Global Transformation

  • Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead

    The planetary phase of history has begun, but the future shape of global society remains profoundly uncertain. Though perhaps improbable, a shift toward a planetary civilization of enriched lives, human solidarity, and environmental sustainability is still possible. This treatise examines the historic roots of this fateful crossroads, analyzes alternative scenarios that can emerge from contemporary forces and contradictions, and points to strategies and choices for advancing a Great Transition. It synthesizes the insights of the Global Scenario Group, convened in 1995 by the Tellus Institute and Stockholm Environment Institute to explore the requirements for a sustainable and desirable future.

  • Marxism and Ecology: Common Fonts of a Great Transition

    This essay uncovers the deep ecological roots of Marxism, finding concepts that anticipate such contemporary notions as sustainable development and planetary boundaries. This common wellspring, it argues, supports a unified socialist and ecological project for a Great Transition.

  • Uniting Nations: The UN at a Crossroads

    The Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme comments on pivotal forthcoming international developments—the launch of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate negotiations—and the UN's role in fostering a sustainable future.

  • Mass Extinction: Is the Enemy Us?

    In The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert powerfully documents a planetary tragedy. But the book is heedless of social roots of and solutions for the crisis, indicting, instead, essential flaws in human nature and offering only fatalistic despair.

  • Bounding the Planetary Future: Why We Need a Great Transition

    Humanity is pushing the Earth system into a post-Holocene state that very well could be inhospitable to human civilization. The urgent imperatives of respecting planetary boundaries and transforming the development paradigm have become complementary aspects of a single social-ecological project.

  • Global Scenarios: Explorations in the Scientific Imagination

    Global futures pioneer Gilberto Gallopín discusses the origins of contemporary global scenario analysis, the ways worldviews can influence our sense of the future, and how the scenario approach offers a powerful way to envision unconventional tomorrows and guide actions today.

  • Dialogical Citizenship: Dancing Toward Solidarity

    Our increasingly interdependent world demands stronger global governance rooted in a sense of global citizenship. Nurturing such an enlarged identity requires balancing  universalism and pluralism through a dialogical process of reconciliation.

  • Economics for a Full World

    We live in a full world but still behave as if it were empty. The urgent task ahead of us is to create an economy that remains within the earth’s carrying capacity while rethinking the ultimate purpose of the economy itself.

  • Worker Cooperatives in a Globalizing World

    The former president of Mondragon International discusses how Mondragon, a renowned worker-owned cooperative, puts democracy and solidarity into practice, and shares his insights on the future of global cooperative enterprise.

  • Turning to the Flip Side | The Nature of Cities

    Frameworks, spatial planning, management financing, and governance are essential foundations and enablers for a multidimensional conception of justice in a city. They are foundations because justice in a city must be social, political, economic, and environmental justice. And they are enablers because they can—and, in many cases, will—deliver better results if conceived and operationalized with the city-region scale as their wider framework. Justice in a city goes beyond its administrative boundaries. A city will not be just if it is triggering injustice in the peri-urban or metropolitan areas or the wider region it relates to.

  • The Decline and Fall of Consumer Society?

    Recent demographic, economic, social, cultural, and resource trends may foretell the decline of consumer society in the US. The question then becomes what system will come next.

  • Global Citizenship: Plausible Fears and Necessary Dreams

    In an increasingly interdependent world, the question is not whether there will be global governance, but whether it will be democratic and integrative. To democratize international affairs, we must expand the concept and practice of citizenship.

  • Radical Ecological Democracy: A Path Forward for India and Beyond

    Numerous grassroots initiatives devoted to fostering sustainable and equitable alternatives to the dominant economic development model have recently sprung up in India and other parts of the world. The emergent framework of radical ecological democracy can inspire such a values-led transition to a better future.

  • The Commons as a Template for Transformation

    By helping diverse communities bypass dysfunctional government and predatory markets, the commons approach can serve a key strategic role in the transition to an alternative system.

