Planetary Phase of Civilization
The Planetary Phase of Civilization is a concept defined by the Global Scenario Group
Global scenario group
The Global Scenario Group was a team of environmental scholars, headed by Paul Raskin, who used scenario analysis to analyze future paths for world development in the face of environmental pressures and crises...

 (GSG), an environmental organization that specializes in scenario analysis
Scenario analysis
Scenario analysis is a process of analyzing possible future events by considering alternative possible outcomes . Thus, the scenario analysis, which is a main method of projections, does not try to show one exact picture of the future. Instead, it presents consciously several alternative future...

 and forecasting
Forecasting is the process of making statements about events whose actual outcomes have not yet been observed. A commonplace example might be estimation for some variable of interest at some specified future date. Prediction is a similar, but more general term...

. Proponents of the Planetary Phase of Civilization state that it refers to a current historical transition from a world of capitalist states and consumerist societies to a world of increased global connectivity with new global institutions (like the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 and the World Trade Organization
World Trade Organization
The World Trade Organization is an organization that intends to supervise and liberalize international trade. The organization officially commenced on January 1, 1995 under the Marrakech Agreement, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade , which commenced in 1948...

), new information technologies, environmental change in the biosphere
The biosphere is the global sum of all ecosystems. It can also be called the zone of life on Earth, a closed and self-regulating system...

, economic globalization
Globalization refers to the increasingly global relationships of culture, people and economic activity. Most often, it refers to economics: the global distribution of the production of goods and services, through reduction of barriers to international trade such as tariffs, export fees, and import...

, and shifts in culture and consciousness. Although the concept is hotly debated in some circles, most reputable scientists give little credence to the theory and assert that current global economic interconnectedness is a function of advanced technology rather than the emergence of anything new in cultural or sociological terms.


The notion of the Planetary Phase of Civilization rests on extensive sociological and anthropological study done by the GSG. Convened in 1995 by Paul Raskin
Paul Raskin
Paul Raskin is the Founding Director of the Tellus Institute which has conducted over 3,500 research and policy projects throughout the world on environmental issues, resource planning, and sustainable development...

, President of the Stockholm Environmental Institute and Tellus Institute
Tellus Institute
The Tellus Institute is a non-profit research and policy organization based in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States. Its mission is to advance the transition to a sustainable, equitable, and humane global civilization. The Tellus Institute was founded in 1976 by Paul Raskin, Richard Rosen,...

, the GSG examines alternative plausible futures by observing trends in societal change in various domains. Their scenarios, published in a series of essays, have been used in numerous regional, local, and global studies including the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)’s Global Environment Outlook
Global Environment Outlook
The UNEP Global Environment Outlook project was initiated in response to the environmental reporting requirements of Agenda 21 and to a UNEP Governing Council decision of May 1995 which requested the production of a new comprehensive global state of the environment report.The coordinated global...

 Series (GEO). The Global Scenario Group synthesized its findings for a non-technical audience in their essay entitled Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead. An October 2005 article in the Monthly Review entitled “Organizing Ecological Revolution” described the current “global environmental crisis” and the GSG’s efforts as “the most ambitious attempt thus far to carry out such a broad assessment” of our current and future ecological situation.

Historical transitions

In a historical perspective, the Planetary Phase of Civilization is viewed by its proponents as the third significant transition in civilization. Though history is complex and difficult to distinguish, they argue that changes from the Stone Age
Stone Age
The Stone Age is a broad prehistoric period, lasting about 2.5 million years , during which humans and their predecessor species in the genus Homo, as well as the earlier partly contemporary genera Australopithecus and Paranthropus, widely used exclusively stone as their hard material in the...

 to Early civilization and then to the Modern Era are the first two macro-shifts in human society and culture. These transitions can be differentiated based on social organization, economy, and communications. The Stone Age consisted of the least complex versions – tribe
A tribe, viewed historically or developmentally, consists of a social group existing before the development of, or outside of, states.Many anthropologists use the term tribal society to refer to societies organized largely on the basis of kinship, especially corporate descent groups .Some theorists...

s and villages, hunting and gathering
A hunter-gatherer or forage society is one in which most or all food is obtained from wild plants and animals, in contrast to agricultural societies which rely mainly on domesticated species. Hunting and gathering was the ancestral subsistence mode of Homo, and all modern humans were...

