When it comes to creating resilient communities and ecosystems, preparing for both foreseen and unforeseen change is important, and adopting a long-term outlook can help.
Scenarios are fictitious but plausible stories about possible futures and the range of changes that could occur. They provide a structured way to think about long-term change.
They are not predictions, but explorations of the question "what if…?"
Scenarios help us better understand and respond to change and future uncertainty. They incorporate scientific data and, sometimes, public input to trace possible causes and effects of change.
For scientists, scenarios are a tool for honing research questions and challenging computer models to better predict future ecological change.
For decision makers and communities, scenarios can help to identify a range of possible futures and compare the tradeoffs among them. In doing so, scenarios improve the understanding of and enable discussions about the type of future that is both conceivable and desirable.
Scenarios are not unique to science. Businesses, nonprofits, and other institutions have used scenarios to chart their futures. Environmental scenarios, such as Yahara 2070, have grown in significance as a way for scientists and decision-makers to think about the long-term impacts of present-day actions.
Potential changes in land use, climate, and human values will impact the places where we live and how we live. Scenarios can help people envision pathways to a desirable future and protect human well-being for generations to come.