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From fAIrplay to climate wars: making climate change scenarios more dynamic, creative, and integrative

Laura M. Pereira, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden; Global Change Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; Centre for Sustainability Transitions, Stellenbosch, South Africa; Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
David R. Morrow, Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment, School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C., USA
Valentina Aquila, Department of Environmental Science, American University, Washington, D.C., USA
Brian Beckage, Department of Plant Biology, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, USA; Department of Computer Science, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, USA
Sam Beckbesinger, Independent science fiction author, South Africa
Lauren Beukes, Independent fiction author, South Africa
Holly J Buck, Department of Environment and Sustainability, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, USA; Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA
Colin J. Carlson, Center for Global Health Science and Security, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., USA
Oliver Geden, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Berlin, Germany
Andrew P. Jones, Climate Interactive, Washington D.C., USA
David P. Keller, GEOMAR - Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Kiel, Germany
Katharine J. Mach, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Miami, Florida, USA; Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida, USA
Mohale Mashigo, Independent science fiction author, South Africa
Juan B. Moreno-Cruz, School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Daniele Visioni, Sibley School for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA
Simon Nicholson, Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment, School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C., USA
Christopher H. Trisos, African Climate and Development Initiative, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa; Centre for Statistics in Ecology, the Environment and Conservation, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa


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Understanding possible climate futures that include carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation modification (SRM) requires thinking not just about staying within the remaining carbon budget, but also about politics and people. However, despite growing interest in CDR and SRM, scenarios focused on these potential responses to climate change tend to exclude feedbacks between social and climate systems (a criticism applicable to climate change scenarios more generally). We adapted the Manoa Mash-Up method to generate scenarios for CDR and SRM that were more integrative, creative, and dynamic. The method was modified to identify important branching points in which different choices in how to respond to climate change (feedbacks between climate and social dynamics) lead to a plurality of climate futures. An interdisciplinary group of participants imagined distant futures in which SRM or CDR develop into a major social-environmental force. Groups received other "seeds" of change, such as Universal Basic Income or China's Belt and Road Initiative, and surprises, such as permafrost collapse that grew to influence the course of events to 2100. Groups developed narratives describing pathways to the future and identified bifurcation points to generate families of branching scenarios. Four climate-social dynamics were identified: motivation to mitigate, moral hazard, social unrest, and trust in institutions. These dynamics could orient toward better or worse outcomes with SRM and CDR deployment (and mitigation and adaptation responses more generally) but are typically excluded from existing climate change scenarios. The importance of these dynamics could be tested through the inclusion of social-environmental feedbacks into integrated assessment models (IAM) exploring climate futures. We offer a step-by-step guide to the modified Manoa Mash-up method to generate more integrative, creative, and dynamic scenarios; reflect on broader implications of using this method for generating more dynamic scenarios for climate change research and policy; and provide examples of using the scenarios in climate policy communication, including a choose-your-own adventure game called Survive the Century (, which was played by over 15,000 people in the first 2 weeks of launching.

Key words

carbon dioxide removal; climate change; futures; geoengineering scenarios; science fiction; solar radiation management

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087