Aims and Background
The Great Transition Initiative is an online forum of ideas and an international network for the critical exploration of concepts, strategies, and visions for a transition to a future of enriched lives, human solidarity, and a resilient biosphere. By enhancing scholarly discourse and public awareness of possibilities arising from converging social, economic, and environmental crises, and by fostering a broad network of thinkers and doers, it aims to contribute to a new praxis for global transformation.
Correspondingly, GTI maintains a cosmopolitan outlook that is attuned to critical questions of scale and the ways nested systems operate across global, regional, and local levels. It gives voice to diverse contributors motivated by both ethical and pragmatic concerns about the need for revised ways of thinking, learning, acting, and being. It aims to deepen understanding of values and cultural dimensions of global change, along with social, economic, political, and scientific aspects of a Great Transition.
Journey of an Idea
GTI’s roots extend back a quarter century to the early discourse on the meaning and implications of sustainable development. Then, as now, sustainability’s abstract call for a just and enduring mode of development found broad adherence, but little consensus on specific goals and strategies. Views have broadly fallen into two distinct approaches: reform and transformation.
The reform strategy relies on market adjustments and policy measures to hasten the deployment of green technology and the reduction of poverty. Critics of this mainstream approach find it inadequate for the task, as it treats the symptoms of unsustainability instead of the underlying disease. They fear it will be unable to overcome powerful countervailing forces: the growth imperative of conventional development, the resistance of vested interests, and a spreading consumerist culture. Advocates of a transformational strategy thus seek deeper cultural shifts, a new sustainability paradigm to drive and guide development.
In 1995, prompted by these concerns, Gilberto Gallopín and Paul Raskin convened the Global Scenario Group (GSG), an international and interdisciplinary body for illuminating the requirements for a transition to sustainability. Under the organizational aegis of the Tellus Institute and the Stockholm Environment Institute, and with support from diverse foundations and United Nations agencies, the GSG conducted a series of studies and simulations to illuminate global challenges and possibilities. It summarized its insights in the valedictory 2002 essay Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead, which set a broad historical, conceptual, and strategic framework for contemplating the global future.
The time had come to engage a far larger group in clarifying the meaning of a Great Transition and moving from ideas to ideas-in-action. Therefore, in 2003, the Global Scenario Group segued into a new effort: the Great Transition Initiative. GTI became a worldwide network of hundreds of engaged thinkers and thinking activists, supported by a coordinating unit at Tellus, which provided a forum for enriching the scenarios, sharpening the theory of change, and spreading awareness.
In 2014, the Tellus Institute reimagined and relaunched GTI, seeking to extend its reach and influence. In its new phase, GTI serves as a formal journal of Great Transition studies, offering a rolling series of essays, viewpoints, reviews, and interviews. The GT Network continues to expand and diversify as a forum for engaged thinkers and thinking activists to advance together toward a vision and praxis for a decent planetary civilization. The journey continues.