By Paul Raskin
This path-breaking book presents a fresh vision for a sustainable world. It describes the historic roots, current dynamics, future perils, and alternative pathways for world development. It advances one of these paths, Great Transition, as the preferred route, identifying strategies, agents of change, and values for a new global agenda. The planetary phase of history has begun, its ultimate shape profoundly uncertain. Will global development veer toward a world of impoverished people, cultures and nature? Or will there be a Great Transition toward a future of enriched lives, human solidarity, and environmental sustainability? The book's appraisal of the current global crossroads is disquieting. Conventional development is perilous, while the reform path to a sustainable future is problematic and uncertain. Yet, this work shows that a fundamental change of direction is still possible. Progressive elements of civil society, government, international organizations, and business can forge a new sustainability paradigm, an alternative vision of globalization centered on the quality of life, human solidarity, environmental resilience, and an informed and engaged citizenry.
The global transition has begun. A planetary society will take shape over the coming decades. But its outcome is in question. Current trends set the direction of departure for the journey, not its destination. Depending on how environmental and social conflicts are resolved, global development can branch into dramatically different pathways. On the dark side, it is all too easy to envision a dismal future of impoverished people, cultures, and nature. Indeed, to many, this ominous possibility seems the most likely. But it is not inevitable. Humanity has the power to foresee, to choose, and to act. While it may seem improbable, a transition to a future of enriched lives, human solidarity and a healthy planet is possible.
This is the story elaborated in these pages. It is a work of analysis, imagination and engagement. As analysis, it describes the historic roots, current dynamics, and future perils of world development. As imagination, it offers narrative accounts of alternative long-range global scenarios and considers their implications. As engagement, it aims to advance one of these scenarios - Great Transition - by identifying strategies, agents for change, and values for a new global agenda.
The essay is the culmination of the work of the Global Scenario Group (GSG), which was convened in 1995 by the Stockholm Environment Institute as a diverse and international body to examine the requirements for a transition to sustainability. Over the years, the GSG has contributed major scenario assessments for international organizations and collaborated with colleagues throughout the world. As the third in a trilogy, Great Transition builds on the earlier Branch Points (Gallopín et al., 1997), which introduced the GSG's scenario framework, and Bending the Curve (Raskin et al., 1998), which analyzed the long-term risks and prospects for sustainability within conventional development futures.
The book begins by describing the current times as those of the takeoff of the transition toward what has been defined as the "planetary phase" of the human history. After listing several global scenarios featured by different trends and worldviews, some goals for a sustainable world are detailed, and following that, some strategies and tools for a transition toward such a sustainable future. Chapter five relates a "History of the Future," in which all these trends and elements are described in a fictional way, in three "eras" embodying the phases of transition. The last chapter adds some suggestions on the shape of such historical transformation.
Raskin, P., T. Banuri, G. Gallopín, P. Gutman, A. Hammond, R. Kates and Rob Swart (2002), Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead, report of the Global Scenario Group, SEI PoleStar Series Report No. 10, Stockholm Environment Institute, Boston.