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What’s Next for the Global Movement?

The global “polycrisis” is spreading a zeitgeist of fear, despair, and reaction. But it also is sparking social energy for building a civilization centered around people, peace, and planet—a harbinger of a global citizens movement. The urgent task is to bring this critical social actor, now waiting in the wings, to the center of the global stage. But how? Our panel of strategists propose next steps toward crystallizing a movement for systemic change.

Featuring comments from Jeremy Brecher, John Bunzl, Helen Camakaris, Guy Dauncey, Riane Eisler, Peter Evans, Dorothy Guerrero, Don Hall, Joseph Fiksel, Jeffrey Halper, Tim Hollo, Michael Karlberg, Steven Klees, Jeremy Lent, Francine Mestrum, Ronaldo Munck, Heikki Patomäki, Jose Ramos, Vishwas Satgar, Gus Speth, Guy Standing, Sandra Waddock, and Stewart Wallis.

Experiments in Movement Unity

Across the globe, organizations and movements are active on a full range of issues, but efforts remain fragmented. To chart a new course, we need to bring together diverse groups under a canopy of shared vision and purpose. Our recent survey of the Global Movement Landscape identifies scores of endeavors working to enhance coherence across separate struggles. This Forum introduces some of these critically important initiatives.
 
Featuring an opening essay from Ashish Kothari & Shrishtee Bajpai and comments from Neema Pathak Broome, Halina Brown, Andreas Bummel, Vlad Bunea, John Bunzl, Sam Crowell, Noemi Gal-Or & Alain Caillé, Martha Giraldo, Tim Hollo, Steven Klees, Jeremy Lent, Michael Löwy, Gustave Massiah, May First Movement Technology, Francine Mestrum, Sebastian Ordoñez Muñoz, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Heikki Patomäki, Alessandro Pelizzon, Yavor Tarinski, Brian Tokar, Stewart Wallis, and Selvi Adaikkalam Zabihi.

Big History and Great Transition

What does the longest arc of history tell us about our global moment? In his opening essay, David Christian explores how the Big History framework illuminates where we are and clarifies what we must do. Panel 1 affirms and expands the framework; Panel 2 raises questions about its utility for a Great Transition.
 
Featuring an opening essay from David Christian.
 
Panel 1: Elaborationsfeaturing Andreas Bummel, John Bunzl, Helen Camakaris, Bonn Juego, Michael Karlberg, Catherine Keller, Brian Murphy, Heikki Patomäki, Scott Sampson, Joseph Voros, Selvi Adaikkalam Zabihi, and Jan Zalasiewicz.
 
Panel 2: Interrogationsfeaturing Greg Anderson, Biko Agozino, Diana Coole, John de Graaf, Riane Eisler, Richard Falk, Kathleen Kesson, Jeremy Lent, Evelin Lindner, Lisa Sideris, Vandana Singh, and Angus Taylor.
 

Solidarity with Animals

The Forum reflects on humanity’s rapacious disregard for and commodification of our fellow creatures. Eileen Crist’s opening essay illuminates the historical, philosophical, and political dimensions, arguing that nurturing solidarity with (other) animals stands as a key moral and strategic imperative for a Great Transition. Panel 1 elaborates her conceptual framework, and Panel 2 propounds actions for transformative change.
 
Featuring an opening essay from Eileen Crist.
 
Panel 1: Perspectivesfeaturing David Barash, J. Baird Callicott, Melanie Challenger, Alexander Lautensach, Judith Lipton, William S. Lynn, Freya Mathews, Jerry Mitchell, Gary Steiner, and Angus Taylor.
 
Panel 2: Actionfeaturing Nandita Bajaj, Guy Dauncey, Richard Falk, Gwendolyn Hallsmith, Mike Jones, Fred Koontz, Dayton Martindale, David Nibert, and Suprabha Seshan.
 

Which Future Are We Living In?