  • Searching for Radicalism in a Corporate Age

    Peter Dauvergne and Genviere LeBaron’s new book Protest Inc. analyzes the headwinds driving against the rise of radical activism. Although it offers a much-needed critique of the weakening of NGO resolve to challenge the system, it provides little guidance on how to bring such change about.

  • What Would Jane Jacobs Say?

    Vishaan Chakrabarti’s recent book A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America makes a compelling case that future prosperity lies in cities. But his vision of the built environment, this review argues, leaves out an essential element: the people who inhabit it.

  • Human Rights in the Age of Climate Change

    An interview with the former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights about how to build the political will to address the climate crisis and why a rights-based approach must lie at the core of twenty-first century development.

  • Boiling Point: Multiple Crises and the Democratic Deficit

    An interview with Kumi Naidoo, International Executive Director of Greenpeace International, about how to fix the current democratic deficit and strengthen the role of civil society in pushing for fundamental change.

  • The Future International Civil Society Organization

    An interview with Burkhard Gnärig, the Executive Director of the International Civil Society Centre, about the current landscape of international civil society organizations (ICSOs) and what they must do to adapt to a world filled with new challenges and opportunities.

  • Systems Thinking and System Change

    An interview with Fritjof Capra, the founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, about the emergence of systems thinking, the root causes of todays’ social and environmental problems, and how to change the system itself.

  • Nature's Solutions: The IUCN Perspective

    Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, discusses IUCN's evolving mission toward a holistic approach to restoring species and ecosystems while enhancing the prospects for human well-being.

  • Changing the Political Climate: A Transitional Imperative

    Claims of “world citizenship” are premature in the absence of a global political community. The concept of the “citizen pilgrim” can help us reimagine citizenship as the struggle to create such a community to bring humane global governance to the twenty-first century.

  • A Great Transition? Where We Stand

    Paul Raskin revisits the scenarios developed by the Global Scenario Group and asks, which future are we living in? Despite proliferating perils, he argues, a Great Transition remains plausible—if an emerging social actor moves to center stage.

  • Meaning, Religion, and a Great Transition

    Can religion be a progressive force for confronting world challenges? Michael Karlberg argues that it can if reconceptualized as an evolving system of knowledge and practice rooted in universal values.

  • Climate: The Crisis and the Movement

    Naomi Klein indicts the capitalist economic system for bringing us to the brink of climate crisis and calls for building a movement for a more equitable and sustainable alternative.

  • Contours of a Resilient Global Future

    Humanity confronts a daunting double challenge in the twenty-first century: meeting widely-held aspirations for equitable human development while preserving the biophysical integrity of Earth systems. Extant scientific attempts to quantify futures that address these sustainability challenges are often not comprehensive across environmental and social drivers of global change, or rely on quantification methods that largely exclude deep social, cultural, economic, and technological shifts, leading to a constrained set of possibilities. This article combines three previously separate streams of inquiry—scenario analysis, planetary boundaries, and targets for human development—to show that there are plausible, diverse scenarios that remain within Earth’s safe bio-physical operating space and achieve a variety of development targets. However, dramatic social and technological changes are required to avert the social-ecological risks of a conventional development trajectory.

  • Scenes from the Great Transition

    Mandela City, 2084 - The world today, a century after George Orwell’s nightmare year, stands as living refutation of the apocalyptic premonitions that once haunted dreams of the future. This dispatch from our awakened future surveys the contemporary moment, scenes in the unfolding drama we call the Great Transition.

    Originally published in Solutions 3, no. 4 (2012): 11-17.

  • Response to 'Creating the Future We Want'

    The recent book Creating the Future We Want presents a policy approach for addressing a range of sustainability challenges. However, the optimistic perspective of the authors is not always backed up with sufficient evidence, and the authors ignore alternative perspectives on sustainability, particularly those that highlight the fundamental limitations of growth as a tool for a sustainability transition.

    Originally published in Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy 8, no. 2 (Summer 2012): 1-3.

