Friday, February 17, 2012 – 1:30p.m.
Stephen Sheppard, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Scientists continue to be frustrated at the slow uptake of climate change science and the lack of action in policy and behavior change. Often blamed for this disconnect are the complexity/uncertainty of future projections, alongside psychological factors such as the perceived remoteness of impacts, the global nature of the problem, and discounting of future risks. A possible partial solution to these issues is to harness powerful new visual media and visualization (e.g. Virtual Globes as addressed in issue 439 of Nature, or immersive Decision Theatres). This paper explores the emerging issue of how to envision alternative futures with climate change. We assess the promise of making future scenarios more “real”, salient, and open to dialogue and policy debate. It describes emerging methods of structuring holistic future scenarios to support novel visualization tools within a new form of participatory process.
The research provides examples and imagery that illustrates benefits, risks, and ethical dilemmas in attempting to visualize climate change impacts as well as mitigation and adaptation measures. Qualitative and quantitative case study evaluations through questionnaires, observations, and interviews provided new research results on the effectiveness of future visualizations within participatory processes in co-producing knowledge, increasing awareness, and stimulating policy change. The findings suggest that especially experiential 3D landscape visualisations can have powerful impacts on awareness and understanding of local climate change impacts. Interactive visualization tools such as Virtual Globes facilitated dialogue across multiple disciplines and stakeholders. It seems crucial to embed these powerful tools in a mediated process to avoid bias or misinterpretation. Such a local climate change visioning process can then inform capacity building, mitigation and adaptation projects, operational changes, and even local policies as a longitudinal study demonstrated. These results argue for strengthening an emerging network of Decision Theatres around the world that could function as sustainability hubs and centres of learning about visualization and other participatory tools at the interface of climate change science and society. Organizations such as AAAS might consider a role in fostering a richer and more compelling dialogue about climate change futures by encouraging the systematic testing and use of visual media, and even arbitrating the ethical use of visualization by scientists and other users.