Step 1: Identify the factors that will contribute to the societal consequences of climate change

In broad terms, the societal consequence of climate change will depend on three semi-independent factors[1]:

(1) how climate changes (i.e., how much and how fast) (climate),

(2) the sensitivity of physical systems, biological resources, and social institutions to changes in climate (sensitivity), and

(3) societal dependence on those physical systems, biological resources, and social institutions (human dependence).

Critically, the magnitude of climate change alone is insufficient for determining societal consequences. Rather it is the amount climate changes together with those factors that determine society’s capacity to absorb changes in climate (i.e., the sensitivity of physical, biological, and social systems to climate changes and society’s dependence on those physical, biological, and social systems) that will determine societal consequences. For example, a small change in climate could lead to high consequence outcomes if society’s adaptive capacity is relatively weak. Alternatively, even large climate changes could translate into low consequence outcomes if society is sufficiently resilient to climate disruptions


[1] Each of the three contributing factors includes more detailed components (e.g., climate will depend on numerous forcings and feedbacks) and links with the other factors (e.g., pbs sensitivity affects climate because some physical and biological system responses involve components of the climate system itself (Betts et al., 1997; Feddema et al., 2005; Field and Avissar, 1998; Higgins and Harte, 2006; Higgins and Harte, 2012; Pielke et al., 1998; Randall et al., 2007; Sellers et al., 1997). The goal in focusing on these three factors is to help clarify what matters and to make the consideration of societal consequences intuitive and tractable.

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