The extrapolation of world futures using scenarios and simulation models dates back to The Limits to Growth (1972) and its update in 2004. These studies popularized the World3 model that has outputted four primary scenarios for global futures. According to Earth4All, these include:
- Business-as-usual (BAU), projects past trends forward
- Business-as-usual better than expected (BAU2), assumes double the natural resources of BAU
- Comprehensive technology (CT), assumes double the natural resources of BAU but also an advanced technological infrastructure, rapidly adopted, that increases the efficiency with which we extract and use resources while abating pollution.
- Stabilized World (SW), assumes double the natural resources of BAU, a comprehensive technology, and a change in societal values and priorities.
Designs that serve BAU and BAU2 typically maintain short time horizons and are modular, incremental, and small-scale. These designs do not question the highest level purpose of the global system.
Design approaches serving the CT context are typically ambitious and aimed at breakthrough technologies that improve efficiency and efficacy and require tremendous upfront investment. These designs prioritize technical solutions organized to achieve ever greater potential to manipulate matter and energy to improve the human condition. These designs are primarily interventive.
Designs serving a Stabilized World are different in degree and kind. These designs have longer time horizons, are typically global in scope, and require extraordinary mobilization of people and resources to coordinate collective change, yet rely just as much on comprehensive technology. These designs are primarily preventive.
The scenario to which one is committed and the scenario believed to be in play preconditions all design responses. Designs for a Stabilized World will appear different in form and function than designs for a Comprehensive Technology which will again be different than designs for Business-as-usual. Designs are conceived under the constraints of present values and assumptions about the future. Differences in these values and assumptions distinguish the design responses.
Past publications of the Club of Rome warned of time windows within which a Comprehensive Technology or Stabilized World could be achieved. Climate scientists have proposed similar windows. By many measures, such time windows have passed. Such would suggest a Point of No Return (PNR) scenario.
Designs conceived for PNR will again look quite different from any preceding scenarios.
While such time windows seem to have passed, The Venus Project still leaves the door open for new possibilities and continues to conceive design responses to the above scenarios.