Visualizing BC's Climate Changed Future

How to drive home the impacts of a warming province? Stephen Sheppard and his UBC team offer a glimpse.

By Justin Ritchie 28 Apr 2012 |

Justin Ritchie covers energy, ecology and human behavior on The Extraenvironmentalist, which airs each Wednesday at 2 p.m. on CiTR 101.9 FM and in podcast form online. He works at UBC as the sustainability coordinator for the Alma Mater Society, and starts his PhD in Resource Management and Environmental Systems this September.

Visualizations of areas impacted by climate change could change long-term real estate values. Sheppard's team discussed this possibility while working with Delta, where he found that properties in the most vulnerable areas were flooded back in 2006 and that owners are generally aware they are susceptible to rising sea levels.

"The question is whether we want to tackle this issue while we still have time, or whether we want to wait until it's an emergency and we have to evacuate." Sheppard says. "Our goal is to ensure that our visuals are realistic images based on the best science."

Previous cases have demonstrated that climate visualizations must ensure a proper methodology to avoid legal action. In 2008, developers in La Manga, Spain filed a lawsuit against Greenpeace alleging decreases in property values after they printed images that showed buildings flooded by rising sea levels.

This is what your energy future looks like

CALP's tools aren't just for capturing snapshots of future climate doom. They can also visualize a time we'll want to live in.

Images of wind turbines, solar panels and walkable communities can be used during a community planning process. Sheppard also aims to make people think about how their community is addressing climate change by identifying the largest sources of emissions and what local features reduce the carbon footprint.

"Climate action is about better tools and better engagement processes. How many people go to their local government meetings to talk about climate action? We have the obligation to make climate issues exciting so that people will want to get involved," he says.

Sheppard says the process of making future scenarios visible often empowers participants by helping them understand where they can take action. Soon, he plans to take student groups to the corner of Vancouver's Broadway and Granville Streets and ask them what evidence of climate change they see in the scene before them.

"The challenge is that the bustling traffic and the morning commute is considered normal, all driven by a system that can't go on. Yet we're not talking to our local, provincial and national leaders about it, we're not making it a priority."

Through landscape messaging, the greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions can be identified using simple labeling, he adds. "We are calling things the way that they really are. Cigarette packs have images of lung cancer; SUVs could just as easily have their fuel consumption on the side of the car."

582px version of Landscape messaging
Example of landscape messaging. Photo courtesy of Stephen Sheppard.

"The challenge in dealing with carbon is that it is invisible in most of the ways we use it, hidden from our view until there's a pipeline explosion or an oil spill," Sheppard says. "And though we're frustrated with the proposed pipelines in B.C., our cars and coal plants are in effect carbon dioxide pipelines to the atmosphere, eventually leading back to the ocean by acidifying our seas."

To show students, planners, community activists and scientists how to effectively visualize their data, Sheppard recently published a book, Visualizing Climate Change: A Guide to Visual Communication of Climate Change and Developing Local Solutions. Check it out for more images to hook your attention.  [Tyee]

Read more: Environment

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