboud, head of the world’s largest dairy product group, paused for a moment and then said: "We’ll do it.” Yunus was so taken aback that he began to have doubts about the French executive’s English. So he went through the spiel one more time. And he kept stressing that it would have to be "non-loss, non-profit.” The company would just cover its costs. Riboud’s reply: "We’ll do it.” And it all came true.

Since January, a factory set up in northern Bangladesh has been churning out milk products, yogurt, curd cheese, drinks. The company Grameen-Danone was established. It’s a non-profit business, nurtured by one of the most successful companies in the world. Examples like these -- they create real hope that the world is heading in the right direction. That the business community is entering into new partnerships with society and wants to go beyond just cutting money-breeding business deals with it. That not everything is simply hot air, marketing and misplaced PR talk.

Are Companies Becoming 'Good Citizens'

Signs of hope exist. When executives toss around investment ideas at Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, "money making” still may be the first thought that figures in their discussions. But the job of finding a reasonable way to earn this loot is much more complicated. In recent years, the bank could have earned tons of money from investment projects. But, in the end, the bankers backed off. They stayed out of China’s Three Gorges dam project. They also didn’t invest one cent in paper factories in Indonesia, an oil pipeline in Ecuador or in a nuclear power plant in Bulgaria. Each one would have paid off in spades -- but the bank just said no. And while the company would certainly like to make similar investments, it must weigh issues differently than it did 10 years ago.

These days, the Reputation Risk Committee, which feels out the "soft” pros and cons of a deal, is gradually gaining a powerful voice in matters that come up inside Deutsche Bank's glass towers, which protrude above the Frankfurt skyline. The number of projects that run into a stop sign is rising. "We trade off short-term gain for long-term success,” says Hanns Michael Hölz, whose business card bears the title of managing director. He oversees "corporate social responsibility.” It’s his job to make sure that the bank wants to be "a good citizen.”

There’s just no other way, Hölz says, because the customers are applying a hammerlock on the bank. Heirs and investors are showing up in Frankfurt, their pockets full of money. They want to cobble together their very own funds based on their very own criteria. This new breed is not just interested in watching its money multiply. It’s also concerned with the ways the money will be used. Today, many investors will not invest in dirty businesses. They won’t go near weapons or chemicals, raw materials, blood diamonds or anything American-owned.

"The climate debate changed everything,” Hölz says. And that has impacted the bank’s up-and-coming managers as well. Many studies have already honed in on the changed view of the world held by today’s business administration students, graduates of the elite training grounds at St. Gallen near Zurich, the London School of Economics or the Harvard Business School. Graduates of these universities don’t want to turn into soulless printing presses of money for their employers. They want to create added social value -- and corporations and banks that fail to get involved or that are stamped as asocial won’t stand much of a chance of luring the best graduates each year.

Silvia Kreibiehl, 30, is among the Deutsche Bank’s elite young employees. In a team with 20 colleagues, she handles IPOs and recapitalization. She swings into action once "the volume of shares being sold hits €100 million.” She helped the Praktiker do-it-yourself chain of warehouse stores find a home on the stock exchange. That business alone was worth €500 million. She’s advised Wincor, Nixdorf and Infineon. Her business partners are the big and small bosses of the business world. But last year she was ready to scrap it all.

"I’m not your typical investment banker,” she says. "After high school, I wanted to study tropical agriculture.” By that, she means she wanted to be a development worker. "Today, everybody wants to do that at one point in their lives,” she says. But when she was 18, she took another route and completed a banking apprenticeship in the German city of Ludwigshafen am Rhein. She had already earned a coaching license for children's gymnastics. In the evenings, she took correspondence courses to earn a degree in business administration. She was talented and determined. By 22, she had already caught people’s eye, and soon she was sitting in the Deutsche Bank’s skyscrapers, juggling millions of euros, advising major corporations on how to navigate global markets.

