As atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise so too does the risk of severe impacts. Scientists clearly have an important role to play in preparing for and responding to climate change impacts; however, calls by scientists for global action have not led to the required changes. It is timely, therefore, for scientists to critically consider their own approach toward climate change research, particularly if we are to ameliorate or adapt to unwanted outcomes. Here we present three different pathways that allow scientists and scientific institutions to conceptualize the implications of their responses to climate change scenarios. These pathways are illustrated via three plausible futures for the marine environment under climate change. This approach allows future responsibilities, outcomes, and implication to be explored within and across pathways and can be applied to different scenarios for scientists and scientific institutions to anticipate and better prepare to contribute effectively to the future.
Plain Language Summary There is mounting evidence that impacts of climate change pose significant risks to society and human well-being. The pace of large-scale action on climate change is, however, insufficient to substantially reduce the likely future impacts. These are risks that this generation is imposing on future generations. In this context we outline a framework for scientists and scientific institutions to explore and assess the outcomes and implications of choosing different pathways (inactive, reactive, and proactive) in response to climate change. We developed three illustrative examples of plausible futures under climate change to demonstrate the implications of each of these pathways. We also outline a conceptual framework based on three factors: (i) potential to mitigate, (ii) impact of risk, and (iii) uncertainty in science that will assist scientists and scientific institutions to make informed decisions regarding their responses to global environmental change.