PWIAS: Our Changing Planet

November 16, 2021

The Earth is in a period of rapid environmental change, and ecological responses to this change are beginning to outpace our ability to understand and predict them. PWIAS scholars address some of the major challenges we face with ongoing climate change, including environmental stressors, ecological adaptations, severe weather events and wildlife impacts, as well as new incentives for conservation efforts. Scholars and artists explore our changing world through a creative lens to inspire hope and resilience.

Who Benefits From Caribou Decline?

Who Benefits from Caribou Decline”, a report co-authored by 2018 Wall Scholar Jessica Dempsey (Geography) and released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, looks at the history of promised environmental oversight on caribou herds, and promised economic benefits from coal mining projects in northeastern BC. The authors examined policy actions from 1999-2019 and found that while jobs, tax revenues and production activity estimates were wildly overstated, the pledges to protect vulnerable wildlife species have not been met. (December 2020)

When it comes to coal mines and caribou in northeastern BC, it’s lose-lose.

Innovative Finance for Conservation

Peter Arcese (Forest and Conservation Sciences), Janis Sarra (Allard School of Law) and Amanda Rodewald (Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology) convened a PWIAS roundtable in 2018 to examine the challenges and opportunities of mobilizing private capital in conservation efforts. Their report released by the Ecological Society of America explores how privately financed conservation projects can generate both financial returns and positive conservation outcomes, and offers guidelines for developing standardized, ethical and effective conservation finance projects. Public and philanthropic sources currently supply most of the funds for protecting and conserving species and ecosystems. However, the private sector is now driving demand for market-based mechanisms that support conservation projects with positive environmental, social and financial returns. (November 2020)

Challenges and opportunities in mobilizing private capital for conservation (Photo: Jeremy Bezanger)

Quantifying the value of nature

2017 Wall Scholar William Cheung (Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries) hosted the Scenarios and Models expert group from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) at PWIAS for a workshop focused on developing scientific tools and frameworks needed to quantify the monetary value of nature to highlight the importance of biodiversity, and understand how these envisioned futures might be achieved. (March 2019)

We’re trying to broaden the conversation about what biodiversity actually means. It’s not just about the number of endangered dolphins, or the terrestrial area of rainforest, there is a need to recognize the different ways humans use and value nature.”

William Cheung
How do we recognize the quantifiable benefits that nature provides? (Photo: Ben Lei)

Teaching Youth to be Local Climate Champions

Without urgent action to mitigate and adapt to climate change, young people face a challenging and dangerous future. Most people have little knowledge of local climate change impacts and schools are not providing substantive education on climate change solutions. To address this knowledge gap, Stephen Sheppard (Forest Resources Management) and his team of collaborators developed Our Future Community, a place-based educational video game set near Kitsilano high school in Vancouver to show students how they can address climate change targets right in their own community. (January 2019)

Our Future Community video game, set in Kitsilano neighbourhood, Vancouver (2019)

Wildfires and Community Preparedness

Lori Daniels, Shannon Hagerman and Sarah Ravensbergen (Forest and Conservation Sciences) surveyed communities in BC to identify barriers to participation in wildfire prevention programs, and worked with community leaders to propose community-based solutions to increase participation in preventative wildfire management. Barriers are greatest for smaller communities and First Nations communities, where engagement may be enhanced if issues of sustained funding, capacity and support were adequately addressed. Solutions to enable community action should prioritize the most vulnerable communities and must account for cultural differences. (September 2018)

Community-based solutions can help vulnerable communities take action against wildfire risk (Photo: BC Wildfire Service)

Ocean Acidification

2015-16 Wall Scholar Chris Harley (Zoology) studies the effect of rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification on coastal marine systems in the Pacific Northwest. These changes have serious impacts on intertidal species, for example, acidic waters and higher temperatures threaten mussels but favour predatory sea stars, depleting mussel stocks. Ocean acidification also affects aquaculture. Aquaculture farmers cannot rear baby scallops since the scallops are unable to develop a hard shell. Rising sea temperatures can result in marine species moving to deeper waters or other shores, affecting communities which rely on local seafood fishing areas. (July 2016)

Acidic waters and higher temperatures from climate change threaten mussels but favour sea stars (Photo: Aaron Wilson)

Changes in the Arctic

Philippe Tortell (Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences), former PWIAS Director and Wall Scholar, is part of a multi-disciplinary team of scientists studying the trace elements, gases, salinity, acidity and other physical indicators in Arctic waters. The increasing rate of ice melt is now making it possible for research vessels to penetrate the sea ice in large parts of the Arctic, allowing scientists to measure the impact of environmental changes on the productivity of the ocean, and on the concentration of greenhouse gases. (July 2016)

Continuing ice melt is allowing scientists to study the physical state of the changing Arctic

Climate Change through Art and Music

UBC Symphony Orchestra Director and 2018 Wall Scholar Jonathan Girard (Music), conducted the orchestra in the world premier of Deborah Carruthers’ score slippages, “written in the language of glaciers, informed by their physics, chemistry, ecologies and philosophy.” As the inaugural PWIAS Artist in Residence, Carruthers worked with UBC climate researchers and the orchestra to develop a graphical musical score for an interdisciplinary performance about glaciers and climate change. (October 2018)

slippages – page 3 (Score by Deborah Carruthers, 2018)