  • The Great Transition: Journey of an Idea

    The jury is still out on whether the Great Transition Initiative’s hoped-for Great Transition will be realized. Its achievement rests on the emergence of a planetary movement of concerned citizens buoyed by the conviction that together they can change the world.

    Originally published in International Institute for Sustainable Development, Strategy for Achieving Transformative Change: Better Living for All—Sustainably: 2010-2011 Annual Report (Winnipeg, Canada: IISD, 2011), 6-7.

  • The Quality of Development Index: A New Headline Indicator of Progress

    This paper introduces and applies a new Quality of Development Index (QDI). The QDI provides a national-level measure of progress that reflects changes related to well-being, community, and the environment. The paper argues generally for a more explicit linkage between indicators of progress and values, and for a larger role for such indicators in quantitative scenario-based visioning exercises. The report recommends use of the QDI in place of the Gross Domestic Product, the current de facto headline indicator of progress.

  • Beyond the Growth Paradigm: Creating a Unified Progressive Politics

    The US political economy is failing across a broad front—environmental, social, economical, and political. Deep, systemic change is needed to transition to a new economy, one where the acknowledged priority is to sustain human and natural communities. Policies are available to effect this transformation and to temper economic growth and consumerism while simultaneously improving social well-being and quality of life, but a new politics involving a coalescence of progressive communities is needed to realize these policies. Yet, on the key issue of economic growth, differing positions among American liberals and environmentalists loom, a major barrier to progressive fusion. This Perspective proposes a starting point for forging a common platform and agenda around which both liberals and environmentalists can rally.

  • Civil Society Organizations: Time for Systemic Strategies

    Myriad civil society organizations (CSOs) are addressing the full range of environmental and social problems, including climate change, food insecurity, droughts, resource scarcity, and poverty. Despite many successes, these perilous problems (and more) constitute a sustainability crisis that calls into question the efficacy of current CSO strategies. More transformative approaches, drawing on cutting-edge theory and practice, are required for CSOs to fulfill their role of helping humanity meet contemporary challenges. The Great Transition scenario offers a holistic framework for changing course.

  • Imagine All the People: Advancing a Global Citizens Movement

    How to change the world? Those concerned about the dangerous drift of global development are asking this question with increasing urgency. Dominant institutions have proved too timorous or too venal for meeting the environmental and social challenges of our time. Instead, an adequate response requires us to imagine the awakening of a new social actor: a coordinated global citizens movement (GCM) struggling on all fronts toward a just and sustainable planetary civilization.

    Originally published in Kosmos Journal (Spring/Summer 2011): 4-6.

  • We the People of Earth: Toward Global Democracy

    We confront daunting twenty-first century challenges hobbled by twentieth century institutions. In a world ever more interdependent, deepening global-scale risks—climate change, financial instability, terrorism, to name a few—threaten the planetary commonwealth, even the continuity of civilization. Yet coherent and timely responses lie beyond the grasp of our myopic and disputatious state-centric political order. Closing this perilous gap between obsolete geopolitics and emerging geo-realities delineates an urgent political endeavor: constructing a legitimate and effective system of world governance. Key steps on that path involve reforming the United Nations and nurturing new venues for the meaningful exercise of global citizenship.

  • Interview with Paul Raskin on Making the Great Transition

    Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, interviews Dr. Paul Raskin, founding director of the Tellus Institute and founder of the Great Transition Initiative, about alternative global futures and ways to transition to a sustainable and livable planetary civilization for Yale’s program "Visions of a Sustainable World."

    Originally published in Solutions, June 2010,

  • Planetary Praxis

    Amidst growing environmental, economic, and social instability, there remains hope for a transition to a tolerant, just, and ecologically resilient global civilization. However, such a transition is feasible only if human thought and action rise to embrace one human family on one integral planet. This essay identifies a “global citizens movement” as the critical actor for the transition, arguing that the conditions of the twenty-first century will make such a cultural and political formation increasingly feasible and suggesting strategic actions for accelerating its crystallization.