The big deals are "a whole lot of fun,” she says. But after working years of days that can last 14 to 16 hours, "after faithfully keeping the Blackberry on the table and the cell phone primed, you start to wonder if perhaps, there just might be something else out there.”

Last year, the doubts grew so strong that she headed off to Bonn for a chat with the German Development Service. The service had a job vacancy in Fort Portal, Uganda. The task was to assist a microcredit project, a true humanitarian temptation. She went to Bonn, this woman with the six-figure salary, and applied for a position that paid €950 a month. To the employees of the German Development Service, she was one jaw-dropper of an applicant. They probably were just dumbfounded by it all. Back at Deutsche Bank, colleagues asked her: "But is there just the choice between the two: investment banking or developmental aid?”

In the end, she stayed at the bank. It wasn’t because of the money, she says. The real reason was that her supervisors made her an offer. They suggested she give developmental aid a try, with the bank’s support. And she did. She spent the first five months of the year in Uganda, joined the project that nearly hired her and pitched in. She worked tirelessly and had a "super-intensive” time, she says, no less demanding than the clock-breaking schedule in the bank.

She enjoyed it, living in a small house with the locals, with only a bed, a table and a chair. It didn’t bother her at all that electricity was available only four days a week, that there was no hot water and that there was no kitchen. She came face to face with people. She could provide direct support. She felt good about herself. And she learned a lot, particularly that she was "not yet” made for this work, she says. "I was very alone there. It was hard. I wouldn’t have made it, at this point, long term.”

Still, she plans to stick with it, part time, so to speak. She wants to help the Ugandans and the local relief workers. "I’m used to project work, even three, four projects running at the same time. I can make Uganda fit into the schedule,” she says. Here, you have to take a break and contemplate for a moment just how the times have changed and reflect on what today’s new citizenry of the world looks like: It looks like a woman who spends one day dealing with €200 million or heading off on global road shows with company executives and then spends another day or her evenings organizing the delivery of solar lamps to Ugandan villagers. The world is moving. It’s not standing still. And it is women like Silvia Kreibiehl who provide a real feel for this change. This new citizenry of the world no longer asks how and whether the whole planet can be saved. It asks what it can do at its location, from its position and with its means.

Many, many more Silvia Kreibiehls will be needed. That’s because there is more at stake than the environment. Humanity is or feels threatened by hunger and poverty, by drought and water shortages, by HIV, poison and garbage. The tasks are overwhelming -- so huge, in fact, that they take your breath away. And there’s hardly anyone who can give a better lecture on the subject than Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute, the custodian of the United Nations’ "Millennium Development Goals.”

Can There Be a Master Plan for Fixing the World?

In March, Sachs journeyed across Europe, meeting with government leaders, ministers and people in the "doing business.” He also turned up in Lyon, France, where he addressed Nobel Prize laureates who had gathered at the BioVision trade fair.

Sachs is a man of shock and awe numbers. It’s a habit. He’s a nimble speaker. He says, in a dry voice, that 30,000 children die of preposterous causes each day around the world. That in the malarial areas of Asia and other places 300 million people sleep without sufficient mosquito netting. He said: "A mosquito net costs $5. A total of 300 million mosquito nets cost $1.5 billion.” He pauses, lowers his voice dramatically and says: "$1.5 billion dollars. The Pentagon spends that much in a single day.”

Sachs talks in Lyon of the "great paradox.” Of the fact that humanity "knows what needs to be done” to eradicate hunger and illness, but that it never succeeds, as if the world were jinxed.

"We’ve got all of the technical solutions. We know how to make clean water, how to make clean energy, how to protect crops. We know how expectant mothers and infants should be treated. We can make a region livable within just one growing season, and we even know that all of that doesn’t cost a whole lot of money. But we’ve been missing our goals for decades.”

