Author page for Paul Raskin

Paul Raskin
Paul Raskin is the founding President of the Tellus Institute. The overarching theme of Dr. Raskin’s work has been the development of visions and strategies for a transformation to more resilient and equitable forms of social development. Toward this larger aim, his research has spanned issues (energy, water, climate change, ecosystems, and sustainable development) and spatial scales (local, national, and global). He has conceived and built widely-used models for integrated scenario planning for energy (LEAP), freshwater (WEAP), and sustainability (PoleStar). Dr. Raskin has published widely, and served as a lead author for the U.S. National Academy of Science’s Board on Sustainability, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the Earth Charter, and UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook. In 1995, he convened the Global Scenario Group to explore the requirements for a transition to a sustainable and just global civilization. The Group’s 2002 valedictory essay—Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead—became the point of departure for the Great Transition Initiative that Dr. Raskin launched in 2003 and continues to direct. Dr. Raskin received a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Columbia University in 1970, and taught at the university level before co-founding the Tellus Institute in 1976.

Tellus Publications (Selected)

Journey to Earthland: The Great Transition to Planetary Civlization

Paul Raskin

Journey to Earthland Cover

Journey to Earthland
The Great Transition to Planetary Civilization

Paul Raskin

A global scenario pioneer charts a path to an organic planetary civilization, a vision that opens before us as both possibility and exigency in an interdependent and dangerous century.

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We have entered the Planetary Phase of Civilization. Strands of interdependence are weaving humanity and Earth into a single community of fate—the overarching proto-country herein christened Earthland. In the unsettled twenty-first century, the drama of social evolution will play out on a world stage with the perils many and dark premonitions all too plausible.

Still, a Great Transition to a planetary civilization of enriched lives and a healthy planet remains possible. But how? What forms of collective action and consciousness can redirect us toward such a future? Who will lead the charge? What might such a world look like?

Journey to Earthland offers answers. It clarifies the world-historical challenge; explains the critical role of a global citizens movement in advancing social transformation; and paints a picture of the kind of flourishing civilization that might lie on the other side of a Great Transition.

In this pivotal moment, the odyssey to a different world is underway yet the ultimate destination depends on choices and struggles yet to come. Acting to prevent the futures we dread is where our work must begin. But the larger task is to foster the finer Earthland we and our descendants deserve.

"Journey to Earthland is a masterpiece, beautifully written and powerfully argued."
James Gustave Speth, The Bridge at the Edge of the World

"A well-researched, rigorous, and deeply moving treatise by a theoretical physicist and seasoned visionary, and we need visionaries in these fraught times. The framework it builds for understanding and shaping our global moment offers the best hope for the future of this planet."
Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space

A Great Transition? Where We Stand

Paul Raskin

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.

Contours of a Resilient Global Future

Michael Gerst, Paul Raskin, Johan Rockström

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

Paul Raskin

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.

Transforming Innovation for Sustainability

M. Leach, Johan Rockström, Paul Raskin, I. Scoones, A. C. Stirling, A. Smith, J. Thompson, E. Millstone, A. Ely, E. Arond, C. Folke, P. Olsson

As the world gears up for the Rio + 20 conference in June 2012, many are pinning hopes on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a concrete outcome. Yet there is little clarity on what SDGs should involve, who should set them, and how they can be realized in practice. This commentary article draws on recent research by the STEPS Centre, the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and Tellus Institute to argue that Sustainable Development Goals that keep human societies within a “safe operating space” are now urgently needed. However, delivering on these requires a radically new approach to innovation that gives far greater recognition and power to grassroots actors and processes, involving them within an inclusive, multiscale innovation politics.

Imagine All the People: Advancing a Global Citizens Movement

Paul Raskin

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.

Civil Society Organizations: Time for Systemic Strategies

Michael Narberhaus, Orion Kriegman, Pamela Pezzati, Paul Raskin

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.

Higher Education in an Unsettled Century: Handmaiden or Pathmaker?

Paul Raskin

In an increasingly interdependent and turbulent world, we confront a future of great uncertainty. The perils are many, yet the opportunity remains for a fundamental change in ways of thinking and organizing society. In this quest, higher education can play a transformative role in the domains of education, understanding, and action, and especially the cultivation of informed and thoughtful global citizens. But first it must transform itself.

Published in Higher Education in the World 4: Higher Education's Commitment to Sustainability: from Understanding to Action, edited by Miquel Barceló, 12-15. Barcelona: Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi), 2012.

The Great Transition: Journey of an Idea

Paul Raskin

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.

