The Great Transition is a term used by the Global Scenario Group (GSG) to describe a vision of a just and sustainable global future. The term was originally used by Kenneth E. Bouldings in The Meaning of the 20th Century - The Great Transition, Harper Colophon Books Copyright 1964, considered a hallmark conception of systems thinking and the shift from pre-modern to post-modern culture and the four possible traps that will allow humanity to successful journey the Great Transition. The elements of the Great Transition vision include egalitarian social and ecological values, increased human interconnectedness, improved quality of life, and a healthy planet, as well as an absence of poverty, war, and environmental destruction. The Great Transition concept has been adopted by numerous individuals and organizations in the sustainability sphere, most notably by Jigmi Y. Thinley, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, the New Economics Foundation, and the Capital Institute, and was used as a major theme for the 2011 SmartCSOs conference on strategies for Civil Society Organisations in London.
The term Great Transition was first introduced by the Global Scenario Group (GSG), a faculty international body of scientists convened in 1995 by the Tellus Institute and Stockholm Environment Institute to examine the requirements for a transition to a sustainable global society. The GSG set out to describe and analyze scenarios for the future of the earth as it entered a Planetary phase of civilization. The GSG's scenario analysis resulted in a series of reports  and its findings were summarized for a non-technical audience in the essay Great Transition: the Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead.
Since its introduction, the term "Great Transition" has often been used by organizations or individuals in the environmental/sustainability domain to describe a paradigmatic shift of civilization towards the behaviors and values that would be necessary for a sustainable global civilization to flourish.
The Global Scenario Group organized its scenarios into three categories: Conventional Worlds, Barbarization, and Great Transition.
Conventional Worlds are futures that evolve gradually from today’s dominant forces of capitalism and globalization: economic interdependence deepens, dominant values spread, and developing regions converge toward rich-country patterns of production and consumption. Two variations of Conventional Worlds are Market Forces, a neo-liberal vision in which powerful global actors advance the priority of economic growth, and Policy Reform, in which governments are able to harmonize economic growth with sustainable development objectives, such as the Millennium Development Goals.
Another alternative future, called Barbarization by the GSG, could emerge if market and policy adaptations are not sufficient to blunt social polarization, environmental degradation, and economic instability. In these scenarios, environmental destruction leads to an overall social collapse. One form this future could take is an authoritarian Fortress World scenario, a kind of global apartheid with elites in protected enclaves and an impoverished majority outside. Another is Breakdown, where conflicts and crises spiral out of control, waves of disorder spread across countries and regions, and institutions collapse.
Great Transition scenarios are transformative scenarios. Their defining feature is the ascendancy of a new suite of values – human solidarity, quality of life, and respect for nature. These scenarios have two variants: Eco-Communalism and New Sustainability Paradigm.
Eco-communalism, a highly localist vision of a lifestyle that turns to non-material dimensions of fulfillment (the quality of life, the quality of human solidarity, and the quality of the earth), is favored by some environmental subcultures, particularly the anti-globalization movement.
New Sustainability Paradigm, by contrast, sees globalization not as a threat to be resisted, but as an opportunity for forging a new category of consciousness – a global citizenship that understands humanity's place in the web of life and its link to the fate of the earth.
The New Sustainability Paradigm encompasses many of the ideals of Eco-Communalism, rejecting rampant consumerism and seeking improved human well-being through material sufficiency rather than continuous economic growth. However, it also seeks to shape the character of global civilization. It sees the planetary phase of civilization as an opportunity. Rather than retreat into localism, it validates global solidarity, cultural cross-fertilization and economic interdependence.
Great Transition Initiative
Further development of the Great Transition scenarios is carried on by the Great Transition Initiative (GTI). Launched in 2003, GTI is a global network of several hundred scholars, intellectuals, civil society leaders, and activists working to develop visions and pathways for a “Great Transition” to a future of equity, solidarity and ecological sustainability. The Initiative is hosted and coordinated by the Tellus Institute, under the direction of Paul Raskin and the coordination of Orion Kriegman.
The GTI engages in many public outreach activities, including writing papers on critical issues, developing databases of resources, documents and quantitative analyses, creating “training modules” and educational programs, engaging in joint activities with kindred civil society organizations such as the Earth Charter and the World Social Forum, and even forming a speakers bureau to spread awareness of “Great Transition” concepts and to foster a Global Citizens Movement to take civic action in support of the transition toward a new sustainability paradigm.
- Global Scenario Group website
- Great Transition Initiative website
- Address by the Prime Minister on Well Being and Happiness at the UN Headquarters, New York, April 2012
- New Economics Foundation Great Transition
- The Capital Institute Symposium: Beyond Sustainability
- "Effective Change Strategies for the Great Transition: Five Leverage Points for Civil Society Organisations". Retrieved 22 May 2013.
- Smart CSOs Great Transition story strategy guide
- Global Scenario Group publications
- Raskin, P., T. Banuri, G. Gallopín, P. Gutman, A. Hammond, R. Kates, and R. Swart. 2002. Great Transition: the Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead
- Sustainable Leadership Forum - The Great Transition
- Sustainableman.org Great Transition meme page
- Great Transition Initiative - About
- Great Transition Initiative - Activities
- Raskin P. 2006 GT Today: A Report from the Future Boston, MA: Tellus Institute.
- Rajan, C. 2006. Global Politics and Institutions Boston, MA: Tellus Institute.
- White, A. 2006. Transforming the Corporation. Boston, MA: Tellus Institute.
- Stutz, J. 2006 The Role of Well-Being in a Great Transition Boston, MA: Tellus Institute.
- Revkin, A. C. 2002. Human Impact on the Earth – How Do We Soften It? International Herald Tribune and National Geographic
- Parris, T. M. 2002. A crystal ball for sustainability - Bytes of Note Environment
- Peterson G. 2007. Great Transition Papers. Resilience Science
- Great Transition Initiative
- Global Scenario Group
- Popular Science - Four Futures - an article in Popular Science about the Great Transition and three other GSG scenarios, with infographics
- Video - Visions of a Sustainable World - a YouTube video with highlights from an interview with Dr. Paul Raskin of GSG and the Tellus Institute (from a speaker series at Yale University)
- What Future Will We Choose? – an article and discussion on Earth & Sky about the Great Transition.
- Environmental Valuation and Cost Benefit News – short announcement about the Great Transition papers
- Plausible Futures Newsletter 2002 – brief synopsis of Great Transition report