Current projections of future climate change foretell potentially transformative ecological changes that threaten communities globally. Using two case studies from the United States Intermountain West, this article highlights the ways in which a better articulation between theory and methods in research design can generate proactive applied tools that enable locally grounded dialogue about the future, including key vulnerabilities and potential adaptive pathways. Moreover, anthropological knowledge and methods, we find, are well-suited to the complexities and uncertainties that surround future climate change. In this article, we outline a narrative-driven assessment methodology we call multi-scale, iterative scenario building (MISB) that adheres to four key principles: (1) meaningful integration of socioecological interactions, (2) engagement with uncertainty, (3) awareness and incorporation of dynamic spatial and temporal scales, and (4) inclusion of diverse knowledge(s) from both social and natural sciences as well as from communities, including skeptics and deniers. The research found that MISB illuminated the complex, relational nature of vulnerability and adaptation and provided significant insight into potential, and sometimes surprising, future conflicts, synergies, and opportunities. We also found that MISB engendered a deep appreciation among participants, even skeptics and deniers, about the numerous, multi-scaled feedbacks and path dependencies generated by interacting drivers of social and ecological change. In conclusion, we argue this approach provides substantial space for the reflexive learning needed to create the “critical emancipatory knowledge” required in the face of transformational threats like climate change, and as such, we suggest potential avenues to support planning and decision making in the face of uncertain futures.

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