Scenarios address the question: What kind of future could emerge from the turbulent changes shaping our world? Trends and policies move us in certain directions, but fundamental choices, ours to make, reveal strikingly different paths.
The Global Scenario Group, precursor to GTI, introduced a simple "taxonomy of the future" to organize the complex junctures and possibilities for the future. At the highest level, three broad channels – Conventional Worlds, Barbarization and Great Transitions – radiate from the present into the imagined future. These are worlds of gradual evolution, precipitous decline, and fundamental progression. Of course, these broad categories include numerous scenario variants. Here, we consider two variants for each, or a total of six global scenarios.
Click on the images for scenario descriptions.
Conventional Worlds are futures that evolve gradually from today’s dominant forces of globalization as economic interdependence deepens, dominant values spread and developing regions gradually converge toward rich-country patterns of production and consumption. In the Market Forces variant of Conventional Worlds, powerful global actors advance the priority of free markets and economic expansion, relying heavily on technological innovation to reconcile growth with ecological limits. In the Policy Reform variant, governments eventually respond to nagging global problems with comprehensive initiatives to align the economy with environmental and social goals. Fundamental change is absent.
Barbarization explores the risk of rejecting the need for deeper change. In these scenarios, Conventional Worlds strategies are inadequate to address mounting environmental and social stress and problems spiral out of control, leading to a general crisis and the erosion of civilized norms. In the Fortress Worlds variants, powerful international forces are able to impose order in the form of an authoritarian system of global apartheid with elites in protected enclaves and an impoverished majority outside. In Breakdown variants, by contrast, these forces are unable to counter or even inhibit spreading chaos, waves of disorder ensue, and institutions collapse.
Great Transitions examine worlds that transcend reform, going on to embrace new values that change the precepts of global development. One variant, Eco-communalism, encompasses the small-is-beautiful visions favored by some environmental and anarchist subcultures. However, it is difficult to envision how a patchwork of self-sustaining communities could emerge from our increasingly connected world, except perhaps in recovery from collapse. The New Sustainability Paradigm, the variant embraced by GTI, sees globalization not only as a threat but also an opportunity to construct new categories of consciousness – global citizenship, humanity-as-whole, the wider web of life, and the well-being of future generations – alongside a governance architecture that balances the twin goals of global unity and regional pluralism.