Twenty years ago, the essay Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead imagined alternative scenarios for the twenty-first century. Now, we stand partway into that unknown future, witnesses to the actual path of history (so far). Where are we? Where are we headed?

Featuring opening reflections from Paul Raskin.
 
Panel 1: Facing Dark Times, featuring Tariq Banuri, Diana Coole, Richard Falk, Gilberto Gallopín, Gwendolyn Hallsmith, Al Hammond, Yogi Hendlin, Alexander Lautensach, Valentine M. Moghadam, Radmila Nakarada, William I. Robinson, and Guy Standing.
 
Panel 2: Highlighting Bright Spots, featuring Victoria Brittain, Susan Butler, David Christian, Guy Dauncey, Frank Fischer, Tim Hollo, Ashish Kothari, Anitra Nelson, Tom Oliver, Gus Speth, Martha Van Der Bly, and Selvi Adaikkalam Zabihi.

 

The Population Debate Revisited

The explosion of human numbers after World War Two triggered a passionate “population debate.” Did population growth portend a catastrophic future, or were such fears misguided? Then, the Green Revolution quelled the specter of famine, declining fertility rates tempered population growth, and the topic became rather taboo in policy circles. The old neo-Malthusian obsession with population now seems simplistic, but population remains an important contributing factor to ecological overshoot.

The forum revisits this “elephant in the room.” Environmental scholar Ian Lowe’s opening essay urges returning population to the policy foreground. Three panels join the debate: the first fleshes out the case for action, the second responds that population is a dangerous distraction, and the third dives into the issue’s vexing complexities.

Featuring opening reflections and a response from Ian Lowe.

Panel 1: The Case for Action, featuring Eileen Crist, Herman Daly, John de Graaf, Céline Delacroix, Riane Eisler, Aaron Karp, David Korten, Jane O’Sullivan, William Rees, and David Samways.

Panel 2: Why It’s a Distraction, featuring Manisha Anantharaman, Guy Dauncey, Robert Fletcher, Wendy Harcourt, Betsy Hartmann, Lyla Mehta, Brian Murphy, and Peter Sterling and Michael Platt.

Panel 3: Questions and Complexities, featuring Biko Agozino, Gwendolyn Hallsmith, Giorgos Kallis, Alexander Lautensach, Gustave Massiah, Heikki Patomäki, Gus Speth, and Martha Van Der Bly.


Conservation at the Crossroads

The tragic Sixth Extinction has sparked a search for new conservation paradigms. One approach advocates massive market interventions; by contrast, another urges the creation of vast protected areas. The opening essay proposes a third path, one rooted in democratic processes, engagement with nature, and post-capitalism. Commenters debate what a revolution in conservation would look like.

Featuring opening reflections from Bram Büscher and Robert Fletcher and comments from Alejandro Argumedo, Guy Dauncey, Ashley Dawson, Eileen Crist, Shiba Desor, Neva Goodwin and the EcoHealth Network, Annie James, Lisi Krall, Orion Kriegman, Diana Pound, Tony Vettese, and Drew Pendergrass.


Technology and the Future

How will technology shape—and be shaped by—the global transition now underway? Disruptive technologies will influence which future emerges, yet they are subject to social choices yet to be made. This Forum explores these vital questions. Panel 1 focuses on vanguard technologies, such as bioengineering and artificial intelligence, and whether they have a role to play in a Great Transition. Panel 2 explores conceptual frameworks for understanding the interplay between technology and society. Does technology drive history, the reverse, or something else entirely?

Panel 1: Disruptive Technologies, featuring Paul Raskin, Michel Bauwens, Al Hammond, Derek Hrynyshyn, Sheldon Krimsky, Sarah Manski, Anitra Nelson, William I. Robinson, Doug Schuler, and Tim Weiskel.

