British Columbia·Blog

Reporter's Notebook: A new perspective — crafting a climate change podcast

The journey to discover what climate change will do to B.C. in the year 2050 offered new perspective to meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe.

CBC meteorologist shares the highlights and challenges of looking far into our future

"My snowshoe expedition through the Ancient Cedar Forest, near McBride, B.C. — a journey through space and time. (Polly Leger/CBC)

It took my breath away.

After driving an hour through intense snow squall bands, getting stuck in a parking lot snow bank and forgetting to bring gloves on a snowshoeing expedition — I found myself in the middle of a 3,000-year-old rainforest.

The sun was streaming through those cumulus snow clouds, lighting up the lichen covering the towering cedars of the Ancient Forest Trail near McBride, B.C. 

The sound of a rushing waterfall flowing beneath the ice completed the moment.

The giant, 1000-year-old cedars in the Ancient Cedar Forest near McBride, B.C., are part of a unique inland wet temperate rain forest that relies on snow to thrive. (Johanna Wagstaffe/CBC)

This is why I love British Columbia. It is constantly surprising me with its never-ending supply of natural beauty. Everyone has their own hidden gem. Their favourite trail, beach or bench that they bestow upon friends who come to visit. I know I do.

But B.C. is changing.

My first year as a meteorologist for the CBC was the year the Stanley Park windstorm leveled 10,000 trees. And I remember I was actually excited in the beginning. After all, I was getting to be part of forecasting a once-in a lifetime storm, my very first year on the job. 

But when I saw the damage first-hand — to a place that held so many of my childhood memories — I felt devastated.

Satellite imagery of the powerful Pacific Northwest windstorm that slammed into southern British Columbia on December 14, 2006, bringing hurricane-force wind gusts. (NRL's Marine Meteorology Division)

That storm was only the beginning of what would become a decade of reporting on weather events that have reshaped communities forever — events that are getting more extreme and are happening more frequently. I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to tell the story of climate change.

Staying true to the science

I wasn't alone on this journey.

Our podcast team, Shiral Tobin, Polly Leger, Lee Rosevere and myself, elected to tell our story from the perspective of a world in which climate change had already reshaped our lives —  a future B.C. in 2050 after just three decades of climate change. 

What will life in B.C. be like in three decades? In this series, we'll imagine the future through the eyes of 10-and-a-half-year-old Ariadne's changing world. (Johanna Wagstaffe/CBC)

Before we could even begin imagining the future, we had to make a decision about how we would get there. And as we'll explain in our podcast, there are many different roads we humans can choose that translate into different climate futures.

We chose to study a middle-of-the-road scenario for 2050.

A vision of the future true to science that's both optimistic but realistic — one some scientists don't think we will be ambitious enough to make even though others are still holding out hope we will by cutting our carbon emissions in half.

However you feel about the future of B.C. we share with you, know things could be worse ... but they could also be better.

Having settled on a scenario, my producer Polly and I set out to talk to as many people as possible who could help us shine a light on what our future might look like.

As a meteorologist, my expectation was that this was going to be a dark road of discovery. In fact, I felt pessimistic about the future we were going to paint, as we made lists of all the various aspects of daily life we wanted to explore that would be certainly be changed. 

A sliver of hope .... to hopes dashed

We started locally, by talking to the experts connected to Metro Vancouver.

And that's when my dark outlook started to improve.

In fact, it was one of our first interviews on the UBC campus with Stephen Shepherd, a professor at the Faculty of Forestry that got me excited about the potential to reshape the world we live in for the better.

He led us around campus, pointing to storm drains, bike lanes, gardens — painting a picture of a low-carbon, resilient community that could be easily retrofitted to any neighbourhood.

It was like a breath of fresh air to hear a vision of a future where people work together to forge a better lifestyle.

Professor Stephen Sheppard at UBC's Faculty of Forestry shows us ways that communities can cope with climate change. (Polly Leger/CBC)

But that was only the beginning of our journey.

We traveled from Prince George to Delta, from the shoreline to the Interior, with experts from all reaches of the province to guide us along the way.

And, as a picture of B.C. in 2050 emerged, the revelations in the research became grim once again.

Like listening to Prince George UNBC geology professor Brian Menounos talk about what it will mean for Canadian culture when a quarter of our glaciers blink out in 30 years. 

Profound changes to our identity as a province are sad to think about. 

Yes, there will be hotter days, higher waters, less snow, more storms. But it was hearing about the emotional toll that climate change will force many of us in British Columbia to face — the shift in seasons that will bring about changes to the things that I love so much about living here in B.C:

That smell when you first step out of YVR airport. Taking my dog for a stroll along the banks of Seymour River to watch the salmon run. The ancient snow forest that I have just fallen in love with. That special place I know in my 30s ... might not be the same when I'm in my 60s.

The future comes into focus

But it wasn't all melancholy.

Ultimately, I was blown away by just how many people are working on climate change. Everyone we spoke with had more people for us to talk to. More angles for us to explore.

A surprising number of movers and shakers in our province have already decided to make it a priority ... or at least make it something that keeps them up at night. People that build our cities, protect our shorelines, plant our trees, manage our water, study our fish, grow our food, know it's happening and know we have to act now.

Whether we are moving fast enough, however, is still an open question.

Producer Polly Leger making sure we capture background sound every step of the way, during our podcast interviews. (Johanna Wagstaffe/CBC)

Listen to 2050: Degrees of Change, a CBC Vancouver podcast


Johanna Wagstaffe

Senior Meteorologist

Johanna Wagstaffe is a senior meteorologist for CBC, covering weather and science stories, with a background in seismology and earth science. Her weekly segment, Science Smart, answers viewers' science-related questions.