This study explores possible pathways to sustainability by considering, in quantitative form, four contrasting scenarios for the twenty-first century. The analysis reveals vividly the risks of conventional development approaches and the real danger of socio-ecological descent into a future of diminished human and ecological well-being. Nonetheless, the paper underscores that a Great Transition scenario—turning toward a civilization of enhanced human well-being and environmental resilience—remains an option, and it identifies a suite of changes in strategic policies and human values for getting there.
Originally published in Sustainability
Adequate mitigation of the risks of climate change requires rapid displacement of fossil fuels with carbon-free energy sources. This imperative has prompted a growing chorus of energy analysts, policy makers, and industry advocates to press for a resurgence of nuclear energy. Even some environmentalists are urging reconsideration of the nuclear option, so long anathema to their own movement. Yet, with critical problems unsolved—safety and cost, waste storage, and nuclear weapons proliferation—nuclear power remains a deeply problematic response to the climate challenge, and to the wider challenge of global sustainability. Therefore, the transformative energy strategy of a Great Transition relies on three major prongs: renewable resources, deep efficiency, and a model of development based on environment-sparing consumption and production patterns.
Rich Rosen and David Schweickart analyze the dominant models of capitalism and socialism from the twentieth century to identify key lessons learned that must be kept in mind in building a more just, equitable, and sustainable economic system. They then proceed to outline three model economic arrangements that would embody the values of a Great Transition future.