Author page for Rob Swart

Tellus Publications (Selected)

Excluded Futures: The Continuity Bias in Scenario Assessments

Paul Raskin, Rob Swart

Recovering a comprehensive perspective on the global possible can reinvigorate debate on the kind of transformation needed, broaden the action agenda, and stimulate innovative research for illuminating our indeterminate future

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.