Scenario planning

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A group of analysts generate scenario planning simulation games for policy makers. The games combine known facts about the future, such as in environmental, demographics, geography, military, political, social, and science issues, industrial information, and (limiting) resources such as mineral reserves, with plausible alternative trends which are key driving forces of the games.

It isn’t real. It is make-believe, pretend. But ... the scenario planning process/choreography can reveal anticipatory thinking elements that can be difficult to formalise, such as subjective experiences during its sessions, shifts in values, new regulations, guides, and/or sudden insights.

  • 80% or more of the creativity comes during the first few hours that scenario planning teams brainstorm their story elements, implications, and responses.
  • If a simulation is made from a set of likely scenarios, improved response times to real threats can be expected for years after.
  • Can be used for decision making when organisations are facing a critical issue and implicitly look to scenarios for help in making a decision now, immediately, and is very effective at discovering 80% of the likely effects of our decisions.
  • This choreography comes at a price: The games are likely to conjure up that which is tacitly denied.

Scenarios are a way of understanding the dynamics shaping the future. It can be likened to doing katas in martial arts: people are removed from "reality", placed in some "future" as if it is real, and then brainstorm and practice possible responses to potential threats and challenges and explore possible deviating paths.

By imagining the worst and best cases we come better prepared for either, and for "facing" that which we don’t like to see or hear or tend to be in denial about. So it is not so much a predictive tool and more like a training in decision making, threat modeling and risk management. We increase our self-confidence, an essential ingredient for being action-able if and when needed.

If scenario planning is done with collectives for the individuals in the collective as "policy makers" and we also pass on the choreography itself, we can distribute a way to distribute power. Now to find a way to make it a more informal and fun experience that includes all senses and common sense.

Basic choreography of a focused scenario planning

Decision focus

Scenario planning isn't rocket science.

Identify the primary "driving forces" at work in the present

These fall roughly into four categories: social, economic, political and technological issues. Of course, categories are only parts of a mindset, and you can set it up completely different. Real issues entail a bit of all forces, and have reflections in the other categories. The point of listing the driving forces is to look past the everyday crises that typically occupy our minds and to explore long-term forces that ordinarily work well outside our concerns. It is these powerful forces that will usually catch us unaware.

Identify predetermined elements

Once these forces are enumerated, we can see that from our perspective, some forces can be called "predetermined" (meaning they are completely outside our control and will play out in any story we tell about the future). Predetermined elements are those that can be predicted accurately because they change very slowly. Not all forces are so evident, or so easy to calculate, but when we build our stories, predetermined elements figure in each one.

For example, I expect to find changing weather patterns in all recently published scenarios, in many different forms. In some it will be described as a worsening state, in others as a cause of great famine that was overcome by a few, or in the form of someone mentioning the great opportunity of wine making in an area that was previously unfit for growing grapes.

Develop scenario logics

After identifying and removing predetermined elements from the list of driving forces, we are left with a number of uncertainties. Discuss and sort these to make sure they are all critical uncertainties. A critical uncertainty is an uncertainty that is key to our focal issue. Our goals are to better understand all the uncertainties and their relationships with each other and we want the few that we believe are most important to the focal issue and most impossible to predict to float up to the surface.

Here we have a fork in the road: you can take both paths (recommended) or one of the two paths. If only taking the deductive road, you make yourself totally dependent on the moves of your adversaries. If only doing the inductive path you are likely to end up a sitting duck.

Note: The deductive approach is easier with larger groups and for people untrained in reaching consensus. The inductive path is more unsystematic and calls for degrees of creativity and imagination and making it a multiple days process to include night time dreaming (How many times did I not wake up with new insights?) And it requires a lot of patience with an open ended debate. To make it easier, there is also a more guided inductive path.

Deductive scenario logics

On the deductive path, prioritise the 'key factors' in order to find the two most critical uncertainties. Those then are placed, for example, in a 2×2 scenario matrix: we can reduce affinity groups of uncertainties that have some commonality to a single spectrum, an axis of uncertainty. Simplify the list of related uncertainties into two orthogonal axes, creating a matrix that allows us to define four very different, but plausible, quadrants of uncertainty. Each of these far corners is a logical future that we can explore.

