Check Out Alberta Tomorrow

As it appeared in the July, 2014 Newsletter.

by C. Lacombe

We all suppose that we know the best way forward for ourselves and our families. We may even think we can chart a path for our communities, our province, our country and possibly our planet. But we rarely get to put our ideas to the test. 

For Albertans, there is a place you can go and test your theories. It’s called Alberta Tomorrow and it is an educational tool created by a Foundation of the same name. 

My first plan for the future, I turned Bragg Creek into a city larger than Calgary. I’m not sure how I did that; there is a learning curve to the tool. However, I rather enjoyed playing Environmental Queen for a day.

Alberta Tomorrow Executive Director Jennifer Janzen would have seen it coming.

“What we often find is that we don’t understand what has to change on the landscape for us to reach our goals,” she told me.

The Alberta Tomorrow Foundation Board consists of people focused on sustainable land use and people in the field of education. The tool they created may be one of the most important school resources you can personally support through the foundation. Janzen does fantastic work with schools informing young minds of the challenges ahead for Alberta. Using the Alberta Tomorrow web-based tool, Janzen works with teachers and students as they explore the past and possible futures.

The simulator uses GIS technology and satellite imagery to show landscape changes during three time segments: 1884-1984; 1984-2010 and 2010- 2040. Students can watch how Alberta’s landscape changed in the first two time segments and then watch the potential future if we continue on today’s path.

A row of dials show changes in environmental factors such as water quality, natural landscapes, carbon emissions and a few more. The second row of dials tracks socio-economic factors such as population, industrial production and consumption.

“What we try to show is that when you change land use, it has effects on a number of environmental and socio-economic factors,” Janzen says. The tool fosters critical thinking, recognition of diverse priorities and necessity of planning. “It allows you to create a future that you want, set some goals and try to reach those goals.”

When users take over landuse planning, they use the dials to set regional goals for all the factors. Another tool allows users to draw polygons to define areas for change and select best practices on/off with a button.

Alberta Tomorrow doesn’t have a set end goal. What a person wants to happen in the future depends a great deal on their personal priorities. What this tool offers is the ability to see where those priorities may take us.

“We would all like to have high environmental indicators and continue to have high economic indicators. Unfortunately, with a limited landscape, we just can’t do that. Finding the balance is difficult.”

The site has separate sign up functions for teachers, students and the public. This allows Alberta Tomorrow to know that of the 3,000 registered users, 500 are teachers.

“Once teachers find out about it, they’re pretty excited and think it’s an amazing tool.”

Janzen works with Grades 4–11primarily.She sees students like the technology and get excited about planning the future and watching the results they generate.

Teachers also find the tool grabs the attention of all the students and will draw in some of the less engaged students.

Alberta Tomorrow wants to reach out to students engaged in land use learning projects. Janzen hopes to produce videos containing all the information that students learn from a class project and create something that Alberta Tomorrow can display on the website.

Janzen,a teacher herself, knows that this can be difficult for classes to accomplish with the resources and time at hand. She has three schools to work alongside next year to try to make videos.

She points out video is not the only way to communicate though as a Grade4 class wrote a letters to the South SaskatchewanLand Use Framework expressing what they felt were important considerations.

“Dave Bartesko came to the classroom and, quoting directly from their letters, talked about what they had written.”

“If we start discussing what changes or tradeoffs we might have to face in the future and understand what those tradeoffs mean and why we’re doing them, I think people will be much more willing to accept some of the tough decisions that have to be made in the future, Janzen says. She adds that her work provides her with reason to be optimistic for our future.

“From talking to hundreds of students over the past few weeks, some of the younger students really feel optimism about the future and that they can make a difference.”

Everyone can learn from this tool and maybe someone can help me return Bragg Creek to the lovely village it was before I got at it!

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