But Sachs has no answer that sums up why that is. He just has his numbers. He says that if you would take all of the money possessed by the world’s 950 billionaires, that mountain of $3.5 trillion, and invested it at 5 percent interest, then you’d have $175 billion a year and your financial problems for developmental aid would disappear into thin air. He says lots of more things like this. And when he’s run out of numbers, the entire audience stands and gives him one long, warm round of applause. The Nobel Prize laureates are on their feet. So are the politicians, the genetic engineers, the pharmaceutical makers.

After all, they all want to be believers, environmental knights in shining armor. Climate protection and the fight against poverty are the canons of this world religion. But, in the end, everything comes into play -- affordable HIV medication and bus travel, free-range eggs and peace in Sudan. It’s a mission for the good and for the moral. Is it dishonest when the likes of Gates or Soros get rich through coldly calculated businesses and then, once they have made their pile, turn around and help those whom they beat down on their way up? And is it hypocritical or is it actually an insight when BP or Shell wants to be on the tip of this movement’s spear?

Everybody agrees that things have to work out, must work out, somehow. But the odds aren’t very good.

The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, which the world’s leaders composed with such ceremony, won’t be reached by the deadline year of 2015. Sachs says in Lyon that they could still be reached, that they haven’t been forgotten. That’s the message he hears wherever he travels. But, something creeps into his sentences, the political talk of cutting losses. The United Nations fails. The countries. Where’s the world’s cavalry when you need it?

At the trade fair in Lyon, a marketplace of world betterment, they shout out from every stand: Look here! Sanofi-Aventis, Mérieux and Monsanto, Merck, Roche and Unilever, BASF, Bayer and Total. They all proclaim themselves to be a part of the solution, to be a partner of the Third World, to be friends and caretakers of the environment, supporters of public health, and fighters for food safety, green energies, sustainability, climate control. You name it. Something can’t be right. Or does it just need a little more time until the successes begin to dawn?

In the evening, the delegates of the trade fair take seats in the resplendent halls around the inner courtyard of the Lyon Chamber of Industry and Commerce, which tells the tale of the old globalization. The names of the former global players are in stucco there: London, Algiers, Hamburg, Amsterdam. They tell the tale of a time in which the climate was God-given, mysterious. At the tables, speakers get up and argue about genetic engineering. The world’s not being saved here, not on this evening. It is being talked to death here, and every speaker has his own secret agenda.

Is there a master plan? Can there be one?

At 888 Seventh Avenue in New York, a young, good-looking woman is sitting at the reception desk on the 32nd floor. And on the wall, behind the woman, there’s a word: Soros. A name, a myth: George Soros is one of those people whom no one has ever elected and asked to chip in their two-cents’ worth. Nothing gives them legitimacy. It’s only their belief that’s driving them, the feeling that they’re obligated to shape the world in order to improve it.

At 76, Soros is getting up in years. During all of this time, he’s had quite a ride -- from Budapest via London to the United States, from fashion jewelry seller to billionaire. Soros has blue eyes, white hair and four creases cutting through his brow. His right hand quivers a bit. He is wearing a tie with too many circles on it. Sometimes, he gets a little mixed up when he’s trying to remember particular years. But his young assistant sits beside him and keeps things in running order.

In past years, his issue was "open society.” He took his money and pumped it into democratic movements. His foundation helped bring down governments in Eastern Europe. It helped form new ones. It built roads, educated people, handed out scholarships and doled out a whole lot of money. In recent years, though, the United States began to afflict him, this "feel-good society,” this world of luxury, that frittered away its leadership of the world community and tossed its principles overboard. Today, it’s doing better, the United States, and Soros, too, for that matter.

He’s taken by Al Gore and the green America, this bottom-up movement. He says this feel-good society has turned into a democracy again, in just two years. And he marches onward: "If we don’t solve the problem of climate change,” he says, "we will go after each other. In Darfur, where nomads and settlers no longer have enough land, you can see what’s going to happen: Before we cook ourselves to death, we will kill each other.”

You can stop that from happening, Soros says. He’s a man who doesn’t spend a lot of time mulling over political necessities, over considerations. He knows a different way. He thinks differently. You see a problem. You analyze it. You design a plan. And, then, you solve the problem. Even if the problem is called "climate change.”

