Climate Change: The worst case scenario

Scenario building is a unique tool for looking ahead. While most other mechanisms for planning ahead are based on extrapolating current trends or using scientific data, scenario building has the characteristic of involving imagination as well, making it a powerful but ambiguous tool. Scenarios deal with what is possible rather with what is probable (Mahmoud et al, 2009). Probability is actually discouraged in creating scenarios, as what is most probable is just the follow up of existing trends, for which many other tools are more useful. Possibility looks outside of the box, preparing ourselves for odd things that could happen.

Beware of the worst case scenario.
Figure 1. “Beware of the worst case scenario” (Source:Cartoon Stock)

Its common to hear that you always have to be prepared for the worst case scenario. If you travel you have to have a have a backup plan if your luggage doesn’t arrive or if you loose your passport. But what is the worst case scenario regarding the climate? Experts have already dug into this and this is what it looks like:

“Worst Case Scenario storyline: All available fossil fuels reserves are burned.”

This would have as a consequence [2]:

  • 200 feet sea level rise
  • New York, Tokyo and Shanghai erased from the map
  • Antarctic ice completely melted
  • World will be on average 5.4ºC hotter by 2100

In an image, it would look like this.


Figure 2. How New York would look like if all fossil fuel reserves are burned. (Source:



[1] Mahmouda, M., Liu Y., Hartman, H., Stewart, S., Wagener, T., Semmens, D., Stewart, R., Gupta, H., Dominguez, D., Dominguez, F., Hulse, D., Letcher, R., Rashleigh, B., Smith, C., Street, R., Ticehurst, J., Twery, M., Van Delden, H., Waldick, R., White, D., & Winter, L 2009, ‘A formal framework for scenario development in support of environmental decision-making’, Environmental Modelling & Software, 24, pp. 798–808.

[2] Bagley, K. (2016). Climate Change’s Worst-Case Scenario: 200 Feet of Sea Level Rise [online] Available at:’s-worst-case-scenario-200-feet-sea-level-rise-antarctica-ice-sheet-melt [Accessed 31 Aug. 2016].

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s