Bodies of water drying up in the African Sahara. Glaciers melting in the Arctic. Violent hurricanes wreaking havoc off the Atlantic coast. While these catastrophic international events have captured the public’s attention on climate change, UBC’s Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP) is using the Local Climate Change Visioning Project to accelerate the social-learning and policy-change process by demonstrating what climate change action looks like in our own backyards.

“When we started this research in the Lower Mainland, people said Vancouver is a benign place in terms of climate change because we don’t get extreme temperatures,” says Stephen Sheppard, Project Leader and UBC Vancouver Professor in Forestry and Applied Science. “But we wanted to demonstrate how climate change affects all of us.”

In order to make climate change choices more explicit to both the public and decision-makers, the Local Climate Change Visioning Project is employing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and 3D visualization to illustrate alternative carbon emissions scenarios and the measures that a particular community can take to mitigate and adapt to global climate change. One of the B.C. case studies that the research team has focused on is the North Shore, a community with a high per capita carbon footprint due to factors like the natural gas required to heat large homes and the high dependency on cars for basic transportation. Sheppard explains:

“North Shore residents’ high-carbon footprint is not all their fault because the community was planned to be largely dependent on fossil fuels that cause climate change. The issue is what needs to be done to transform such neighbourhoods without significantly reducing their quality of life. Our visualizations suggest how a variety of solutions that don’t dramatically alter those places – like putting in local commercial services so people can shop locally and creating more transit and bike lanes to reduce car dependency – can transform the community’s carbon footprint. As a result, it goes from a high -carbon neighbourhood that is increasingly vulnerable to forest fire and stream erosion to a more resilient and climate-friendly community.”

The future is climate-friendly

Through a participatory visioning process exploring alternative future scenarios, Sheppard believes decision-makers and communities will be better equipped for planning on long-term climate change. “Most people are concerned about climate change, that’s not the issue. We haven’t run into many skeptics,” says Sheppard. “But most people don’t know what might happen locally and aren’t sure what they can do collectively. With visualization, you’ve moved them on in their thinking and you’re showing them that they have choices.”

The Local Climate Change Visioning Project is funded by the GEOIDE Research Network (National Centre of Excellence), the B.C. Government and Metro Vancouver, with support from the Districts of North Vancouver and West Vancouver, The Corporation of Delta and many other partners.

Reprinted with permission from:  Frontier, volume 6, Spring/Summer 2009