Panel 2: The Big Picture, featuring Carlos Alvarez Pereira, Alf Hornborg, Deborah G. Johnson, Bonn Juego, Alexander Lautensach, Melissa Leach, Helena Norberg-Hodge, David W. Orr, Guy Standing, and Brian Tokar.


An Earth Constitution: Has Its Time Come?

The people of Earth confront a common destiny without a coordinated way to mute dangers and pursue ambitions. As mounting crises reveal the inadequacy of the UN’s state-centric model, the idea of a constitutional world federation gains traction. Glen T. Martin’s opening essay introduces the Earth Constitution proposal for a new transnational political order. Three panels respond to this bold initiative: the first endorses the approach, the second favors different strategies, and the third spotlights the cultivation of inclusive, democratic processes.

 

Panel 1: The Time Has Come, featuring Glen T. Martin, Laura George, Roger Kotila, Alexander Lautensach, and a response by Glen T. Martin.

 

Panel 2: Better Approaches, featuring Andreas Bummel, John Bunzl, Chris Hamer, Chella Rajan, and Anneloes Smitsman.

 

Panel 3: The Process Matters!, featuring Taina de Carvalho, Tim Hollo, Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen, Ashish Kothari, and Ben Manski.

 

Can Human Solidarity Globalize?

Creating a decent civilization in this century depends on human identity expanding to the scale of the planet. Pervasive divisions leave many pessimistic that this can happen. Still, in the course of social evolution, the circle of identity has ballooned from clans and tribes to nations and beyond, while science has confirmed the key role of cooperation.

Now, the contemporary condition of shared destiny urges a global locus for institutions, reciprocity, and empathy. Richard Falk’s opening essay reflects on a “politics of impossibility” for realizing this imperative. Two panels weigh in, the first with a range of theoretical perspectives and the second with pragmatic ways forward.

Panel 1: Debating the Prospects, featuring David Barash, Upendra Baxi, Akeel Bilgrami, Guy Dauncey, Michael Karlberg, Alexander Lautensach, Radmila Nakarada, Micha Narberhaus, Heikki Patomäki, Shahrzad Sabet, Charlene Spretnak, and Martha Van Der Bly.

Panel 2: Making It Happen, featuring Jeremy Brecher, Luis Cabrera, Zillah Eisenstein, David Featherstone, Catherine Keller, Jing Lin, Francine Mestrum, Valentine M. Moghadam, Lester Edwin J. Ruiz, Jackie Smith, Biljana Vankovska, and Lawrence Wittner.

The Pedagogy of Transition: Educating for the Future We Want

The times call for pedagogies that cultivate integrated knowledge and global citizenship, yet we continue to educate for a world we don’t want. In the long term, we need educational systems aligned with new imperatives, while in the near term offering innovate curricula and teaching within existing systems. The forward-looking educators on this Forum’s panels—Frameworks and Practices—probe each of these fronts.

Panel 1: Frameworks, featuring Stephen Sterling, Guy Dauncey, Richard Falk, Frank Fischer, Bonn Juego, Kathleen Kesson, Hikaru Komatsu, Alexander Lautensach, Johnny Lupinacci, Alan Mandell, David Orr, Blake Poland, Jeremy Rappleye, Iveta Silova, Vandana Singh, Rajesh Tandon, and Arjen Wals.

Panel 2: Practices, featuring Biko Agozino, Timothy Bedford, Gabriel Cámara, David Christian, John Foran, Kim Fortun, Mike Gismondi, Terry Irwin, Michael Karlberg, Isabel Rimanoczy, John Robinson, Doug Schuler, Anne Snick, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and A.R. Vasavi.

Interrogating the Anthropocene: Truth and Fallacy

Human activity has pushed Earth into a hostile new geological epoch, which scientists have christened “the Anthropocene.” This jolt to the planet also jolts the culture, sparking reconsideration of who we are, where we are going, and how we must act.

The question before this GTI Forum: If we care about building a decent future, how should we think about the Anthropocene? An opening essay offers answers, then two panels respond, underscoring the lessons and limitations of the Anthropocene narrative.