    Originally published in Stephen Kellert and James Gustave Speth, eds., The Coming Transformation: Values to Sustain Human and Natural Communities (New Haven, CT: Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, 2009).

  • Review of 'Sustainability or Collapse?'

    Sustainability or Collapse? is the report of the 2005 Dahlem Workshop, which launched the multi-year project IHOPE (Integrated History and Future of People on Earth). A thorough appreciation of the inherent limits of contemporary models and methodological strategies would require greater attention to such critical issues as the policy implications of deep scientific unpredictability; critical thresholds and uncertainties in the global transition; and the roles of human values, culture, agency, and political mobilization. Nevertheless, by formulating bold, on-point questions, even if grand answers may prove elusive, this book stands as a significant way station on the long journey to an adequate science and practice of global change.

    Originally published in Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 1900-1901.

  • The Case for Biome Stewardship Councils

    Protecting global ecosystems is often hindered by the problem of insufficient political will within countries and the need for effective cross-boundary management. This paper proposes a novel solution in which the biome itself (i.e., large ecosystems with similar climate, soils, plants, and animals) becomes the basic governance unit. Biome Stewardship Councils would comprise groups of individuals elected or nominated by local community organizations that reside in the regions making up their respective biomes. They would lead regional collaboration to characterize threats to ecosystem services within the biome and develop and apply strategies to restore and maintain healthy services.

  • Climate Change, Development, and the Three-Day Week

    Among the efforts to take affluence seriously are various proposals to reduce CO2 emissions while still permitting development to occur. Under these proposals, there are direct or indirect economic benefits for the less developed nations and substantial costs for the developed countries. As one might expect, developed countries either reject such proposals outright or provide only half-hearted support. One could enhance the appeal of the climate and development proposals by adding a call for a reduction in working hours. Addressing climate change, fostering development, and promoting a shorter work week is a policy package with benefits for the majority of the residents of the developing and developed countries.

  • Global Politics and Institutions: A 'Utopistic' View

    This paper emphasizes the political and institutional dimensions of a different possible world, one that conjoins the desires of progressive social movements everywhere and gestures towards a hopeful vision of new forms of collective action. Thus, it tries to outline the politics and institutions that would be most compatible with meeting humanity's complex and manifold goals, even as other social, technological, and economic changes take place. Its primary focus is the institutional arrangements that would facilitate a democratic global politics in the future, but it also lays out some current trends that show promise towards realizing such a future.

    Essay #3 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

  • The Great Transition Today: A Report from the Future

    Paul Raskin surveys the landscape of a Great Transition future from the perspective of an individual living in 2084. He emphasizes the preeminence of a triad of values—quality of life, human solidarity, and ecological sensibility—and shows how they, combined with a sense of world citizenship, have permeated political, social, and economic institutions.

    Essay #2 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

  • The Role of Well-being in a Great Transition

    John Stutz analyzes available data on well-being, focusing on the three components of welfare, contentment, and freedom. He offers a vision of a future in which society has embraced the lessons learned from such analysis, particularly the importance of time affluence, and outlines a strategy to achieve a heightened quality of life through value changes, coalition building, and policy action.

    Essay #10 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

  • Trading into the Future: Rounding the Corner to Sustainable Development

    Mark Halle explores the assumptions underlying the architecture of the multilateral trade regime and how it has both delivered and failed to deliver on the various promises of trade theory. He argues that sustainable development can be achieved by a more rigorous enforcement of and commitment to—rather than abandonment of—the espoused principles. He concludes by analyzing how trade would function in the three archetypal regions imagined in the Great Transition.

    Essay #6 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

  • What Does Happiness Look Like? The Well-being Mandala

    Whether a Great Transition occurs is, to a great extent, a matter of choice. “Push” (necessity, avoidance of risk/harm) and “pull” (pursuit of attractive options) will guide our collective decisions. Well-being is an important pull. Our understanding of well-being will, in part, shape the choices we make, individually and collectively, as we create our future. A broad, sophisticated understanding of well-beng is essential if we are to choose wisely. Accordingly, this paper reviews various perspectives on well-being and offers its own conception: the well-being mandala, a nested image of various facets of personal well-being residing inside broader social and environmental well-being.

