Paul Raskin

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Paul Raskin
Paul Raskin
Dr. Paul Raskin
Born 1942
Occupation President of Tellus Institute, environmentalist
Language English
Nationality USA
Ethnicity USA
Subject sustainability, scenario analysis
Notable works Great Transition

Paul Raskin is the founding President of the Tellus Institute, which has conducted over 3,500 research and policy projects throughout the world on environmental issues, resource planning, scenario analysis, and sustainable development. His research and writing has centered on formulating and analyzing alternative global and regional scenarios, and the requirements for a transition to a sustainable, just, and livable future, called the Great Transition. Dr. Raskin has served as a lead author on a number of high profile international reports, including the U.S. National Academy of Science's Board on Sustainability, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the United Nations Environment Programme's Global Environment Outlook, the Earth Charter, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Assessment Report.[1]


Born in Chicago in 1942, Raskin was raised in California, receiving a B.A. in physics and philosophy in 1964 from the University of California, Berkeley, where his senior thesis was supervised by philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Columbia University in 1970, and taught at the university level, becoming Chair of an interdisciplinary department at the State University of New York at Albany in 1973. In 1976, he co-founded the Tellus Institute, a non-profit research ad policy organization, where he has directed an interdisciplinary team working on environmental, resource, and development issues throughout the world.[2] Raskin also founded the U.S. center of the Stockholm Environment Institute in 1989, the Global Scenario Group (GSG) in 1995, and the Great Transition Initiative (GTI) in 2003.

Research contributions[edit]

Dr. Raskin’s research has evolved through several phases: energy and environmental planning, integrated freshwater assessment, climate change mitigation strategies, and sustainable development studies. He conceived, developed, and disseminated widely used planning models, including the Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning (LEAP)[3] system in 1980 and the Water Evaluation And Planning (WEAP) system in 1990,[4] both now maintained by the US Center of the Stockholme Environment Institute. More recently, he created PoleStar, a comprehensive framework for exploring alternative global, regional and national scenarios.[5]

Since the Brundtland Commission's seminal Our Common Future in 1997, for which he was a contributing author, Raskin's work has centered on developing comprehensive long-range scenarios of socio-ecological systems at different spatial scales: river-basin, nation, region, and globe. Toward that end, he organized the GSG in 1995 as an interdisciplinary and international team to examine alternative global scenarios for the twenty-first century. The GSG's work culminated in the 2002 essay Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead, of which Dr. Raskin was the lead author.[6] This essay describes the historic roots of the contemporary global challenge and considers alternative pathways for world development, advancing a Great Transition path as the preferred route. Detailed simulation of contrasting scenarios integrates a large body of social, economic, and environmental data.

Great Transition[edit]

The conceptual point of departure of the Great Transition essay is that humanity is in the midst of a profound transition: the Planetary Phase of Civilization. According to this perspective, some form of global society will consolidate in the coming decades but its ultimate character remains fundamentally and inherently uncertain. The development of the global system can branch in different directions, depending on the ways ecological systems respond to anthropogenic stresses, such as climate change and how social institutions evolve and conflicts are resolved. Most fundamentally, the form of twenty-first century society that emerges will depend on which human values become ascendant and the choices people make in the critical years ahead. The essay envisions three broad classes of twenty-first century scenarios — Conventional Worlds, Barbarization, and Great Transitions — and considers a number of variations within each category.

This framework has been used in numerous global, regional and national scenario assessments, such as UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook.[7] A recent comprehensive review of over 450 global scenarios found the GSG's framework to be the most useful and archetypal, "a testament to the original concept of the GSG scenarios and their development and refinement over a 16 year period."[8]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Future. In Encyclopedia of Sustainability: The Spirit of Sustainability. Editor: Willis Jenkins. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire. 2010.
  • Our Common Journey: A Transition Toward Sustainability. Report of the Board on Sustainability of National Academy of Sciences. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999.
  • Bending the Curve: Toward Global Sustainability. Second Report of the Global Scenario Group. Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute, 19998 (Accessed 6 June 2013).
  • Windows on the Future: Global Scenarios and Sustainability. Environment Magazine 40, no. 3 (April 1998): 6-11.
  • Global Energy, Sustainability and the Conventional Development Paradigm. Energy Sources 20 (1998): 363-383.
  • Water Futures: Assessment of long-range Patterns and Problems Perspectives. Background Document of the Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World. Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute/United Nations, 1997.
  • Branch Points: Global Scenarios and Human Choice. First Report of the Global Scenario Group. Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute, 1997. (Accessed 6 June 2013).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "IPCC Assessment Reports". Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  2. ^ "Tellus Institute: About". Retrieved 8 May 2013. 
  3. ^ "SEI LEAP". Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  4. ^ "WEAP History and Credits". Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  5. ^ "PoleStar Project Background". Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  6. ^ Paul Raskin, Tariq Banuri, Gilberto Gallopín, Pablo Gutman, Al Hammond, Robert Kates, and Rob Swart, Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead (Boston: Stockholm Environment Institute, 2002),
  7. ^ "GEO-1 About". Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  8. ^ Hunt, Dexter V. L.; Lombardi, D. Rachel; et al. (2012). "Scenario Archetypes: Converging Rather than Diverging Themes". Sustainability 4 (4): 740–772. doi:10.3390/su4040740. Retrieved 6 June 2013.