Think tank presents four scenarios for the future

The Great Transition looks like the best option, according to Tellus Institute

There is an interesting article in the July, 2012, issue of Popular Science magazine.

Four Futures: How the Choices We Make Today Will Change the World presents four possible scenarios developed by Tellus Institute (a non-profit sustainability think tank in Boston).

The institute took baseline data from the United Nations and the World Bank and then used sophisticated computer software to examine the effects of hundreds of different variables.

The results were four scenarios: Market Forces, Policy Reform, Fortress World and Great Transition.

Under the Market Forces scenario, the world continues with business as usual. Industry develops in the Third World countries but environmental impacts get more serious as well. The global population increases from today’s 7 billion to 9.3 billion in 2100.

Purchasing power per capita in 2100 would be $50,000, more than five times today’s. Income disparity, on the other hand, would be much worse. In 2100 the poorest 20 per cent of society would make five cents for every dollar the richest 20 per cent would make. This compares with 12 cents in 2005.

Toxic waste, CO2 emissions and energy consumption would be the highest of the four scenarios.

Somewhat more attractive is the Policy Reform scenario. With this, governments act to meet environmental targets, but economic growth remains the main goal.

Under Policy Reform, global population in 2100 would be 8.4 billion, purchasing power per capita would be about $50,000, and the poorest 20 per cent would make 11 cents for every dollar the richest 20 per cent make. Hunger incidence and environmental impacts would be very much less.

Least attractive of the four is Fortress World. Under this scenario, the wealthy retreat into protected enclaves, leaving the rest of world’s people in degraded wasteland.

This scenario predicts the world’s population would balloon to 10.2 billion by 2100.

Per capital purchasing power would be only about $10,000 by the end of the Century. Income disparity would be extreme, with the poorest 20 per cent earning only two cents for every dollar the richest 20 per cent make.

Toxic waste, CO2 emissions and energy consumption would all be high, although not so high as in the Market Forces scenario (possibly because things are starting to break down).

The fourth and most attractive scenario, and the one the Tellus Institute is promoting, is called Great Transition.

In this scenario, the world’s population is 7.3 billion at the end of this Century, only slightly above where it is today.

Purchasing power per capita would be about $30,000, somewhat less than under Market Forces or Policy Reform scenarios, but greater than under the Fortress World.

Income disparity would be minimal, with the poorest 20 per cent of the world’s population making 36 cents for every dollar the richest 20 per cent earn.

Environmental impacts, water shortage and hunger incidence would be the lowest of the four scenarios.


A couple of criticisms come up when reading the article and the Tellus website. One is that, at a time when the survival of the human race is at question, the goal appears to be quality of life rather than maximizing the probability of survival. A second is that they really aren’t very clear on how the Great Transition could be brought about.