When the World Rules Corporations: Pathway to a Global Corporate Charter

Allen White, Paul Raskin

The ascent of transnational corporations poses fundamental questions about accountability, regulation, and the democratic process. Although their footprints cross continents, TNCs still operate under legal licenses granted by national or state authority. In order to rectify the incongruence between global impacts and state control, and to align corporate behavior with social and ecological purpose, we propose a World Corporate Charter Organization. By defining the obligations of TNCs, global charters would balance the current emphasis of international institutions, such as the World Trade Organization, on TNC rights. With public concern about corporate power on the rise, the moment is propitious for establishing transnational governance of transnational corporations, a precondition for attaining just and sustainable societies.

Interview with Paul Raskin on Making the Great Transition

Paul Raskin

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

Paul Raskin

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).

We the People of Earth: Toward Global Democracy

Paul Raskin, Orion Kriegman, Josep Xercavins

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.

The Century Ahead: Searching for Sustainability

Paul Raskin, Christi Electris, Rich Rosen

This study explores possible pathways to sustainability by considering, in quantitative form, four contrasting scenarios for the twenty-first century. The analysis reveals vividly the risks of conventional development approaches and the real danger of socio-ecological descent into a future of diminished human and ecological well-being. Nonetheless, the paper underscores that a Great Transition scenario—turning toward a civilization of enhanced human well-being and environmental resilience—remains an option, and it identifies a suite of changes in strategic policies and human values for getting there.

Preliminary report available here.

Technical documentation available here.

Originally published in Sustainability 2, no. 8 (2010): 2626-2651.

World Trade: A New Direction

Mark Halle, Paul Raskin

Global trade negotiations are moribund, with the World Trade Organization’s agenda stalled and the neoliberal ideology it serves confronted by a rising chorus of criticism. The trading system, built on the premise that promoting commercial interests necessarily advances the general interest, instead has fed a multifaceted planetary crisis. At this juncture, trade policy must find a new way forward. The key to this change lies in reversing the priority that in the past made free trade an end in itself, thereby consigning the larger goal of sustainable development to an afterthought. From now on, economic, social, and environmental sustainability goals should set the criteria for designing and applying multilateral trade rules. We suggest concrete steps to help transform the WTO from an agent of privilege and profit into a force for an equitable, peaceful, and resilient world.

Review of 'Sustainability or Collapse?'

Paul Raskin

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.

Nuclear Power: Should It Have a Role?

Paul Raskin, Rich Rosen, Marjorie Kelly, Orion Kriegman

Adequate mitigation of the risks of climate change requires rapid displacement of fossil fuels with carbon-free energy sources. This imperative has prompted a growing chorus of energy analysts, policymakers, and industry advocates to press for a resurgence of nuclear energy. Even some environmentalists are urging reconsideration of the nuclear option, so long anathema to their own movement. Yet, with critical problems unsolved—safety and cost, waste storage, and nuclear weapons proliferation—nuclear power remains a deeply problematic response to the climate challenge.


Paul Raskin

All cultures are infused with myths and prophecies that express humankind’s expectations and fears for the future. By the latter decades of the twentieth century, realization spread that without sustainable practices the human enterprise more and more compromised the ecosphere’s capacity to support future life. The project of sustainability invites us to collectively and self-consciously construct the future: to generate plausible images of the world decades from now, establish collective goals, and adapt current choices and behaviors for the journey. New methods like scenario analysis can help us to explore such possible futures as well as rekindle age-old hopes for an organic and interdependent global civilization, no longer as abstract hope, but as necessity for a resilient and livable future.

Originally published in Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability, vol. 1 of The Spirit of Sustainability, edited by William Jenkins (Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing, 2009).

Contours of the Future: Alternative Scenarios for the Boston Region

James Goldstein, Paul Raskin, Chella Rajan

The Boston Scenarios Project explored long-range futures for the region within a larger global perspective. The scenarios span a spectrum of possible futures for the Boston region to the year 2050. The Project analyzed conventional scenarios that gradually unfold from current trends under the influence of various policy adjustments as well as a normative scenario of “deep change” in which sustainability, social solidarity, and global responsibility become major organizing principles for the cultural, economic, and social development of the region.

Technical documentation available here.

World Lines: A Framework for Exploring Global Pathways

Paul Raskin

Despite recent advancements in sustainability research, the study of the dynamics and prospects of co-evolving human and ecological systems, the discipline still lacks an overarching theoretical framework. Scenario analysis offers a promising integrative approach, and scenario methods have been improved by a wave of new studies. Still, these studies remain most compelling in their opening frames, where quantitative modeling can track unfolding trends, and their closing frames, where qualitative description can provide rich descriptions of long-term social visions. Not surprisingly, given the formidable uncertainties, the trajectories between now and then remain poorly specified, if addressed at all. This paper suggests ways of thinking about these pathways and pivots, the world lines through the terra incognita between current global realities and alternative futures.

