Publications / Global Transformation
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The author of Doughnut Economics describes what mainstream economics gets wrong and how another economics can nurture both people and planet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg looks back on the Vietnam era, and discusses why the warfare state remains an existential peril.
Moral philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah discusses the importance of cultivating a “rooted cosmopolitanism.”
Loving the planet begins with loving community and nature at home. Farmer, activist, and prolific author Wendell Berry reflects on his life cultivating deep cultural and political roots of resistance.
Activist Medea Benjamin talks about her life at the forefront of the fight for peace and justice, and the need now more than ever to organize beyond borders.
A legacy of the Cold War, nuclear weapons will leave us perennially on the eve of destruction—until they are abolished once and for all. Nuclear abolitionists must join forces with movements seeking sustainability and justice to overcome governmental hostility and public apathy.
In a world of diminished nation-states and global capital, social movements need to think and act differently. Michael Hardt explores how.
An implacable and inclusive feminism remains essential for building the larger solidarity politics and economics we need for a Great Transition that eliminates oppression of all kinds.
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.
The human rights movement serves as inspiration and guide for the larger movement of systemic transformation. Human rights are inherently supranational and expansive, so that each triumph opens a new front in a widening circle of rights.
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.
With roots in traditional Andean cultures, Vivir Bien offers a compelling alternative development path. But without a focus on self-determination from below and cross-movement collaboration, it risks being coopted by those in power.
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.
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.
Ensuring economic and civil rights for all requires much deeper regional and global political integration—and ultimately a democratic world government.
Monoculture can be risky, whether in agriculture or in money. Complementary currencies can help undergird an economy oriented toward people rather than profit.
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.
Capitalism is in the midst of an epochal shift: the emergence of a transnational economy and ruling class, and fledgling governance institutions. Taming the ruinous crises this shift carries will take a popular struggle that moves beyond reform to systemic transformation.
The author of Prosperity Without Growth discusses why we need to get past the obsession with economic growth—and the capitalist system that spawns it.
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.
Although fundamental to human well-being, the provision of care has been unrecognized and unremunerated by society. Increasing acknowledgement and respect for caring work will signal progress toward a Great Transition.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We will need a democratic world government to adequately address shared planetary risks and opportunities in this century. A critical strategic step toward that end would be the formation of a global parliamentary assembly.
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.
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?
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.
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.
The industrial agriculture system is broken. It is past time to move toward a new model—agroecology—for the sake of our environment, our health, and our communities.
Where are the seeds of a new agricultural paradigm? Lessons gleaned from prairie ecology can help us overcome the dualism between nature and agriculture.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The leader in the development of the Earth Charter discusses its legacy and prospects, as well as his own influences and evolution as an educator, advocate, and scholar in the nexus of ethics, spirituality, and the environment.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.