Q&A With the Host of CBC’s Badass New Podcast About Climate Change

A new podcast series by CBC Vancouver paints a dramatic picture of what life in British Columbia will look like after 30 years of climate change.

More frequent heat waves, more extreme forest fires, a massive drop in the snow pack and brutal storms are just some of the consequences British Columbians will feel 33 years from now. In other words: say goodbye to skiing and pond hockey and say hello to flooding and air quality advisories.

The series, 2050: Degrees of Change, is divvied up into six episodes, which look at everything from the water cycle and agriculture to forests and what climate change means for our cities.

The series looks at a scenario in which British Columbia has warmed an average of 2.5 degrees and the world has cut its emissions by half.

“We wanted listeners to end off realizing this is a middle of the road scenario and things could be worse and they could be better depending on what we choose to do now,” said Johanna Wagstaffe, podcast host and CBC senior meteorologist.

DeSmog Canada asked Wagstaffe some questions about the making of the series.

What prompted you to create this podcast?

I’ve always been thinking about how to tell the story of climate change, especially as a meteorologist. I see every day how climate change has increased the number of severe weather events and big weather events that impact communities. In the past decade of forecasting I’ve really seen how climate change has impacted my job as a meteorologist and how that has impacted more people around the world.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how to tell the story of climate change and it’s not always the easiest story to pitch. But after doing our first podcast, Faultlines, I immediately knew that that was the format. We could take our time with it, we had this high production level, we could really let scientists be candid. We were really happy to tell what I think can be a hard story to tell sometimes.

Why did you choose to look at the year 2050?

We were trying to think of how to tell the story of British Columbia changing over the years and our original thought was 2100 because that’s when so many of the climate models project out to … but 2100 just seemed a little bit out of reach and 2050 is a year when some of us may actually still be alive. It’s a little bit more tangible when we think about our children. It’s only 33 years away.

Being able to see the changes within a lifetime is powerful.

In the first episode, you talk about how your answer to the question, ‘Was this severe weather event caused by climate change?’ has sort of changed over the years to the point where you want to say ‘yes.’ Can you speak to that evolution?

When I first started forecasting 10 years ago, we were talking about climate change …  but it was always one of the last questions when we were talking about a severe weather event. I think meteorologists were almost scared of that question because as scientists, you never want to take one data point and use it as indication of a trend. We all sort of had this stock answer in the weather centre.

After seeing how much climate change does actually impact every weather event — it shifts that bottom baseline — in the past couple of years, I’ve realized I have a responsibility to communicate that to people.

What do you find surprises people most about the impacts of climate change in British Columbia?

I think one of the biggest reactions is people don’t realize how much their life will change in just three decades. They just didn’t think about it. Everyone’s life will change dramatically.

What did you learn while making the series?

I went in fairly pessimistic about what we were going to learn. I imagined that both scientists and experts would say it was too late, we weren’t fast enough, that we’re headed for catastrophic changes. And we did hear a lot of that.

But I was surprised at how many people are working on it right now. Everyone we talked to had so many other experts to recommend — other movers and shakers who are already incorporating it into their work. People planting our food and our trees and building our dikes and building our condos. They’re all already thinking about it.

Are there ways you can see this series impacting CBC’s reporting going forward?

It’s sometimes a hard story to sell even in a newsroom. There are so many important climate change research papers coming out every day and it’s trying to figure out how to tell those important stories without getting people’s eyes to glaze over.

In a way this podcast has proved that people are hungry for that. I know there are plans to have more conversations in our newsroom about how to keep this story going.

Image: Johanna Wagstaffe. Photo: Courtesy of CBC

Emma Gilchrist is a reporter, editor, public speaker and spreadsheet-keeper. She started her journalism career more than 15 years ago…

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