Measuring The Tipping Point

Host of CBC Vancouver’s 2050: Degrees of Change Sheds Light on Climate Change
Ashley Hyshka

CBC Vancouver Meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe warns that over the next several decades, rising ocean levels could lead to the erosion of our coastline, including the disappearance of Jericho Beach. (Ashley Hyska)

According to current climate research, temperatures across British Columbia will increase by 2.5 degrees by the year 2050.

Johanna Wagstaffe, a meteorologist with CBC Vancouver, is determined to shift the public’s attention towards this issue.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about how to tell that story of climate change,” she says.

Wagstaffe hosts the podcast 2050: Degrees of Change, which explores what B.C. will look like once climate change has set in 30 years from now.

By “using a future dramatization and telling the story through the eyes of a little girl,” Wagstaffe hopes to humanize the story of climate change and engage public attention. As she explains, the time her podcast examines is not a distant future, but a time when many of us and our relatives will still be alive.

Many climate models focus on what the effects of global warming will be in the year 2100, but Wagstaffe believes that “2100 just seemed a little too far to make climate change tangible for people.” Still, she says that there is little that we can do to alter what 2050’s climate will look like, due to the emissions that have already been pumped into the atmosphere.

An increase of 2.5 degrees to the global temperature may seem miniscule, but it will cause hotter and drier summers, doubling the number of days that are warmer than 25 degrees each year. The ramifications of this are greater wildfire risks, prolonged drought, and less water in reservoirs. By contrast, the winters would be warmer, but also wetter. This would increase the risk of flooding and mudslides.

July 21, 2015 – Vancouver, BC – CBC Vancouver news anchors. Photo by Jimmy Jeong / JimmyShoots.com

“Generally, a warmer environment can hold more moisture…so the extra warmth in the atmosphere means that our storms can produce more intense downpours,” Wagstaffe says.

Our oceans would also be greatly affected by this temperature increase. Models show that ocean levels could rise by 30-35 centimeters by 2050, and could continue to rise by several meters in 2100.

“A foot might not sound like much in three decades, but if you think about every time you see a flooding or wet plains event…or sandbagging efforts down in White Rock, add on an extra foot to the impacts we’re seeing right now,” says Wagstaffe.

This has meteorologists concerned about eroding coastlines and beaches as well as the money that would be spent trying to protect the infrastructure in low-lying areas such as Richmond, the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, and Vancouver International Airport.

“One big storm in 2050 could put all of that underwater,” says Wagstaffe.

She stresses that, while cities would spend money to protect critical infrastructure, there are places in B.C. they would not be able to save due to protection being too expensive. Wreck Beach and Jericho Beach could be lost to the waves.

However, Wagstaffe says that changes that humans make right now can potentially alter what 2100 will look like—not just for the sake of the planet, but the world that our children and grandchildren will live in.

There’s no specific target audience for the podcast. Wagstaffe’s goal is to let the scientific data speak for itself, in hopes that it will reach as many people as possible.

“Climate change is a topic that either makes people really angry or makes their eyes glaze over,” she says.

Because climate change is a complex, multifaceted issue, how to get the public—especially deniers—to focus on climate change is something Wagstaffe often thinks about. She has found that “the answer to that question is really just talking to those people.”

Wagstaffe thinks that most people believe in climate change, but are unsure of how to personally make an impact.

“I think the number one thing an individual can do is think about everything they do in a day, or in a year, that would contribute to their carbon footprint,” says Wagstaffe. “Be more conscious about where energy comes from, what kind of waste you’re putting back out into the world.”

Wagstaffe says that people should also be wary of who they vote for. Because governments create legislation, they’re ultimately responsible for whether climate change is addressed on a large scale.

Vancouver currently aims to produce 100 per cent of its energy from renewable resources by 2050, and plans to hold an accountability meeting to determine where it is in terms of achieving that goal at some point in the future. City planners already have a climate change-based action plan which they want to implement in sectors like energy, infrastructure, technology, and the economy.

Wagstaffe says she hopes people listening to the podcast are “able to just take a moment and think about how climate change is actually impacting their life right now.”

For Kent Mullinix, KPU Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems, the key to altering climate change is humanity altering its food habits.

“Agriculture and our food system contributes more anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector…up to 50 per cent,” he says.

Mullinix led a KPU-based study over four years which indicated that, based on our current diet and projected population of 4.6 million, southwestern British Columbia has the potential to be 56 per cent food self-reliant by 2050. While the study yielded positive results, Mullinix himself is doubtful.

“We will never be food self-reliant here,” he says. His doubt is not rooted in scientific fact, but pessimism over the failures of a deeply flawed agricultural and economic system.

“There’s not one square inch of agriculture land in southwest B.C. that is valued for agriculture. It’s valued for speculation and development,” he says.

Aside from using precious agricultural lands for commercial purposes, Mullinix says that corporate greed is robbing us of the opportunity for food self-reliance, as the food grown in this part of the province is typically not for local consumption, but for export. Furthermore, the only way for local farms to survive in a commodity market is by consolidating their farms. In turn, the commodity market is designed to find the most low-cost producers.

“It’s a race to the bottom,” he says. “We have put all of our eggs in the transnational food system commodity agriculture basket.”

Mullinix believes that, if B.C. were to shift from a transnational-focused agriculture and food system to a regional system, it would improve economic performance between 90 and 100 per cent, increasing employment, income, GDP, tax revenue, and total economic activity.

If we want to make a change in greenhouse gas emissions and our ecological footprint, we need to change our diets. The most effective change we can make, Mullinix says, is to reduce or eliminate our consumption of red meat.

Mullinix and his team have been asked to brief the Ministry of Agriculture, and have lectured other leaders and organizations on their studies, which he hopes will influence changes in political policy.

Humanity has the potential to be more environmentally friendly, but because we are creatures of habit, this will be a difficult goal to achieve.

However, both Wagstaffe and Mullinix want you to know that the clock is ticking.

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