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Linking models of human behaviour and climate alters projected climate change


Although not considered in climate models, perceived risk stemming from extreme climate events may induce behavioural changes that alter greenhouse gas emissions. Here, we link the C-ROADS climate model to a social model of behavioural change to examine how interactions between perceived risk and emissions behaviour influence projected climate change. Our coupled climate and social model resulted in a global temperature change ranging from 3.4–6.2 °C by 2100 compared with 4.9 °C for the C-ROADS model alone, and led to behavioural uncertainty that was of a similar magnitude to physical uncertainty (2.8 °C versus 3.5 °C). Model components with the largest influence on temperature were the functional form of response to extreme events, interaction of perceived behavioural control with perceived social norms, and behaviours leading to sustained emissions reductions. Our results suggest that policies emphasizing the appropriate attribution of extreme events to climate change and infrastructural mitigation may reduce climate change the most.

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This work resulted from a working group jointly supported by both the National Institute for Mathematical Biological Synthesis—a synthesis centre sponsored by the National Science Foundation through award DBI-1300426 with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville—and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center under funding received from National Science Foundation award DBI-1052875. B.B., J.M.W. and A.Z. additionally acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation through Vermont Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research grant numbers EPS-1101317 and OIA-1556770.

Author information

B.B. directed the development of the computational model, conducted the model analyses and wrote the final version of the manuscript. L.J.G. contributed to writing the manuscript, supported the model development and interpretation, and wrote the supplementary materials. K.L. helped write the manuscript and contributed psychological expertise to the model development. E.C. implemented the computational model and ran simulation experiments. S.S.M. provided dynamic modelling expertise to support model implementation and analysis. J.M.W. contributed climate modelling expertise and helped articulate model insights. P.D.H. contributed expertise regarding human perceptions of climate change. N.F. provided modelling and mathematical expertise, detailed feedback and references. T.F. developed a preliminary social model and provided the linkage to C-ROADS. A.Z. contributed ideas about how to model the theory of planned behaviour. A.K. helped to frame real-world implications of the model. F.H. provided climate modelling expertise that clarified the contribution of the model. All authors contributed to the development of the conceptual model.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Correspondence to Brian Beckage.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Additional details of model structure, Supplementary References and Supplementary Figures 1–9.

  2. Supplementary Model

    Model and data files.

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Further reading

Fig. 1: Conceptual model.
Fig. 2: Regression tree partitioning of variation in mean global temperature change relative to the pre-industrial baseline period (approximately 1850).
Fig. 3: Effect of functional form on mean global temperature in 2100.
Fig. 4: Effect of PSN and PBC on mean global temperature in 2100 for simulations with a cumulative mitigation response in carbon emissions.