Originally published in Ecological Economics 65, no. 3 (2008): 461-470.

Bringing Global Thinking to Local Sustainability Efforts: A Collaborative Project for the Boston Metropolitan Region—Technical Report on Quantitative Scenarios

James Goldstein, Paul Raskin, Chella Rajan, A. Fleder

This report provides technical documentation for the quantification of scenarios developed by the Tellus Institute for the Boston Scenarios Project ("BSP"). It serves as a supplement to the BSP final report: Alternative Long-Range Scenarios for the Boston Region: Contours of the Future. The report analyzes three long-range scenarios for the Boston region (Business-As-Usual (BAU), Policy Reform, and Deep Change), presenting the quantitative inputs and assumptions used in developing the scenarios and projecting them out to the year 2050.

WEAP: Water Evaluation And Planning System User Guide (for WEAP 21)

Jack Sieber, Annette Huber-Lee, Paul Raskin, David Purkey

The Water Evaluation and Planning System (WEAP) aims to incorporate concerns about allocation of limited water resources, environmental quality, and sustainable water use into a practical tool for water resources planning. As a database, WEAP provides a system for maintaining water demand and supply information. As a forecasting tool, WEAP simulates water demand, supply, flows, and storage, as well as pollution generation, treatment and discharge. As a policy analysis tool, WEAP evaluates a full range of water development and management options and takes account of multiple and competing uses of water systems.

World Lines: Pathways, Pivots and the Global Future

Paul Raskin

Looking at the concurrence of global crises, Paul Raskin provides a theoretical framework for analyzing structural change in human-ecological systems. He explores the possible forms and interactions of two key uncertainties—the aforementioned crises and human intentionality—in the landscape of the future, as well as the various paths that could result. He concludes by highlighting prospects and strategies for the formation of a global movement rooted in a planetary ethos.

Essay #16 in the GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

The Great Transition Today: A Report from the Future

Paul Raskin

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

Global Scenarios in Historic Perspective in Scenario Assessment Report.

Paul Raskin, F. Monks, Teresa Ribeiro, Detlef van Vuuren, Monika Zurek

This chapter reviews the historical context of scenarios, beginning with brief sketches of early scenario activity, from its post-World War II origins up to about a decade ago. It focuses in particular on the subset of environmental global scenario projects that have a public policy and scientific orientation, since these are of greatest interest to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Special consideration is given to the following post-1995 global scenario building exercises: Global Scenarios Group, Global Environment Outlook, Special Report on Emissions Scenarios, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, World Water Vision, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. These scenarios, despite their diversity, are rooted in a common set of archetypal visions of the future: evolution, progression, and decline.

Global Scenarios: Background Review for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

Paul Raskin

This paper reviews global scenario research to provide historical context for the efforts of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). Taken together, the seven recent studies surveyed provide a useful platform for the MA by offering insight into the complex factors that drive ecosystem change, estimating the magnitude of regional pressures on ecosystems, sounding the alert on critical uncertainties that could undermine sustainable development, and understanding the importance of institutions and values. But these studies are only a point of departure. The integration of changing ecosystem conditions into global development scenarios, as both effects and causes, is at the cutting edge of scenario analysis. The paper concludes by identifying directions for this research program and suggesting ways that the MA can contribute to this effort.

The Problem of the Future: Sustainability Science and Scenario Analysis

Rob Swart, Paul Raskin, John Robinson

Unsustainable tendencies in the co-evolution of human and natural systems have stimulated a search for new approaches to understanding complex problems of environment and development. Recently, attention has been drawn to the emergence of a new “sustainability science,” and core questions and research strategies have been proposed. A key challenge of sustainability is to examine the range of plausible future pathways of combined social and environmental systems under conditions of uncertainty, surprise, human choice, and complexity. This requires charting new scientific territory and expanding the current global change research agenda. Scenario analysis—including new participatory and problem-oriented approaches—provides a powerful tool for integrating knowledge, scanning the future in an organized way, and internalizing human choice into sustainability science.

Originally published in Global Environmental Change 14 (2004): 137–146.

Global Sustainability: Bending the Curve

Gilberto Gallopín, Paul Raskin

Unprecedented levels of wealth, technology, and institutional capacity can forge a just, peaceful, and ecologically resilient future. However, social polarization, geo-political conflict, and environmental degradation are threatening the long-term well-being of humanity and the planet. This book explores the alternative futures that could emerge from the resolution of these antagonisms. It identifies the perils and potential failure of conventional market-driven approaches and presents a vision of the possibility of a "Great Transition" in which revised human values and development goals bring a new stage of civilization.