Don't throw away the original list that we have taken predetermined elements and critical uncertainties from. The rest of the key factors and issues come back when fleshing out the scenarios in "rich compelling plots".

Inductive scenario logics

What if ...

By asking and discussing answers to these questions we can build a scenario that will have future consequences that may call for some strategic decisions in the present.

Official future deviations

This is a slightly more systematic variant of the inductive approach: The "official future" is what we believe, either explicitly or implicitly, will happen. Usually we make that a plausible and relatively non-threatening scenario, featuring no surprising changes to the current environment and continued stable growth. And in some circumstances the "official future" can reflect our fears, for example that the world is a mess, or we in trouble.

In this approach we start by describing radically different and optimistic futures and then work backwards, exploring the 'key factors' that would enable such a future to unfold. Deductive scenario logics can be used as an addition.

Fleshing out the scenarios

The driving forces that we generated now become "characters" in the stories that we develop. The "real" future will not be any of the scenarios, but will likely contain elements of all of our scenarios. Our goal is to pin down the "hilariously overdone" corners of the plausible futures. Make "hilariously overdone" be the outer limits of plausibility and as a result, our scenarios will have a caricature quality.


Some factors and decisions will make sense to all of us across all of the futures. Others will make sense only in one or two. The first can be used for making robust plans and for the latter we want to know the "early warning signs" that tell us if and when those scenarios are beginning to unfold. Leading indicators for a given scenario can be obvious, but more often they are subtle and could go by unnoticed. It may be some legislation, a seemingly small technical breakthrough, or a gradual social trend. When we have those identified, we can set up (watchdog and data mining) operations to monitor these critical signs.

Name of the game

Then focus on what the name of our game is and address the inverse question. Beef up the skeletal scenarios to discover the insights we need.

Data mining for key factors

Bayesian logic

For its vulnerabilities see Confusing surveillance systems.

Diagramming of effects

Normally called causal-loop diagrams. In 'diagramming of effects' observables were added, next to measurables, allowing for inclusion of "phenomenal consciousness".

Example of a short-term scenario planning

Short-term scenario planning is useful for threat modelling. In this example, ideas for new tools for "Journalist, observer or sousveillant roles in europe" that cut across digital and analogue space can emerge.

Decision focus

What are the threats? What can we do to protect ourselves, our sources and our data? In what order do we work on that?

Key factors

  • What information do we not want other people to know? (This can be anything from passwords to contacts’ details, data and documents)
  • Why might someone want that information? Who?
  • What can they do to get it?
  • What might happen if they do?

Example of a long-term scenario planning

This example is unseriously seriously meant for designing a real world (analog) roleplay simulation game with (much more fun than workshops and serious scenario planning). And since we have great facilitators everywhere, a worthy challenge. And those have a hacker attitude (no problem should ever be solved twice The Alpha Complex is an excellent base to build simulation games as this one on. [1]

We can include information already gathered by traditional-for-opportunity-and-profit scenario planners. Claimed "market" research data may not be that important to know, but what markets they are aiming to "penetrate" in the near future could be. For example, the so-called "Gen Z" is already a target in trend watching reports by some big corporations [2]. And while some corporations benefit from pillage and plunder of earth's resources, other corporations are into "market penetration" games because any locals that do benefit from such pillage and plunder are "emerging markets". Have a hamburger! [3]

Besides including key factors found by others for purposes of further fucking us over in the future, we can include sources these "futurists" have no access to, namely lots of stories and realities grubby grabbers (and their enablers) are in denial about.

Decision focus

Is it time yet?!? [4] Yes, this is our time [5]

Key factors

Imagine a world designed by Kafka, Stalin, Orwell, Huxley, Sartre and the Marx Brothers … We’re talking about a virtual reality of course. A Role-Playing Game. The game is set in Alpha Complex, an immense and futuristic domed or underground city controlled by The Computer. The Computer runs everything within Alpha Complex ...

  • What are the possible futures for the Alpha Complex?
  • What are our own possible futures if and when the Alpha Complex collapses?
  • What do we see in the future (time frame: the next ten years)?

Social forces

While I'm still confused and uncertain, it's on a much higher plane, d'you see, and at least I know I'm bewildered about what you want ...

