Scenarios are plausible and provocative stories about the future that help us think about long-term changes and consequences. Yahara 2070 is a set of scenarios about Wisconsin's Yahara Watershed, which are intended to help local decision makers and communities discuss how changes in land use, climate, and human demands could impact freshwater and the many natural benefits people need for their well-being. This presentation discusses the "why" and "how" of Yahara 2070 and long-term thinking in general. Yahara 2070 is a part of the Water Sustainability and Climate project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a multi-year research endeavor funded by the National Science Foundation.
Possible futures for the Yahara Watershed
The Why and How of the
“People are embedded parts of the biosphere and shape it,
from local to global scales, from the past to the future. At
the same time people are fundamentally dependent on
the capacity of the biosphere to sustain human
development.” -- Carl Folke, Stockholm Resilience Center
Taking the long view is important
But sustaining nature and human
development is a complex problem:
• Uncertainty is high.
• Time frames of environmental change
span many generations.
• People will reach different
• Multiple solutions are “good enough.”
To approach complex problems, we must
• Assume uncertainty is large, changeable, and
co-created by people and nature.
• Emphasize the diversity and individuality of
• Stress learning by individuals and groups.
• Expect the unexpected.
Also, throughout time, we face branch points,
when our choices affect future outcomes.
This leaves us with alternative pathways to
Scenarios help us think through the alternatives
in an organized way.
The future is already here;
it’s just unevenly distributed.
- William Gibson
What are scenarios?
• They are provocative, plausible stories about the future
with contrasting social and environmental conditions.
• They explore questions of “What if?”
• They facilitate long-term thinking.
• They can help us learn ways to prepare for and cope with
Thinking through scenarios could help us build resilience.
Resilience - the capacity to deal with change and
continue to develop; the ability to do something different
when what you’re doing isn’t working
We each know a lot about our piece of the picture…
…but each piece is just one part of the whole.
The average view over many people does not mean much;
It’s too blurry and imprecise.
Salvador Dali, “Still Life Moving Fast”
A sharply focused view that embraces all perspectives is
better, even if it is hard to understand.
To create the Yahara 2070 scenarios, we sampled
perspectives from the Yahara Watershed
through interviews and workshops,
clustered them into themes,
Illustrations by John Miller
and condensed them into
a few sharply focused
The stories provide a framework to organize
alternative futures and confront uncertainty.
Dynamics: Adaptation Transformation Adaptation Transformation
Government Inaction Technology Values
population, leads to
Massive growth in
Global shift in
Our models could then calculate key natural processes as
they would occur for each scenario, providing implications
for what could happen to the watershed’s ecosystems.
We also translated the stories into numbers that a
computer model can understand, thus connecting
the stories and the “atoms.”
Together, the stories and the atoms give us detailed pictures
of what the state of human well-being could be like by 2070.
Accelerated Innovation Nested Watersheds
Abandonment & Renewal
The four scenarios together raise cross-cutting questions.
What are the worst threats and how can we avoid them?
What are the best ideas and how can they be combined?
What is a desirable path to the future, and how do we get there?
Abandonment & Renewal
Connected Communities Accelerated
By discussing the alternatives, we can work to
identify our “5th scenario,” a future we want.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t start with collecting wood,
cutting the plank and assigning work, but awake in people the
longing for the wide and open sea.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Citadelle)
Determining our vision of a desirable and possible future
can inspire and motivate us to achieve it.
What’s your 5th
scenario for the
future of the Yahara
Explore and imagine