A Quartet for the Climate

George Soros’ analysis tells him that it is foolish to commission the United Nations to take on the task of climate change. "The United Nations is slow. And we don’t need it. This is a job for a quartet: the United States, Europe, India and China. This quartet can handle it,” he says. The world’s not such a complicated place when George Soros is doing the talking.

His rescue plan fits neatly on a piece of paper, just one page long. "This is so that people will see that you can solve the problem. Without solutions, they are often not willing to even take notice of a problem.” The paper is called "Version 11,” and the text is broken into five points. If these points are implemented, it says right there in black and white, global warming would reach its climax in 2035 and then the chill would set in. "The global catastrophe would be avoided.”

The Americans, Soros says, must take the first step: They must promote wind power, solar energy and biofuels. They must remove the pollutants from coal combustion and impose taxes on emissions, $30 a ton. That would be a solution. Or, taking the opposite approach, offer rewards for clean coal combustion. And if the United States came clean, Europe would be at its side. Then China would step into line, and then India. And if that failed to happen, then Europe and the United States could impose punitive tariffs on Chinese and Indian products. That would violate the principles of the WTO. But it would also save the world.

Soros looks out at Central Park like some old general. He says he’s been a little bored lately. But, now, he has this new mission, and he’s ready to get started on it. "I’m reborn,” he says. Down below, New York teems with life.

Anybody who strolls along the streets of this great city realizes that the task of adding green to it won’t be child’s play. The place grows and grows and grows. And what are two clinically sterile, environmentally friendly luxury buildings in Manhattan against all of the chimneys in Queens, the fireplaces of Brooklyn, the car fleets in the Bronx, against all of the limousines, against the air that is hardly fit to breathe in Lincoln Tunnel, against all of the filth?

Societies are aroused, both in New York and around the world. This impression lingers, and many people want to continue investing their hopes in abstract solutions, in magic formulas, in rescue plans. There won’t be any well-lit emergency exits. Branson the billionaire most likely won’t finance the world solution. The philanthropist Soros won’t see his five-point plan fulfilled. And the World Bank official Watson may keep hammering away on his "robust framework” -- but in the end, the crux of the matter is how humans will live and work in the major industrial nations, how they will consume, how they will live and move about, how they will entertain themselves, and how they will use energy and all other resources. The crux of the matter is rechanneling the world, the lifestyles of every individual who populates the so-called First World. And the crux of the matter is that all of them will have to reach some sort of mutual agreement about the same criteria. Just how is that supposed to happen?

This is about the United States, says Joseph Stiglitz. He’s a whimsical man who turned up on the planet in 1943. He wears a trim beard and long fingernails: He’s got a pair of round glasses on his face and a green vest over his shirt. He laughs and grins and talks straight. He loves to debate and to argue.

Stiglitz has taught economics at Yale, Princeton, Oxford and Stanford. He has served as an adviser to President Clinton, has been the chief economist of the World Bank and has received the Nobel Prize for economics. Today, he teaches at Columbia University in New York, a guardian of the world who’s ventured over to Hamburg. He’s having lunch by the city's famous Alster Lake.

His theories revolve around the failures of the United States, around "this government that thought it was smarter than the rest of the planet and, for this reason, bulldozed all the bureaucratic and legislative safety mechanisms.” But George W. Bush was a rookie at international politics and he failed to pose the right questions to the real pros. "As a result, he got the wrong advice, came to the wrong conclusions and became the worst president in the history of the United States,” Stiglitz says.

Stiglitz takes a drink now and then, eats a little something and keeps on lecturing. "You learn that unilateralism doesn’t work. And military power doesn’t work either. It can destroy things and countries. But it can’t build them.” The only way to give legitimacy to power is to use it wisely, he says. End of the introduction. Now for the meat of the matter.