  • Security in the Great Transition

    From the perspective of a historian writing in 2084, Charles Knight writes the history of how the world transitioned away from the paradigms of war and militarism and to a greater emphasis on cooperative security and “human security.” He discusses the institutional and cultural shifts that would effect such a non-violent and equitable world.

    Essay #7 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

  • Dawn of the Cosmopolitan: The Hope of a Global Citizens Movement

    Orion Kriegman examines the potential for a global citizens movement by drawing on relevant lessons from past and current social movements. He argues that, although the emergence of such a movement might not be probable, it is nonetheless possible at this historical moment of growing interdependence and collective risk. He addresses the missing ingredients for the development of such a movement and points to further avenues for assessing its possibilities.

    Essay #15 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

  • Feminist Praxis: Women's Transnational and Place Based Struggles for Change

    Wendy Harcourt et al. look at the context in which feminism is practiced by the women’s movements around the world. They present the Women and Politics of Place framework as an analytical approach that can inform our understanding of the many women’s networks engaged in the Great Transition. They then propose ideas for a feminist vision for the future built on realpolitik and feminist struggles for change.

    Essay #11 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

  • Great Transition Values: Present Attitudes, Future Changes

    Anthony Leiserowitz, Robert Kates, and Thomas Parris analyze current public attitudes toward the three key values of a Great Transition: quality of life, human solidarity, and ecological sensibility. They discuss how the forces of population growth, globalization, technological innovation, climate change, and—importantly—surprise will influence such values along the path toward a Great Transition future.

    Essay #9 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

  • How Technology Could Contribute to a Sustainable World

    Philip Vergragt examines how and which technologies could contribute to a sustainable society envisioned in the Great Transition scenario. He develops a broad picture of future technological developments in a Great Transition and explores a vision and associated events, pathways, mechanisms, and choices to help realize this vision.

    Essay #8 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

  • Resilience and Pluralism: Ecosystems and Society in a Great Transition

    Elena Bennett and Nicolás Lucas discuss the increasing scale and rate of ecosystem change due to human impacts in the twentieth century as well as the unevenly distributed benefits and vulnerabilities from such change. They argue for the need to transcend the nation-state and the dominant economic growth paradigm in order to develop adequate policies and institutions for addressing the socio-ecological challenges of the coming decades.

    Essay #14 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

  • Halfway to the Future: Reflections on the Global Condition

    Paul Raskin uses the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tellus as an opportunity to reflect on the past, the current historical moment, and the challenges and possibilities that lie ahead. The evolution of the environment and development research program over the course of Tellus’s history has tracked the deepening interconnectedness, uncertainty, and globalization of the world itself and will continue to do so in the years ahead. The key to ensuring a humanistic and sustainable global transformation is our ability—as scientists, citizens, communities, and nations—to gain new insights, commit to new values, and take common actions to create more harmonious conditions for life on Earth.

  • Bending the Curve: Toward Global Sustainability

    This paper analyzes the prospects for sustainability within the confines of Conventional Worlds scenarios. The shift to more sustainable forms of development must at least begin at this level, although we will likely need more fundamental social changes to complete the transition to a sustainable global society. The paper introduces social and environmental targets as well as strategic policies for reaching them. It shows both the great potential for progress and the daunting challenges within a growth-driven development paradigm.

    Technical documentation available here.

  • Branch Points: Global Scenarios and Human Choice

    This paper introduces scenario methods and a framework for envisioning global futures. It depicts contrasting world development scenarios, all compatible with current patterns and trends, but with sharply different implications for the quest for sustainability in the twenty-first century. The paper focuses on three broad scenario classes—Conventional Worlds, Barbarization, and Great Transitions—which are characterized by, respectively, essential continuity with current patterns, fundamental but degenerative social change, and fundamental and progressive social transformation.