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Help us find long-term solutions to climate change

When it comes to solving climate change, Dr. John Janmaat knows one thing for sure: "There are no magic bullet solutions."

For Dr. Janmaat, the Leading Edge Endowment Fund (LEEF) BC Regional Innovation Chair in Water Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, as well as an associate professor of economics at the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences at UBC Okanagan, dealing with climate change requires collaboration, many points of view and starting local. His work is combining science—local issues of sustainability, often related to climate change—and human behaviour to find solutions that, not only address the environmental issues but which have community support.

“People are understandably concerned about the effects of climate change,” he says. “We know that there isn’t a single solution, but we can find varied ways to mitigate each issue in a local context. Our work shows that bringing together the science and the community is the best step forward in figuring out solutions.”

One of Janmaat’s recent projects, in partnership with colleagues in the Faculty of Science, was the rehabilitation of a stream near Armstrong, BC. The stream had been running through pasture lands used for grazing and growing hay. Over the years, the landowners had diverted the stream and removed natural streamside vegetation to simplify their farming activities. This has allowed sun-loving invasive plants to choke up the stream channel, increasing flooding from summer rainstorms. Diverting the stream also changed groundwater movement, leading to areas of water-saturated land where equipment cannot operate, and where persistent moisture impacts on cattle hoof health.

With input from federal and provincial government staff, the landowners along the stream came to recognize their interdependence and sought to work together to address the issues along the stream. Cooperative approaches to local environmental problems are often required but do not occur often enough. John and his students wanted to understand what led these landowners to come together, how the restoration project affected their relationship with each other and with the stream, and what insights could be gained to enable cooperation in similar situations elsewhere.

What they discovered was a community of landowners more than willing to work with local authorities on mitigating environmental issues—but needing timely guidance and assistance. The issues with the stream are not beholden to bureaucratic schedules, and therefore, the landowners continued to contend with these issues as funding and permitting processes unfolded. The slow turnaround of bureaucratic action was frustrating for the landowners, leading to the very real possibility that they would abandon the process and implement their own solutions—solutions which may be far from ideal for the larger community and the environment. Dr. Janmaat’s team worked closely with the community, local government, and local NGOs to identify where the process broke down and suggesting ways to streamline it. Such streamlining will enable all parties to work together in the future in a timely fashion. This locally collaborative approach also helped direct government funding more effectively.

“Regional districts are exploring ways to collect funds to help mitigate environmental issues locally,” explains John Janmaat. “This work shows ways to prioritize spending the money by listening to locals and reflecting the issues people are concerned about.”

Dr. Janmaat and his team are now part of a consortium that looks at agricultural adaptation to climate change across BC. This brand new initiative brings together faculty from UBC Okanagan, UBC Vancouver, UNBC, TRU and Kwantlen College, who will supply expertise across multiple disciplines to analyze and adapt to issues related to climate change. This partnership will allow for the correlation and analysis of data from various projects, to not just apply techniques from one community to another, but also to demonstrate the scalability and cost-benefit of deploying these techniques on a broader scale.

“The funding from donors to the LEEF Chair does a number of things that make my work possible,” says Dr. Janmaat. It allows him to focus more of his time on research and to leverage more significant funding from other organizations. Most importantly, in between projects, it provides the bridge funding to maintain his work and keep his trained team of graduate students together. It is precisely due to the LEEF BC Regional Innovation Chair in Water Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability that a long-term problem such as climate change has the long-term support needed to discover solutions—many solutions. Ultimately, John says, “There are no magic bullet solutions, but working together, bringing together many viewpoints, can help figure out a way forward.”