Over the last few centuries, a mere heartbeat of historic time, humanity has moved to the brink of a new evolutionary milestone — the planetary phase of civilization. The world economy is expanding and becoming more integrated, profoundly reshaping the cultural and political landscape everywhere. This expansion is taking its toll on the natural resources that support development.

The human impact on the global environment has grown from diminutive to elephantine. And, despite great wealth in the world, there is still great poverty and suffering. As we drift along the arc of history, we see ahead of us the risk of both greater environmental peril and social friction. We also see the opportunity of a safer passage to a more just and sustainable global society.

Bending the Curve looks at what it would take to steer human development onto a more sustainable pathway during the 21st century. In its previous publication, Branch Points: Global Scenarios and Human Choice, the Global Scenario Group developed three classes of scenarios to show possible pathways for the future. Conventional Worlds scenarios assume we will continue on the current pathway of economic globalization, with evolutionary changes in institutions, and that developing regions of the world will move toward industrial country patterns and values.

Another set of scenarios, called Barbarization, depict a world in which deepening social and environmental tensions are not resolved, civilized norms erode, and great human misery ensues. The third type of scenario, Great Transitions, envision fundamental social and institutional transformation toward more sustainable forms of economic and social development, bringing a new and arguably higher stage of human civilization.

Bending the Curve examines the possibilities for sustainable development by pushing for important changes within an evolutionary Conventional Worlds context. The shift to more sustainable forms of development must at least begin at this level, although we will likely need more fundamental social changes to complete the transition to a sustainable global society. This study shows how a comprehensive set of policy reforms could bend the curve of development toward sustainability.