Climate Knowns and Unknowns


Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is famous for his quote show above. In thinking about potential climate change outcomes, and the business implications of of those outcomes, it is a useful framework.

With Your Climate Change MBA you can explore, from a business decision-making perspective:

  • The “known knowns” of climate change
  • The “known unknowns” of climate change
  • The “unknown unknowns” of climate change

Note that we are not limiting this discussion to the physical impacts of climate change. Potential policy and other responses to climate change are just as relevant to this topic.

The Climatographers recognize that the whole idea of identifying "unknown unknowns" may seem a bit strange. There are certain to be plenty of surprises when it comes to climate change, but it's hard to say today what they will be. That said, there are major wildcards that are often not factored into societal or business decision-making, just as there are climate change wildcards not effectively factored into climate models.

  • What if we are woefully under-estimating the sensitivity of the Earth's climate to rising GHG emissions?

  • What if the triggering of "climate tipping points" causes a draconian policy backlash with particularly disruptive business implications?

  • What if climate change accelerates in ways not currently part of the “consensus science” forecast, resulting in physical and other impacts much sooner than expected?

  • What if the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accelerates the collapse of the oil sector and the low carbon transition?

  • What if there are dramatic cost breakthroughs in energy storage, carbon capture and storage, or other technologies?

With literally dozens of climatic and socioeconomic variables in play when it comes to forecasting future climate outcomes, robust decision-making around managing uncertainty and risk is uniquely challenging.

Your Climate Change MBA offers you extensive insight into the knowns and unknowns of climate change and climate responses, as well as hyperlinking you to curated knowledge collections in the Climate Web itself.