The world is indeed at a crossroads. But the state of the world is also an opportunity, Stiglitz says. An opportunity for the United States. That is because the moment for the awakening of the American civil society has arrived and the opportunity of redistributing power exists as well, right here and right now, he says. That's where the opportunity for us all lies.

Joseph Stiglitz’s mission in life is to design a new legal system for this new world. He’s a traveling salesman of this idea.

First, he wants justice: the global system of tariffs that makes raw materials cheap and manufactured products expensive -- cheap oranges, expensive orange juice, cheap diamonds, expensive jewelry -- means that developing countries always give up their goods, but remain excluded from value chain.

Second, an international court of justice is needed to rule on cases of dumping and subsidies. Third, climate change can indeed be fought with the current institutions. Stiglitz makes two proposals: Because the United States and its corporations that emit particularly large amounts of greenhouse gases "create an unfair competitive advantage at the expense of others,” the Europeans and others should immediately "impose tariffs” on these products. In addition, "all producers of emissions should cover the costs of the environmental damage they cause,” he argues. He says it's about time for "a joint tax on all carbon-dioxide emissions."

Taxes teach people. Taxes change behavior. Stiglitz knows how the world’s economy works. In principle, it’s pretty simple stuff: Everyone thinks about his or her own advantage. "It makes much more sense to tax undesired things like environmental pollution than desired behavior like savings or work,” he says. Now, his espresso has arrived, and he has run out of time. He’s got to keep moving, fast, finding supporters for his concept. Rescuing the world is a time-consuming task. And remains a tough matter.

Can the Private Sector Pull off the Rescue Act?

Pascal Lamy has been around the block once or twice. The Frenchman is a Socialist and a marathon runner. He was chief of staff for the European Commission and, later, European commissioner for trade. Right now, he’s sitting in an office overlooking Lake Geneva. There’s a fireplace, some cartoons on the wall. A massive conference table chokes the room.

Lamy is director-general of the World Trade Organization, one of these complicated conglomerations of global politics. The WTO is considered to be powerful and even cannibalistic. But, in truth, it is only "the secretariat of its members,” Lamy says. Actually, not even that. According to its statutes, it is a collection of regulations governing global trade. "We are beholden to the interests of our members.” Lamy repeats this sentence eight times during this interview. And the 150 countries decide in consensus or they don’t decide at all. And that makes the Geneva game tedious. "The delegates spend one-fourth of their time here negotiating, and they spend three-fourths of their time trying to sell what they have negotiated to their governments, to formulate the expectations at home and to inform the home countries,” Lamy says.

The director-general of the free market is wearing a purple tie. He seems small and sinewy. He speaks soft, French-seasoned English. He has the reputation of being an overachiever and a live wire. Lamy can get loud and be biting. He’s got a vice-grip of a handshake. He says he sees exactly what’s happening in the world: "Civil society has picked up many issues. Development, animals, the environment.” But all of the NGOs are working on isolated issues, he says. There’s no single worldwide NGO that has spread its umbrella over all issues, he adds. "I can march on Monday for animals and for developing countries on Tuesday and can decide on Wednesday whether both positions fit together.”

In doing so, Lamy says, the system of non-governmental organizations is merely walking in the government’s footsteps. Everyone stands and talks and acts for himself or herself. "Our planet has never faced such a threat. We live in an uncertain and divided world,” Lamy says, and the question is: How can humans act in these times or become capable of acting again?

The WTO’s strategy is pretty clear: In Geneva, the issues are tariffs and subsidies. Free trade by all with everything is the ultimate goal. In real life, though, in all of the back rooms in the gray building on Rue de Lausanne, the United States and Europe set the tone and call the shots. They’ve got more muscle than the rest. They demand free exports and then dole out the subsidies at home. Is this the reason that all of the smart people in Geneva always know what should be done but are never fast enough on the solutions trigger because the next difficulty, the next crisis, always rears its ugly head?

