Background

The PoleStar Project was conceived in 1991 by Prof. Gordon Goodman, Director of Stockholm Environment Institute, and Dr. Paul Raskin, President of Tellus Institute. Its roots lie with the 1987 Brundtland Commission report, Our Common Future, which moved sustainable development to the center of research and policy agendas. Its call to pass on an undiminished world to future generations posed daunting challenges for analysis, policy, and culture. How can we examine long-range prospects in a scientifically-grounded way? What policy adjustments are needed in the near term are necessary to assure a vibrant and verdant civilization for the future? What are the implications for human value and behaviors?

Under the direction of Dr. Raskin, the PoleStar Project set out to address these questions. A two-decade process began of collating a vast data set covering a range of economic, social, resource, and environmental parameters; building a flexible computer-based tool for constructing integrated, long-range scenarios (The PoleStar System); and conducting real-world scenario studies at national, regional, and global scales.

From the onset, PoleStar scenario analyses embraced both narrative richness and quantitative detail, and were unique in including possibilities for fundamental change in the evolution of socio-ecological systems. These unconventional paths include both unwelcome descents into barbarized futures and “great transitions” to sustainable, peaceful, and livable civilizations.

Recognizing the importance of a global perspective in an interdependent world, the Global Scenario Group (GSG) was assembled in 1995 as an interdisciplinary and international group. Coordinated by Dr. Raskin and Dr. Gilberto Gallopín, and with the aid of a research and support unit at Tellus, the GSG produced a series of path-breaking reports culminating in a widely read non-technical monograph Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead. In 2003, the Tellus Institute convened the Great Transition Initiative, a broader network of several hundred scholars and activists to help carry this global scenario work forward.

Over the years, the PoleStar Project has benefited from the contributions of scores of researchers, hundreds of participants in the Global Scenario Group and Great Transition Initiative, and our major funders, including the United Nations Environment Programme, Rockefeller Foundation, and Nippon Foundation.