Quantitative, demographic issues, softer issues of values, lifestyle, demand, political energy:

Technological forces

A triumph of the silicon chunk, a miracle of modern magical technology ...

Direct, enabling, and indirect factors:

Economic forces

See Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

Macroeconomic trends and forces shaping the economy as a whole, microeconomic dynamics and internal forces:

Environmental forces

The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head. Environments are not just containers, but are processes that change the content totally.

Political forces


Electoral, legislative and regulatory factors:

Military forces

The consensus seemed to be that if really large numbers of men (or the weapons replacing them) were sent to storm the mountain, then enough might survive the rocks (defenses) to take the citadel. This is essentially the basis of all military thinking.

Other key factors


Pre-determined elements

  • Squirmishes, conflicts, wars
  • Changing climate and weather

Scenario logics

Deductive logics

We can spin many scenarios combining the key factors and many axes in the matrix, but choosing just two axes provides already enough of a framework for exploring more forces. What hathanger we use is not as important as the clothes hanging on them.

For example, the horizontal axis of uncertainty chosen here is desire (and hence of military might as all wars start in spirit, in the Alpha Complex). Will it be individual or collective? Will the energy of individual "liberation" and "freedom" continue to prevail? Or will we root our social organization and self-definition in a collective? What will become the prevailing influence in our local culture?

The vertical axis represents social structure: Will it be distributed or centralised? Will it bring us a "grassroots" anarchy that wurks? Or will there be some "body" to impose order?

Inductive logics

A resistance fighter could easily ask "What if a change in socio-political institutions does take place? What if Brian Holmes' "political ecology" is possible? What if 1% of the people in various locations of the complex join us for this change? What might lead up to such a change? What would be a plausible chain of consequences following from such a change?"

Fleshing out the scenarios

Scenario 1: Everything Inc.

The Alpha Complex has been taken over by corporations. There are no citizens anymore, not a single one in the entire Dome. There are only employees and consumers. There's even "mass tailored" services for dissenters and rebels.

Their phones may be built-into their bodies, but people still fiddle with their phones, so that looks like people are constantly fiddling with themselves. All corporations and companies are agile, nimble, have all their feedback loops effectively closed and anticipate the market's whims aggressively. Computers, robots and drones have replaced all manual labour, police and military functions, and are now replacing the technocracy class.

There's still democracy, in name. Politics means electronic voting. Our biometrics are tracked our entire lives, down to the littlest details. Not that people care about any of that. And I don't think there's any DIY done anywhere anymore. It's against the law anyway, and the corporate police drones see everything, really everything.

Though the word is still in use, we haven't seen any real money in years. We get paid in spending vouchers. Everything in The Dome (and 5%) is owned by corporations. All the land and all the water. All goods are made in specific areas of The Dome, automated of course. Another area manages everything. All other areas focus on tourism and entertainment, also run by corporations. Happiness is always just around the corner.

The underground movements flourish. We keep developing new spyware detection tools from what little that ends up on the scrapyard. Did I mention yet all feedback loops are effectively closed?

Temperatures are very hot, and seem to be getting hotter by the day where we live. The running around for food and water is taking more and more time and energy. Other areas are sealed off. They were flooded or hit by severe storms. We heard all people in those areas died.

Scenario 2: Ecotopia

GDP fetishism is finally finished. In response to centuries of pillage and plunder, collective values triumphed over strictly individualistic values.

Hackerspaces developed and spread a political ecology for the Dome that resulted in a small digitised distributed Alpha Complex: Direct taxation on property and capital (not on income) for funding health care and public works that aid survival of the greatest scope of life to a greater degree than any associated destruction.

The transformation was not easy and is still ongoing. Corporations, or what's left of them, are struggling. A lot of less developed areas in The Dome didn't make it either. Having been plundered and pillaged for centuries they could not fund the transformations necessary to meet the new environmental regulations. We may have been in the clutches of the "power of scarcity" but their scarcity experience was real and as grassroots movements go, at the time, we didn't have the resources nor the required infrastructure (yet) to send them what they needed. We asked those that did have the infrastructure and resources, but they understood only "no profit in it" and were unhelpful. We did what we could.