Panel 1: A Compelling Narrative, featuring Maurie Cohen, Herman Daly, Olivier Hamant, Clive Hamilton, Debbie Kasper, Heikki Patomäki, Stephen Purdey, Mimi Stokes, Pella Thiel, and Uchita de Zoysa

Panel 2: A Misconceived Narrative, featuring Greg Anderson, Jeremy Baskin, Arturo Escobar, Richard Falk, Lisi Krall, Fred Magdoff, Karl-Ludwig Schibel, Erik Swyngedouw, Martha Van Der Bly, and Tim Weiskel.

Universal Basic Income: Has the Time Come?

Should society provide every citizen with a basic income, no strings attached? Proponents and critics of a universal basic income debate whether it should be a central element of strategies for transformation.

Panel 1: The Case is Strong, featuring Guy Standing, Sarath Davala, Karen Foster, Tim Hollo, Michael W. Howard, Azfar Khan, Robert Labaree, Jeremy Lent, Simon Mair, Ulrich Schachtschneider, Caroline Whyte, and Almaz Zelleke, and a response from Guy Standing.

Panel 2: Caveats and Alternatives, featuring Lourdes Benería, Janine Berg, Halina Brown, Andreas Bummel, Anna Coote, Ian Gough, Leah Hamilton, Anke Hassel, Alf Hornborg, Antti Jauhiainen, Mary Mellor, Francine Mestrum, Adam Parsons, and Vicki Robin.

After the Pandemic: Which Future?

How will today’s crisis alter the shape of tomorrow’s world? Which scenario—Conventional Worlds, Barbarization, Great Transition—has become more likely? How can we seize the moment to propel transformation?

Featuring opening reflections from Paul Raskin and comments from Kavita Byrd, Maurie Cohen, Herman Greene, Shalmali Guttal, Sahan Savas Karatasli, Jeremy Lent, Marcus Oxley, Kate Pickett, Mamphela Ramphele, John Robinson, Rob Swart, and Tim Weiskel.

Planetize the Movement!

In our fraught time, we need coordinated action for deep social and ecological change more than ever. How can we build a unified global movement? Who will change the world?

Featuring opening reflections from Valentine Moghadam and comments from Christopher Chase-Dunn, Donatella Della Porta, Richard Falk, Bonn Juego, Ashish Kothari, Francine Mestrum, Heikki Patomäki, William I. Robinson, Guy Standing, and Noha Tarek.

Toward a Great Ethics Transition: The Earth Charter at Twenty

A Great Transition must rise on core ethical values attuned to an interdependent world facing a common destiny. What are the elements of this foundation, and how do we build it?

Featuring opening reflections from Brendan Mackey and comments from Ian Angus, Olivia Bina, Kavita Byrd, Luis Cabrera, J. Baird Callicott, Ron Engel, Richard Falk, Roger Gottlieb, Gwendolyn Hallsmith, Joel Kassiola, Jeremy Lent, Steven Rockefeller, Roz Savage, Kathryn Sikkink, and Mary Evelyn Tucker.

Corporations in the Crosshairs

Footloose corporations, obsessed with the bottom line, are fraying the social-ecological fabric. A forum on the struggle to tame and displace these behemoths—and new directions for the struggle.

Featuring opening reflections from Allen White and comments from Duncan Austin, Frank Dixon, Sally Goerner, Dorothy Guerrero, Yogi Hendlin, David Korten, Steve Lydenberg, Michael Marx, Michael Peck, Álvaro de Regil Castilla, Jackie Smith, Sandra Waddock, Alan Willis, and Simon Zadek.

Farewell to the World Social Forum?

For nearly two decades, the WSF has served as a vital gathering space for international activists seeking “another world,” but now may be losing momentum. In this GTI Forum, a panel of WSF veterans appraise its past, critique its present, and debate its future.

