Climate-driven change represents the cumulative effect of global through local-scale conditions, and understanding their manifestation at local scales can empower local management. Change in the dominance of habitats is often the product of local nutrient pollution that occurs at relatively local scales (i.e. catchment scale), a critical scale of management at which global impacts will manifest. We tested whether forecasted global-scale change [elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) and subsequent ocean acidification] and local stressors (elevated nutrients) can combine to accelerate the expansion of filamentous turfs at the expense of calcifying algae (kelp understorey). Our results not only support this model of future change, but also highlight the synergistic effects of future CO2 and nutrient concentrations on the abundance of turfs. These results suggest that global and local stressors need to be assessed in meaningful combinations so that the anticipated effects of climate change do not create the false impression that, however complex, climate change will produce smaller effects than reality. These findings empower local managers because they show that policies of reducing local stressors (e.g. nutrient pollution) can reduce the effects of global stressors not under their governance (e.g. ocean acidification). The connection between research and government policy provides an example whereby knowledge (and decision making) across local through global scales provides solutions to some of the most vexing challenges for attaining social goals of sustainability, biological conservation and economic development.