Ye always have underground. The current underground movements feature names like "free market", "free zones" and other "free" and "freedom" labeled combinations. I keep wondering why, because they are free, just not free to take someone elses freedom away or to arrogate and appropriate common resources (and rape the planet).

Sex is now considered normal (as long as it is consensual). That's a big relief for everyone. I don't know exactly what happened but can take an educated guess. Pr0n died the minute it was accepted and women and other genders started sharing what they liked, what their sexual fantasies were, and trying it out. Oh, and there's a lot of torrents on The Computer on hero related movies. Forget pr0n. Not interested. I am watching all old episodes of Dr. Who. He always gave me a good laugh.

Scenario 3: Bohemians

The Alpha Complex has collapsed in the face of privatisation and is replaced by a largely electronic marketplace that connects and clears transactions of every type, bitcoin-like. The Dome organises itself by job via The Computer.

Communication focuses on personal empowerment. The Computer is the chief exchange medium for decentralised work, personal gratification, and domal commerce. Physical infrastructure stagnates.

Art and attention have turned inward and personal expressions flourish in new media on The Computer. Strangely enough, all physical hackerspaces have been abandoned while technology is the leading domal culture. A homogenous patchwork of unbridled bohemianism.

Civil wars regularly break out all over The Dome as a legacy of previously imposed borders unravels. In some locations the history of underground movements repeats itself and revolutions come around again, and again, including their co-options by "leaders" (surrounding themselves with followers as a personal survival strategy) and attempts at creating new borders.

There is a large "black market" and "informal circuit" of exchanges of services and goods not reported to The Computer, not the least of which is a network of people gifting their time and energy to keep a semblance of infrastructure going for an underground economy of goods and services between people that have no jobs or are doing by The Computer undervalued jobs.

Scenario 4: United Nations

Surveillance of civilians has stopped, officially. The Computer is owned by corporations and contains no civilian traffic, officially. There is a separate civilian internet, a loosely connected network of local networks with local services. Some networks are only local. Groups in locally developed social media are usually closed groups. Rurals have their own local private computer networks, mostly as a warning system for when "others" come to "visit" the area.

There are no nations. The Dome is organised in tribes, clans, (extended) families, networks, and roving bands and warlords.  Nations crumbled into city-states that consider rurals second-class people. Oddly enough, there is still a United Nations serving as Alpha Complex. Who is serving in the UN board remains a mystery.

Motor clubs and gangs in developing areas and old inner cities (now small city-states) transform into political law-and-order machines paid for by corporations, and they have quota to meet. So does the justice system. And the prison-industrial complex needs to meet their quota too. In the cities and in rural areas, everybody watches over everybody else really, and this has paid off. We're all very healthy. Corporations do extremely well, but are severely regulated by the United Nations and fund all kinds of United Nations programs. And just like in the days of the pharao's, large public works are undertaken, some even spanning the globe, serving corporations mostly because the "war-work-machine" (alias military-industrial-complex) constantly needs to gobble up new resources to grow. The military has globalised as well and has a lot of UN projects to protect for they are sought after targets by the underground.

Corporate UN universities (there are no others) are "free" in exchange for twenty years of work in the by you chosen industry. You can go into research if you can get a UN grant with a proposal or work directly in the field. There's many interesting corporate faculties to choose from of which geoengineering is very popular among young folk. Our new heroes, "protecting us from climate change". And if you sign up for another twenty years, you can perhaps build a modest pension fund for you and your (extended) family.

Both online and offline skirmishes and conflicts between groups are quite normal. The underground is everywhere if you believe the news. UN projects seem to be a favourite target of some underground movements.

Name of the inverse game

A resilient (distributed, partly underground when and where necessary) solidarity network.

