Mapping out the future to avoid the flood

Leonardo DiCaprio's film Before the Flood warns us to take climate change seriously and shows us how to avoid some very unpleasant outcomes

SALMON ARM, B.C. Nov. 11, 2016/ Troy Media/ – “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” – Steve Jobs

Did you watch [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]Before The Flood[/popup]? You should – and don’t rely on the pundits to tell you what to think about it, evaluate the message for yourself. Do yourself a favour and leave your position on climate change at the door for 90 minutes.

Leonardo DiCaprio uses storytelling to convey his message that climate change is something we should all take seriously. Using powerful visuals, the movie shares some of the less desirable cause/effect relationships between humans and Earth through the industrial age. It goes on to describe the “Business as Usual” scenario – if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we should expect some very unpleasant outcomes.

Most importantly, the story doesn’t end with a doomsday prediction. Instead, DiCaprio sheds light on an alternative scenario he calls “The Solutions” that suggest we can alter our course and reach a better future. He offers strategies like 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050, regional leadership, forest conservation and restoration, climate adaptation, business innovation, climate education, energy efficiency, urban resiliency, carbon pricing, ocean conservation, clean transportation systems, waste reduction, and implementing the Paris Agreement to write a better ending.

Strategizing within a scenario planning framework is a lot like storytelling. By weaving quantitative analysis with social objectives, scenarios link certainties and uncertainties about the future to the decisions made today. This allows us to describe a future worth creating – and then to reap the rewards of preparing for it and making it happen. The approach is very powerful when people share the diverse values desired and the relationships between them.

Describing all of the interactions in a watershed, let alone the planet, and accounting for their effects on the bottom line can be incredibly daunting. However, new tools can enable collaborative and iterative planning at this level of detail.

If you watched the movie, you saw the visualization ocean flow using NASA’s ([popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]ECCO2[/popup]) simulator. Watching these simulations, we can very quickly synthesize data and ponder cause and effect.

According to Paul King, a computational neuroscientist, vision is the most well developed sense in humans. As much as two-thirds of the cerebral cortex is involved in vision. The second most developed sense is the auditory or sound. No wonder we love movies!

Using visual simulators like this allows us to connect our cognitive reasoning with our most well developed senses. And that allows us to invoke another uniquely human capability – the ability to imagine our future. In my work as a systems ecologist, I use simulation tools like the [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]ALCES[/popup] model to help my clients take advantage of land-use simulation, geospatial data analysis and integration, and data visualization to understand key drivers of change in their landscape and explore virtual what-if scenarios.

In planning for our future, it’s no longer enough to look at one land use in isolation. We need to examine the cumulative effects of all the land uses together. And we need to understand what actions move us closer to our desired future – and those that don’t.

In the process of describing our future, we need to have the ability to consider a range of options and growth plans, consider all land uses as well as Mother Nature, and measure performance across the new benchmark – the triple bottom line of people, planet and prosperity. Doing this will allow us to converge many perspectives and create synergies so innovative solutions emerge.

We will be able to develop frameworks that build on historical lessons and use them as roadmaps that minimize our risk to forces like climate change and world economies.

If you would like to learn more about the ALCES simulators and how they could help your work, send me a message and I’ll be happy to share it with you.

Because these simulators have a story to tell that could very well change the world.

Barry Wilson is a systems ecologist and cumulative effects expert at CE Analytic Ltd.

Barry is a Troy Media [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”1″]contributor[/popup]. [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”600″ scrollbars=”1″] Why aren’t you?[/popup]

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