Seeing is believing: New ways to envision our future with climate change

Professor Sheppard is an organizer and a speaker for the AAAS symposium Beyond Climate Models: Rethinking How to Envision the Future with Climate Change, Friday, Feb. 17, 1:30-4:30 p.m.

Despite all the scientific evidence on worsening climate change, no progressive commitments emerged from the Durban talks, most countries are not living up to their committments to cut carbon emissions, and global warming is not a top-of-mind issue for most people.  It is clear that traditional scientific communication methods underpinned by global climate change models are not enough to stimulate the action needed to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.

So, what else might work? This is the challenge explored by a UBC-led interdisciplinary panel at the 2012 AAAS conference in Vancouver in February. Four leading international experts will offer provocative viewpoints on the role of climate models, future scenarios, novel visualization tools, and new public engagement methods in shaping how we think about the future with climate change.

Psychologists and social scientists suggest that communication to foster social change can be improved by using trusted sources to engage people with vivid narratives, which connect with their own experience and focus on solutions. The panel will debate these ideas, addressing for example:

  • going local: is climate change starting to resonate at the community scale where people care the most, and is available scientific information meaningful at this scale?
  • powerful new visual media: can new tools cut through the confusion and misinformation, but still be defensible to scientists?
  • engaging the public: how can we co-develop compelling and credible stories that promote serious dialogue on societal choices?

The symposium will present the latest findings from pioneering research and practice in these areas, and stimulate a crucial scientific debate on the appropriate role of visualization tools and visioning processes.

Experts from different disciplines will share the latest findings on tools for envisioning the future

Mike Hulme (University of East Anglia, UK), author of the influential book Why We Disagree About Climate Change asks if we have deferred too much to climate modeling in projecting the future, and will argue for new ways of putting human stories and cultural imaginings alongside models. Richard Moss (Joint Global Change Research Institute, University of Maryland) was involved in developing the new generation of future scenarios to be used in the IPCC’s forthcoming 5th Assessment Report. He will discuss the potential for more flexible and participatory scenarios that assist local experts and decision-makers to downscale and interpret climate change data in order to future-proof their communities.

Rebecca Moore (Engineering Manager at Google Earth Outreach) helps NGOs use web-based Interactive Virtual Globe technology to inform and engage the public. She will describe Google’s work on the COP 15 and 16 Climate Change Summits, such as virtual climate change tours introduced by Al Gore, Steve Schneider, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. These visual media promise to make future scenarios more “real” and salient, stimulating interest and dialogue among citizens and perhaps emboldening elected officials.

The goal is to assist learning and influence attitudes

But do such novel techniques actually work? UBC researchers will present cutting-edge research to develop a climate change visioning process to engage local communities, and evaluate its effectiveness. The Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP) in the Faculties of Forestry and Applied Science uses GIS mapping and science-based 3D visualization to bring future scenarios alive through pictures, numbers and stories. Working in co-operation with climate scientists, local practitioners, and community stakeholders, researchers have found that visualizations showing local impacts and mitigation/adaptation options can assist learning, influence attitudes, and increase stated support for policy change. CALP has produced a Visioning Guidance Manual (Pond et al., 2010: available at www.calp.forestry.ubc.ca/publications) to help others test out these methods.

The symposium will be moderated by UBC Professor and IPCC Nobel Prize-winner John Robinson, and is co-organized by postdoctoral fellow Olaf Schroth, ASU Assistant Professor Arnim Wiek, and UBC’s coordinator for the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, Sara Muir Owen. The symposium will feature interactive visualization demos and breakout sessions on the benefits, risks and ethical dilemmas of using visualization to go beyond the physical sciences in rethinking the future. Further immersive demonstrations for conference attendees are planned at the new BC Hydro Theatre in UBC’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability.

Dr. Sheppard’s new book on Visualizing Climate Change for communities is due out in February, from Earthscan: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9781844078202/

 

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UBC Reports | Vol. 58 | No. 1 | Jan. 3, 2012

Professor Sheppard is an organizer and a speaker for the AAAS symposium Beyond Climate Models: Rethinking How to Envision the Future with Climate Change, Friday, Feb. 17, 1:30-4:30 p.m. Martin Dee Photograph

Professor Sheppard is an organizer and a speaker for the AAAS symposium Beyond Climate Models: Rethinking How to Envision the Future with Climate Change, Friday, Feb. 17, 1:30-4:30 p.m. Martin Dee Photograph

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