Examples of diagramming of effects

Gut, head, and decision making

Visualisation of Decision Architecture: Helping Users Make Better Decisions

  • Gut processing is sophisticated, intuitive, and quick. Gut enables an efficient way of navigating a complex world.
  • Head processing, on the other hand, is analytical, slow, and rational.
  • According to Gardner, "Gut decides, Head reviews: This process is how most of our thoughts and decisions are made." Essentially, we are of two minds, each of which works semi-independently of the other.
  • Gut processing always precedes Head processing. The "||" in the connector means a delay.
  • Even if Head steps in and overrules Gut, this does not negate the impact of Gut on a decision. It is our initial impressions, our initial reactions to things, that shape and color the thoughts and judgments that follow.
  • Sometimes, Head doesn’t bother to monitor Gut. Sometimes, Head doesn’t step in at all. When this happens, decision making occurs automatically, under the radar of our conscious attention.
  • Gut can sometimes apply mental shortcuts that really aren’t appropriate to the situation at hand or are simply incorrect.
  • Head can’t look inside Gut to figure out how or why Gut operates the way it does. Our subconscious is much like a black box with no access doors. It’s strictly off limits to the conscious mind. All Head can do is monitor and override Gut; it can’t change or negate the influence of Gut.
  • One reason Head may fail to actively take part in the process of decision making is because conscious thought takes effort. People are remarkably sensitive to the effort of conscious decision making—the mental processing that occurs primarily within the prefrontal cortex.
  • In a 1999 experiment, Shiv and Fedorikhin tested the effect of cognitive load on decision making: Distracting Head with a memory task made people more susceptible to temptation.
  • A person’s objective in decision making is to arrive at the best possible decision outcome with the least possible effort. Better decision outcomes typically require more effort. So, decision makers must make tradeoffs between the two, adjusting their strategy according to the importance of the decision they’re making.

Speaking of not becoming a petty tyrant and inverse game scenarios:

  • Insights and gained knowledge from "Gut decides, Head reviews" were unseriously seriously applied in shopping for a linux distro.
  • Simulation games in safe spaces can create experiences with which a person can "soften" or "harden" emotional tags and/or set mental shortcuts. Their own. Make sure the facilitators are very experienced in "not being present" in that regard. Playful alpha state is a very vulnerable state. Setting direction for someone in that state is a "no no".

"The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it." Terry Pratchett, Diggers

Hidden effects of grubby grabbers

Visualisation of findings in Drilling into Debt (PDF) of 2005 showing 4 reinforcing feedback loops:

Contains 4 reinforcing feedback loops

Key findings of the report from 2005:

  • Increasing oil production leads to increasing debt. There is a strong and positive relationship between oil production and debt burdens. The more oil a country produces, regardless of oil’s share of the country’s total economy, the more debt it tends to generate
  • Increasing oil exports leads to increasing debt. There is a strong and positive relationship between oil export dependence and debt burdens. The more dependent on oil exports a country is, the deeper in debt it tends to be.
  • Increasing oil exports improves the ability of developing countries to service their debts. There is a strong and positive relationship between oil exports and debt service. The global oil economy improves the ability of countries to make debt payments, while at the same time increasing their total debt.
  • Increases in oil production predict increases in debt size. Doubling a country’s annual production of crude oil is predicted to increase the size of its total external debt as a share of GDP by 43.2 per cent. Likewise, the same change is predicted to increase a country’s debt service burden by 31 per cent. For example, the Nigerian government currently plans to increase oil production by 160% by 2010. Past trends indicate that Nigeria’s debt can thus be expected to increase by 69%, or $21 billion over the next six years.
  • World Bank programs designed to increase Northern private investment in Southern oil production have instead drastically increased debt. Northern multilateral and bilateral "aid" for oil exporting projects in the South has exacerbated, rather than alleviated debt. Specifically, an examination of those countries where the World Bank Group conducted "Petroleum Exploration Promotion Programs" (PEPPs) reveals debt levels (debt-GDP ratios) in those countries that are 19% higher than those countries that did not undergo this form of structural adjustment.
  • The relationship between debt & oil is most likely caused by the interplay in between three factors:
    • Structural incentives for and direct investments in the oil industry by multilateral and bilateral institutions, such as the World Bank Group and export credit agencies.
    • Oil fueled fiscal folly – both in the North by creditors over eager to lend to nations perceived as oil rich, and in the South by unwise fiscal policies.
    • The volatility of the oil market ("power of scarcity").