Available for purchase here.

Global Environment Outlook Scenario Framework

Paul Raskin, Eric Kemp-Benedict

Through the Global Environment Outlook series, the United Nations Environment Programme provides a comprehensive assessment of the state of the global environment, a review of policy responses, and an outlook on the future. The first Global Environment Outlook (GEO-1) was released in 1997, the second (GEO-2000) in 2000, and the third (GEO-3) in 2002. This background paper for GEO-3 provides a scenario-based approach to illuminate the challenges and appropriate responses over the coming decades. It addresses environmental trends in an integrated framework that included economic, social, and cultural factors that ultimately shape the ways in which human activity impacts nature, and it places regional analyses in the context of global patterns.

Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead

Paul Raskin, Tariq Banuri, Gilberto Gallopín, Al Hammond, Rob Swart, Robert Kates, Pablo Gutman

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.

Critical Challenges for Sustainability Science

Paul Raskin, Rob Swart, John Robinson

A letter to the editor in Science discussing a recent article, "Sustainability Science," by Kates et al. The letter argues that sustainability science will need to transcend the determinism and incremental responses to perturbation that still dominate much research on the dynamics of combined socio-ecological systems. It offers participatory scenario development as an approach for systematically addressing many of the core challenges the discipline faces.

Originally published in Science 297 (September 2002): 1994.

Halfway to the Future: Reflections on the Global Condition

Paul Raskin

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.

Sustainable Development in West Africa: Beginning the Process

Charles Heaps, Eric Kemp-Benedict, Paul Raskin, Y. Sokona, Susan Humphreys

The transition to sustainable forms of development will be a long and complex process. The objective of this project is to help launch that process in West Africa, focusing on the countries in the UEMOA region, the Union Économique et Monétaire Ouest-Africaine. The study is the first to assess current patterns of development and resource use in the region, with a view to evaluating the sustainability of current practices into the future.

Is Growth Enough? A Scenario Analysis Prepared for the World Bank

Paul Raskin

Eliminating poverty is an overriding objective of World Bank policy. Closely associated with it is the goal of achieving environmentally-sustainable growth. This study considers whether these goals can be achieved with current policy approaches. In particular, the study examines a key hypothesis implicit in the Bank’s present strategy: Is economic growth consistent with environmental goals and alone enough to reduce poverty, or are other strategies likely to be required?

Polestar: System Manual for Version 2000

Paul Raskin, Charles Heaps, Jack Sieber, Eric Kemp-Benedict

The PoleStar System provides a flexible and user-friendly framework for building and assessing alternative development scenarios at regional, national, and global scales. It is an adaptable accounting and model-building framework designed to assist the analyst engaged in sustainability studies—not a rigid model reflecting one particular approach to environment and development interactions. With PoleStar, analysts can customize data structures, time horizons, and spatial boundaries—all of which can be expanded or altered easily. They can also introduce new variables, indicators and relationships to match their needs. The system can synthesize information generated from formal models, existing studies, or any other sources upon which the user wishes to draw.

Windows on the Future

Paul Raskin, Gilberto Gallopín

One way to gain insights into the uncertain future is to construct what are known as scenarios. This article explores a wide range of long-term scenarios that could unfold from the forces that will drive the world system in the twenty-first century by considering six contrasting possibilities. The scenarios were developed by an international and interdisciplinary group of 15 development professionals called the Global Scenario Group. This scan of the future illuminates the perils and possibilities before us and, more importantly, helps to clarify the changes in policies and values that will be required for a transition to sustainability during coming decades.

Originally published in Environment 40, no. 3 (April 1998): 6-11, 26-31.

Bending the Curve: Toward Global Sustainability

Paul Raskin, Gilberto Gallopín, Rob Swart, Al Hammond, Pablo Gutman

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.

Global Energy, Sustainability, and the Conventional Development Paradigm

Paul Raskin, Robert Margolis

The conventional development paradigm assumes that the values, consumption patterns, and dynamics of the Western industrial system will be progressively played out on a global scale. This article explores the implications of the conventional paradigm for the evolution of global energy patterns, and the compatibility with notions of sustainability. It presents a global long-range conventional development scenario to the year 2050 and identifies major environmental, resource, and social pressures and uncertainties. By clarifying the stress points in a conventional picture of energy development, the scenario provides a useful point of departure for examining alternative long-range scenarios for sustainable energy development.