Featuring opening reflections from Roberto Savio and comments from Olivier Consolo, Rita Freire, Pierre George, Candido Grzybowski, Gustave Massiah, Meena Menon, Pablo Solón & Mary Louise Malig, Francine Mestrum, Thomas Ponniah, and Gina Vargas.

Another Europe Is Possible

The former Greek Minister of Finance describes his vision for a democratized European Union, the political challenge, and the new transnational movement working for another Europe.

Think Globally, Act Locally?

A GTI Forum on the radical potential of local action.

Featuring Brian Tokar, David Barkin, David Bollier, Andreas Bummel, Arturo Escobar, Frank Fischer, Gwendolyn Hallsmith, Richard Heinberg, Meg Holden, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Heikki Patomäki, Chella Rajan, Jackie Smith, Aaron Vansintjan, and Michelle Williams.

The Climate Movement: What’s Next?

A GTI Forum on the climate movement.

Featuring Bill McKibben, Tom Athanasiou, Hans Baer, Jeremy Brecher, Guy Dauncey, Riane Eisler, Neva Goodwin, Kerryn Higgs, Virág Kaufer, Karen O’Brien, Hermann Ott, Vicki Robin, Karl-Ludiwg Schibel, Gus Speth, Mimi Stokes, and Anders Wijkman.

Why Ecosocialism: For a Red-Green Future

“Green capitalism” is an illusion, and twentieth-century socialism is a perversion. We need a new model and movement for a democratic and ecological socialism that links with the wider movement for a better world.

Read the Roundtable discussion on this essay.

Serving the Earth, Serving One Another

In a world of spiraling ecological and social crises, where does one find hope? Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy discusses how understanding the interdependence of our world prepares us for the fight to improve it.

On the Cosmopolitan Path

Democracy has spread far and wide, but has not yet reached the global level, a dangerous failure in an interdependent world. How do we achieve just and democratic global governance? Political theorist Daniele Archibugi points the way.

Farewell to Development

The alter-globalization mantra of “a world where many worlds fit” has inspired new organizing and thinking across Latin America. Leading “post-development” theorist Arturo Escobar surveys this fight for pluralism and justice.

The Fight for a New Economy

It becomes clearer every day that our economy is failing to serve people and planet. Stewart Wallis, former executive director of the New Economics Foundation, describes a new economy and new efforts to galvanize it.

Can The Third World Lead the World?

In a multipolar world, developing nations like Brazil are playing a larger role in international diplomacy. Former Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim offers insights from the front line.

Development for Whom?

The conventional development model is failing the poor and the environment. An alternative model, rooted in a more holistic understanding of society, can deliver both shared prosperity and sustainability.

Sustainability and Well-Being: A Happy Synergy

Conventional wisdom sees a conflict between human progress and ecological protection. But a new body of research on subjective well-being tells us to look again.

With commentary from Anamaria Aristizabal, Deric Gruen, Anders Hayden, Emily Huddart Kennedy, Tim Kasser, Sylvia Lorek, Lucie Middlemiss, Tadhg O’Mahony, and Sandra Waddock, and a response from the author.

Wiki Socialism?

In Postcaplitalism, Paul Mason argues that new information technology will end capitalism as we know it and pave the way to a better future. But the technology Mason celebrates won’t do this without mass mobilization on a global scale.

The Struggle for Meaningful Work

Capitalism has degraded both the environment and the conditions of human labor. To achieve meaningful work for all on our finite planet, we should heed the lessons of craft and care work and acknowledge their importance to sustenance and meaning.

Journey to Earthland: The Great Transition to Planetary Civilization

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.

Against Ecocide: Legal Protection for the Earth

A movement is gaining traction to recognize the wanton destruction of nature by states and corporations as a crime under international law. The resistance will be fierce, but the emerging ecocentrism in law and citizen activism offers grounds for hope.