A previous report, published in 2004 by the Institute for Policy Studies, demonstrates how multilateral support for oil is consistent with an agenda to diversify oil supplies for Northern consumption, and open Southern reserves to Northern corporate investment. It also noted that 82 percent of all oil extractive projects funded by the World Bank Group since 1992 are export-oriented, and primarily serve the energy needs of the North, not the South.


An opportunistic scenario

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things. — (Terry Pratchett, Jingo)

10. Globalisation seems to indicate a “multitude of interconnected fatal consequences, social disintegration, a breakdown of democracy, more rapid and extensive deterioration of the environment, the spread of new diseases, and increasing poverty and alienation”.

9. Evasion of real civilian control is made possible by military-to-military and political-to-political relations. Building military-to-military relations with an unreformed and un-reforming military undermines efforts by citizens to rein in such institutions.

8. Economic ties between first and second and third world countries relies too heavily on cheap labour, with inadequate attention given to the rights of workers performing such labour.

7. Investments are too often focused on extractive industries exploiting local natural resources. While profitable to first world investors and their elite local second and third world partners, these investments too often devastate environments with ruinous implications. Let’s name this for what it is: engaging in environmentally criminal behavior such as resource greed. Forests are destroyed for timber or establishing plantations, with no thought to the consequences for local people for whom those same forests created homes and a source of livelihood. Mining operations poison rivers, bays and groundwater.

6. Whole communities are displaced and their subsequent intrusion elsewhere can cause local wars in such elsewheres.

5. Of course, this creates opportunities for a focus on sale or transfer of weapons and entire military bases, joint military training, etc.

4. Repeating colonialist mistakes. Believing we know better than local people. Intervening in a system we do not really know. Ignoring effects of our interventions, especially when staring us in the face. Denial.

3. Distracting people by creating a focus on irrelevant threats. Dangerous move, what with the internet and more and more people becoming aware of the usual and commonly used political patterns. The internet may put enough of a stop that. Telephone had a great social impact. Let’s hope the internet makes a similar difference. How can we believe “others than us” are a threat if I have exchanged with “others” and found them to be very human, and not so “other” at all? When we refuse to believe authorities and conjured up “common enemies”, and we think for ourselves? :)

2. Climate change conferences, as if we can stop the climate changing. We can’t. Too late. And even if we could, is that the way to go? [6] Intervening in yet another system we do not fully understand. And is the Copenhagen climate change treaty maybe just another global government power grab? ~500-700 new bureaucracies? New taxes? 2-5 percent levies on GDP? If cap-and-trade is used & “buying allowance” is done with inflatory currencies, does that mean that pollution inflates further too? Is this the new bubble? How many displacements will result due to continued pillaging and plundering?

1. We are learning. Are we? Sperm are Dying! Females to Outnumber Males!

Overshoot loops and collapses

Time scales

Werner analyzes the environmental challenges that we face over short , intermediate and long-term time scales, noting the increasingly "two-way, nonlinear interactions" (i.e., chaotic or disproportionate interactions) between global (resource exploiting) markets and the "Earth System". These challenges — driven by increasing resource demand — result in a "mismatch between short-time-scale market and political forces driving resource extraction/use and longer-time-scale accommodations of the Earth system to these changes." Human markets and the Earth System, observes Werner, operate along different time scales. [7][8]


The Limits to Growth “standard run” (or business-as-usual, BAU) scenario produced about forty years ago aligns well with historical data that has been updated in this paper. The BAU scenario results in collapse of the global economy and environment (where standards of living fall at rates faster than they have historically risen due to disruption of normal economic functions), subsequently forcing population down. Although the modelled fall in population occurs after about 2030—with death rates rising from 2020 onward, reversing contemporary trends—the general onset of collapse first appears at about 2015 when per capita industrial output begins a sharp decline. Given this imminent timing, a further issue this paper raises is whether the current economic difficulties of the global financial crisis are potentially related to mechanisms of breakdown in the Limits to Growth BAU scenario. In particular, contemporary peak oil issues and analysis of net energy, or energy return on (energy) invested, support the Limits to Growth modelling of resource constraints underlying the collapse. [9]


On the HANDY report (2014)

In this paper, we show that two factors can independently lead to collapse: Ecological Strain and Economic Stratification. We also show that there are two routes to such collapses, which we call Type-L and Type-N collapses. Type-N starts with exhaustion of Nature but Type-L results from the disappearance of Labor because Elite consumption does not leave sufficient resources to meet the needs of Commoners. These two distinct routes to a collapse show over-exploitation of Labor, not just of Nature, can cause a societal collapse.