Originally published in Energy Sources 20 (January 1998): 363-383,

Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World

Paul Raskin

This report examines water requirements to the year 2025 at regional and national levels to assess emerging problems of stress on freshwater resources. The study focuses on Conventional Development Scenarios, which assume mid-range demographic and economic projections, a global convergence in consumption and production practices, gradual technological advance, and no major policy changes. The report finds that such scenarios would bring a continuing deterioration of water conditions in those areas that are already water scarce and an extension of new water stress conditions in major places throughout the world. The report concludes with recommendations for how to envision and achieve a more sustainable path.

Contributors: Peter Gleick, Paul Kirshen, Gil Pontius, and Kenneth Strzepek

Branch Points: Global Scenarios and Human Choice

Gilberto Gallopín, Al Hammond, Paul Raskin, Rob Swart

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.

The Sustainability Transition: Beyond Conventional Development

Paul Raskin, Gerald Leach, Michael Chadwick, Tim Jackson

Conventional development wisdom generally assumes the long-term continuity of dominant institutions, along with the expansion of resource intensive consumption and production patterns in industrialized countries and their gradual extension to developing countries. However, the growth orientation of conventional development strategies and resource-intensive lifestyles produce risks and unacceptable deterioration of the biosphere, as well as social and economic instability. The limitations of the conventional development paradigm suggest the beginnings of an outline for a strategic agenda for sustainability.

Water and Sustainability: Global Patterns and Long-Range Problems

Paul Raskin

This inquiry summarizes global water resources and patterns of use, applies indicators of water sustainability in order to identify areas of water stress, and examines prospects for water sustainability in the twenty-first century. It introduces a long-range conventional development scenario based on a vision of the future in which the values, consumption patterns, and dynamics of Western industrial society will be progressively played out on a global scale. The scenario helps clarify the constraints of a conventional picture of water development and provides a useful point of departure for examining alternative long-range scenarios and their implications for water and development policy.

Originally published in Natural Resources Forum 20, no. 1 (February 1996): 1-15,

Global Energy in the 21st Century: Patterns, Projections and Problems

Paul Raskin

This report aims to clarify the requirements of sustainable energy development. It begins by describing and contextualizing current patterns of global energy use, production, and resources. It then presents a global long-range Conventional Development Scenario for energy to the year 2050 assuming mid-range population and economic projections, gradual evolution of human and natural systems, and global convergence of technological, institutional, and cultural processes. The report identifies potential environmental, resource, and social stresses related to the conventional development path and explores the implications and limitations of such a path.

From Social Costing to Sustainable Development: Beyond the Economic Paradigm

Steve Bernow, Bruce Biewald, Paul Raskin

Recent years have been characterized by a major transition in public policy regarding economics, the environment, and human well-being—particularly, the application of economic principles to environmental policy and the insertion of ecological principles into economic affairs. This article explores the evolutionary character of this transition and the contention in which it is often embroiled, such as debates over externalities valuation, discounting, and monetization. It then describes the PoleStar project and how it addresses the complex social, economic, and ecological interactions that will underpin human development in the twenty-first century.

Originally published in Olav Homeyer and Richard Ottinger, eds., Social Costs of Energy: Present Status and Future Trends (New York: Springer, 1994), 373-404.

National Greenhouse Gas Accounts: Current Anthropogenic Sources and Sinks

Susan Subak, Paul Raskin, David von Hippel

This study provides spatially disaggregated estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from the major anthropogenic sources for 145 countries. The data compilation includes emissions from CO, CH4, N2O, and ten halocarbons, in addition to CO2. The sources include emissions from fossil fuel production and use, cement production, halocarbons, landfills, land use changes, biomass burning, rice and livestock production, and fertilizer consumption. The approach used to derive these estimates corresponds closely with the simple methodologies proposed by the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Task Force of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Simulation of Water Supply and Demand in the Aral Sea Region

Paul Raskin, Z. Zhu, M. IWRA

The Aral Sea, a huge saline lake located in the arid south-central region of the former U.S.S.R., is vanishing because the inflows from its two feed rivers, the Amudar'ya and the Syrdar'ya, have diminished radically over the past three decades. The loss of river flow is the result of massive increases in river withdrawals, primarily for cotton irrigation in the basins. This paper uses a microcomputer model, the Water Evaluation and Planning System (WEAP), for simulating current water balances and evaluating water management strategies in the Aral Sea region. The authors perform a detailed water demand and supply simulation for the 1987–2020 period. The analysis provides a picture of an unfolding and deepening crisis.

Originally published in Water International 17, no. 2 (1992) 55–67.