Abrupt climate change: Exploring the implications of a wild card

David N. Bengston, Jason Crabtree, Teppo Hujala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Anthropogenic climate change has been gradual to date, but if climate tipping points are crossed the pace of change could accelerate significantly. This study explores possible implications of abrupt climate change, with a partial focus on implications for forestry. We used the Implications Wheel® participatory futures method to identify and evaluate direct and indirect, positive and negative implications of rapid change in the climate system. A large number of possible implications were generated, including a wide range of social, economic, and ecological costs and benefits. Participants identified many “likely strong negative” implications that were scored as both highly likely and strongly negative. A key conclusion of this study is the importance of developing strategies to increase social and ecological resilience given the likelihood of highly disruptive impacts of abrupt climate change. A second conclusion is the need to identify early warning signals for abrupt climate change and closely monitor those signals. Finally, the fundamental uncertainty about abrupt climate change suggests the importance of futures research that taps into creativity and imagination. Our inaction in the face of climate change has been characterized as a failure of imagination, an inability to envision a different and sustainable world, and so futures thinking and methods that encourage creative thinking have an important role in addressing the “inevitable surprise” of abrupt climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102641
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support from Saastamoinen Foundation enabled co-designing and conducting the workshop reported in the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • 6-3-5 brainwriting
  • Abrupt climate change
  • Implications Wheel®
  • Tipping elements
  • Tipping points


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