We also show that a sustainable steady state, with the population equal to the Carrying Capacity, is reachable in different types of societies. This requires making rational choices for population, depletion, consumption, and stratification. Very importantly, the experiments show that if population does not overshoot carrying capacity by too much, it would still be possible to eventually converge to it. However, if the overshoot is too large, a full collapse would be hard to avoid.

The HANDY model shows us that Carrying Capacity (the long-term sustainable level of population at a given level of consumption) is the level of population at the time Accumulated Wealth starts to decline, which makes it easy to estimate it in the model. This is because, if the population at a given level of consumption is below the Carrying Capacity, the total consumption is lower than the level of depletion that Nature can maintain, and therefore Wealth can continue accumulating. However, if the population (at a given level of consumption) is above the Carrying Capacity, the total consumption is not covered by the level of depletion that Nature can maintain, and the Accumulated Wealth decreases.

Since we live in an era where we are primarily relying on non-renewable resources, which are by definition unsustainable, the population and its consumption can grow beyond the Carrying Capacity level while still being able to accumulate wealth, because we are rapidly drawing down the natural resources accumulated by Nature over hundreds of millions of years (i.e., fossil fuels).

In further modeling we have done, where we model the use of non-renewables, we find that these non-renewables allow population to rise by an order of magnitude higher than with renewables alone. Thus, the use of non-renewables postpones the collapse, but then when the collapse happens, it is much deeper. (Rivas, Motesharrei and Kalnay, 2014, in preparation).

Furthermore, as we point out in the article, the consumption of natural resources has both depletion and pollution effects, both of which have to be taken into account on the carrying capacity of the natural system, as the HANDY model does. When non-renewable resources (e.g., fossil fuels) are consumed rapidly over just a short time, as we are doing now, this can introduce a quantity of pollution (e.g., the stored carbon accumulated over hundreds of millions of years) large enough to affect the entire global system (e.g., causing climate change). Thus, the rapid release of vast quantities of previously stored carbon is creating changes in the world's climate system that are in turn impacting back on the human system. In addition, these changes to the global climate can create additional positive feedbacks leading to greater climate change, such as the release of previously stored methane in the now melting permafrost, or the decreasing albedo due to the melting of polar sea ice. So the consumption of non-renewables does not occur without significant effects on the entire system.

Carrying Capacity depends on two sets of parameters encompassing properties of both the human system and the natural system. On the socio-economic side, depletion rate, consumption rate, rate of change of population, and degree of inequality can influence the Carrying Capacity. All of these factors can be adjusted by various policies that societies may choose to implement. On the natural system side, Nature Capacity (maximum size of a natural resource) and Nature regeneration rate (rate at which a renewable natural resource can be replenished) can influence the Carrying Capacity. Although these parameters are properties of the natural system, humans can, and do, change them. For example, by replacing parts of a forest with a city, or by over-depleting rivers flowing into a lake and subsequently drying out the lake, we reduce the Nature Capacity. [10]


Original scenario planning concepts

  • Visioning in planning: is the practice based on sound theory? (The resulting analysis shows that while there is a basis to support some of the assumptions about visioning there are also profound weaknesses in parts of the underlying theory.)

Systems thinking approach to scenario planning

Diagramming of effects

Bayesian logic




  1. Paranoia (roleplaying game)
  3. Anticipating the rise of junk food and soda taxes in emerging markets
  4. Anonymiss(tress) Operation ENOUGH!
  5. Underminers: A Practical Guide for Radical Change
  6. Geopiracy: The Case Against Geoengineering
  7. Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism (abstract)
  8. AGU Scientist Asks, ‘Is Earth F**ked?’ Surprising Answer: Resistance is NOT Futile!
  9. Is global collapse imminent?
  10. Q&A: when a theoretical article is misinterpreted Before a paper on the HANDY model was published, findings were taken out of context in some press accounts; here, the authors explain their research