No, the real culprit, Lamy says, is the "Westphalian system” that cemented the sovereignty of individual countries after the end of Thirty Years’ War, which the rest of the world received from Europe during the centuries of colonial rule and learned to love a long time ago.

Before he arrived at the WTO, Lamy labeled the organization or its type of consensus building "medieval.” "I really didn’t have to use that word,” he says today with a laugh. But he means it, still. "We have a huge discrepancy between the challenges and necessities of our times and the Westphalian system. To put it another way: We have global problems and local governments,” Lamy says.

This is one of his favorite subjects, a topic that keeps his mind occupied for hours on end. He writes about it and he speaks about it and now he says about it: "The exception is the EU.” Or the United Nations. It could be "a matrix for the future. But, it has a hard enough time right now as it is.” In Europe, for instance, citizens view globalization as a threat and are casting an ever more skeptical eye toward politics the farther the politicians move away. Brussels’ legitimacy oozes away a little more each day, he says. Every little town has to have a mayor. Every country has to have a national government. Nobody wants to have a world government. In any case, it’s "unbelievably difficult” to dissolve national governments or to take away their powers, Lamy says. "The United States, China and India would want no part of that. But Singapore, Senegal or Paraguay wouldn’t either. That’s because they believe that their national identity is what really protects them from the big elephants.”

This gives rise to something that’s known as realpolitik in Geneva and New York. Realpolitik means that the Indian ambassador at the WTO will, now and again, demand something that runs counter to what the Indian ambassador at the United Nations is seeking. Realpolitik means that the US Congress has to sign off on everything anyway. Lamy also understands completely that members of Congress base their decisions on one criterion: "Where it comes from and whether it is good for their region.” Realpolitik also means that everybody knows what must be done, argues over every single word and then fights over every one of the translations. As a result, years pass before a solution is found to something that was a hot topic back in the past.

No, you can’t say that Pascal Lamy would be surprised by the arrival of the private environmental cavalry. "It’s true. They are getting more and more involved in many fields and are very impressive. Things like HIV or famine. And that is a major contribution. The money that Bill Gates has put on the table is pretty impressive, don’t you think?” Philanthropy has deep roots in former and present Protestant countries, he notes. It’s mostly a British or American phenomenon, he adds, and the true competitive edge of people like Clinton or Soros is "that they are only responsible for themselves. Private money can be moved much more easily than public funds can.”

Still, Lamy is not a believer. He doesn’t think private individuals can pull off this rescue act. He certainly respects what the new citizenry of the world has accomplished. No question about that. "But we need coherent, interconnected political policies,” he says. "Nothing else will do.” He says the key question will be: "Can we come up with a global government that is up to meeting the challenges of our times -- and can this government still be democratically legitimate?”

It doesn’t look too good right now. The things that Lamy says, and he says them very convincingly, have a similar ring to the experience of President Bill Clinton, that global politics amounts to "sitting around a table and arguing about which word would be added to a document and which wouldn’t be.” The things that Lamy says don’t have the ring of the "doing business” that the crowd that had gathered one rainy morning in the Starlight Room of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York wanted to so gleefully practice.

In the end, all of the mutual oratorical back slapping in the Waldorf-Astoria sounded a bit like what you hear day in and day out just a few blocks away in the headquarters of the United Nations. There, too, people constantly talk about good deeds. But when they fly home and are subjected once again to the pressures of their home countries, to the things that go by the name of realpolitik, they forget quickly what they got themselves into in New York.

But the Waldorf's the Starlight Room wasn’t the United Nations. There, you heard sentences with a different ring to them: "We are in a position of being able to act, and I will spend every single day of my remaining time in office fighting to make sure that the things discussed here today will get done,” said Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor.

"We made a promise here,” a Siemens vice president said. We’re in, said Bangkok, Berlin, Chicago, Houston, Johannesburg, Karachi, London, Melbourne, Mexico City, New York, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Toronto -- and if they pull it off, the world will be a different place. Indeed, even the longest journey begins with a first step.

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