Liberation Ecology

What role can theology play in changing how we see nature and each other? A founder of liberation theology discusses the movement’s origins and the vital connections between ecology and social justice.

Towards a Sustainable University

Countless universities are exploring ways of incorporating sustainability into their curriculum, research, and practice. The Arizona State University experiment described in Designing the New American University has been at the cutting edge. But does it go far enough?

Democratizing Science in an Age of Uncertainty

A founder of science and society studies recounts his intellectual journey and explains how the doctrine of predictive science has limited applicability to today’s vexing challenges. We need a “post-normal science” that acknowledges inherent risk, indeterminism, and the relevance of human values and interests.

A Higher Calling for Higher Education

Higher education institutions are beset by forces of marketization and internationalization amidst a rapidly changing world. The potential for the university to become a transformative agent, however, still exists—if it can transform itself pedagogically, epistemologically, and politically.

A Recipe for Change?

Michael Pollan’s new book shows how cooking can contribute to personal and social transformation. But lifestyle changes are not enough to address the systemic crises we face.

Fueling Value Change

In Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels, Ian Morris argues that changes in energy capture have driven changes in human values. However, understanding this relationship as co-evolutionary, rather than merely linear, is key as we shape values and energy systems for a sustainable twenty-first century.

Bleak Visions, Blind Spots

In A Rough Ride to the Future, contrarian Gaia theorist James Lovelock counsels abandoning all hope of preventing global environmental change, and adapting to it instead. But by assuming the fixity of human behavior and institutions, he resigns humanity to a passive present and a grim future.

The Church of Economism and Its Discontents

Economism, the reigning ideology in economic policy, reduces social relations to market logic and functions as a secular religion for the global market economy. We need a new economics rooted in a belief system that embraces solidarity, sustainability, and well-being for all.

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.

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.

Common Wealth Trusts: Structures of Transition

Modern society is imperiling our collective natural and cultural inheritance. New institutions like common wealth trusts can enable us to protect these resources and share their benefits equally, countering the tendency of contemporary capitalism to destroy nature and widen inequality.

Change Agent: Evolution of a Systems Champion

Gus Speth reflects on his distinguished career in environmental advocacy, public service, and higher education, discusses his new memoir Angels by the River, and reflects on the prospects for systemic change in the twenty-first century.

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.

Growing, Growing, Gone: Reaching the Limits

The Limits to Growth, released in 1972, has profoundly influenced environmental research and discourse over the past four decades. Allen White of the Tellus Institute talks with Dennis Meadows, one of its co-authors, about the genesis of the report and its lessons for understanding and managing our uncertain and perilous global 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.

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.

The Degrowth Alternative

The degrowth movement has captured wide attention in recent years. Giorgos Kallis, an eminent scholar of this movement, explains its aims of opening up space for imagining and enacting alternative visions to modern growth-based development.

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.

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.

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.

Searching for Radicalism in a Corporate Age

Peter Dauvergne and Genevieve 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.

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.

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.

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.

Game On: The Basis of Hope in a Time of Despair

In a world at risk, those attuned to the dangers can feel a powerful temptation to sound apocalyptic alarms to awaken the somnolent. Arousing fear, though, without offering a compelling vision of a better path, awakens only dispiriting anguish and despair. This pessimism is not so much wrong as disempowering. The basis for hope rests on two kinds of arguments, one scientific, the other historical. Quantitative simulation of alternative scenarios shows that sufficient environmental capacity and adequate technical means remain to reach a flourishing planetary civilization. Moreover, the precondition for this Great Transition is found in the shared risks and opportunities an interdependent global system now confronts. In our historical moment, the world has become a single community of fate, the foundation for cultural and institutional transformation. Although catastrophic premonitions cannot be logically refuted, they can be defied in spirit and negated in practice: pragmatic hope is the antidote to dystopian despair.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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, https://thesolutionsjournal.com/?p=742.

Planetary Praxis: On Rhyming Hope and History

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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: 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.

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.