By Steve Outing
“The weather today in 2050 … well, it sucks.”
In the world of Foresight (a.k.a., Future Studies or Futurism), “scenarios” are a popular tool for anticipating possible futures. (Note the plural.) Scenarios also can be used in a more restricted way as an effective advocacy tool.
A great example of this is happening currently, with daily “weather forecasts” from around the world in 2050 being posted to Youtube by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Well-known TV presenters, rather than actors, present a mock weather segment about the day’s weather in their part of the world on selected dates in 2050; part-way through the segment, they switch to current-day correspondent mode and interview an expert about the expected effects of climate change on their country or region.
Here’s one forecast posted today by Japanese broadcaster NHK, featuring “weatherwoman” Hiroko Ida of NHK’s flagship news program, News Watch 9. (English subtitled for those who need it.)
Other 2050 weather forecasts are from a range of countries: Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Japan, the Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, USA, and Zambia.
The weather-forecast scenarios are based on the work of IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and its seminal Fifth Assessment Report. They represent what foresight professionals call a “baseline scenario,” where the projected weather impacts of climate change in 2050 are drawn from IPCC data showing what the world will experience if we continue on our current track (of not reducing greenhouse-gas emissions across the globe).
The WMO is running these videos during September through the 23rd in order to support U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call for world leaders to agree to ambitious action on climate change at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York City on September 23, and his call to prevent the worst-case scenarios of unmitigated climate change.
Here’s one more 2050 weather forecast, this one from Brazil. Watch for the rest of the forecast series on WNO’s Youtube channel through September 23.
This is a smart advocacy technique, because it localizes the global problem of climate change. Climate change communication research has demonstrated that many people around the world feel detached from an issue that likely will affect them at some point, because it seems far away from their personal lives. (E.g., endangered polar bears in the Arctic don’t persuade many Americans to be concerned about climate change, but tornadoes shown to be more powerful and destructive due to climate change hitting towns nearby are more likely to raise awareness and spur behavior change and action.)
WMO’s weather-forecast scenarios bring the threat to your home country.
Scenarios: A place in journalism?
While the WMO examples above are clearly meant as advocacy (and information) vehicles, scenarios also have a place in journalism. A news website’s Opinions section should have no qualms about presenting a viewpoint on an issue in scenario format. E.g., the city police department is laying off 20% of its street officers due to budget cuts; here’s a scenario of what the nightly local TV news might look like if this indeed occurs, based on projections from the City Emergency Response Department.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with the example above even presented as part of the News section — as long as the scenario is based on legitimate, respected research and forecasting to support the scenario as it’s presented.
Often, there won’t be such a clear projected scenario as with laying off a lot of police officers. A more cautious approach (and one that’s nearly always preferable, but not necessarily affordable for news organizations) is to envision multiple, plausible, likely futures and create multiple scenarios. This technique can visualize a community’s options in a powerful manner. E.g., there are proposals to (1) shut down all the city’s physical libraries, (2) reduce hours open for all city libraries, and (3) keep library operations as is but cut into the road-resurfacing budget instead. Presented in the form of mock local newscasts reporting on the effects of the decision will help people understand better than a traditional 3-minute video segment or 1,000-word text news story.
Scenarios: They’re not just for research and science fiction.
Top photo: From World Meteorological Organization