, and spoken language as the only means of communication. The shift into Early Civilization brought more structured city-states and kingdoms
A monarchy is a form of government in which the office of head of state is usually held until death or abdication and is often hereditary and includes a royal house. In some cases, the monarch is elected...

, settled agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

, and writing. Society became more complex in the Modern Era with nation-states, industrial systems and printing, which enhanced communication and further increased the complexity of society. Proponents argue that unlike prior transitions, the Planetary Phase marks a new geologic era, the Anthropocene
The Anthropocene is a recent and informal geologic chronological term that serves to mark the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth's ecosystems...

, in which human activity fundamentally alters ecosystems and the climate
Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological elemental measurements in a given region over long periods...


In Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead, the GSG argues that historical transitions appear to be accelerating as each successive period lasts for a shorter amount of time than the previous one. It speculates that the current Planetary Phase will last for about 100 years, during which there will be a clear progression in science and technology toward a more complex and environmentally interdependent society. The GSG uses this assumption to create scenarios which lead to varying futures ranging from Breakdown to Policy Reform
Policy reform
Policy reform, in addition to its more general meanings, has been used to refer to a future scenario which relies on government action to correct economic market failures and to stimulate the technological investment necessary for sustainable development and the creation of a truly sustainable...

 to Eco-Communalism
Eco-communalism is an environmental philosophy based on ideals of simple living, self-sufficiency, sustainability, and local economies. Eco-communalists envision a future in which the economic system of capitalism is replaced with a global web of economically interdependent and interconnected...

. The GSG contends that the most desirable scenario is a "Great Transition
Great Transition
Great Transition is a vision created by the Global Scenario Group of how humanity could create a civilization that reflects egalitarian social and ecological values, affirms diversity, and defeats poverty, war, and environmental destruction....

" to an environmentally and socially sustainable global civilization. This scenario, however, depends on the emergence of a global citizens movement
Global citizens movement
In most discussions, the global citizens movement is a socio-political process rather than a political organization or party structure. The term is often used synonymously with the anti-globalization movement or the global justice movement. Colloquially the term is also used in this imprecise manner...

 as a potential actor to contest the power of transnational corporations and state governments.


The concept of the planetary phase of civilization has become popular in the academic field of environmental science
Environmental science
Environmental science is an interdisciplinary academic field that integrates physical and biological sciences, to the study of the environment, and the solution of environmental problems...

. In "Building a Global Culture of Peace" Steven C. Rockefeller
Steven C. Rockefeller
Steven Clark Rockefeller , a fourth-generation member of the Rockefeller family and a former dean of Middlebury College, is a philanthropist who focuses on education, Planned Parenthood, human rights and environmental causes....

 states that "...we have entered a planetary phase in the development of civilization - what the historians call an era of global history." In his article entitled "Paths to Planetary Civilization," Ervin László
Ervin László
Ervin László is a Hungarian philosopher of science, systems theorist, integral theorist, originally a classical pianist. He has published about 75 books and over 400 papers, and is editor of World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution...

 describes this planetary civilization as one in which "The consensually created and globally coordinated ecosocial market system begins to function" and "The natural resources required for health and vitality become available to all the peoples and countries of the human community."

This kind of scenario analysis helps analysts think in an organized fashion about future alternatives, key decision points, and possible obstacles to global development. It then becomes possible to determine how to avoid the less-favorable directions and encourage changes to nurture a more beneficial one.

Further reading

  • Ankerl, Guy* Coexisting Contemporary Civilizations: Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western. INUPRESS, Geneva, 2000 ISBN 2-8815-004-5

External links

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