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Why We Must Climb Above The Clouds

cumulative effects scenario planning systems vision Jan 05, 2023

I’m lucky to live in southern British Columbia, Canada, but it's not always sunshine and roses. As I write this blog/story it’s the first week of January and we’ve been under a thick blanket of cloud for many days now. And while the winter solstice back in December made us smile because the days are getting longer again, it also signals the return of atmospheric inversions creating seemingly relentless cloud cover. Day after day, often for weeks on end, we valley people will be blanketed with a low layer of grey cloud. According to Environment Canada weather data records as reported by Ron Seymour in the Kelowna Daily Courier, of 100 cities ranked by Environment Canada on a range of weather variables, Kelowna [ located in the central Okanagan valley ] was deemed the 95th most dismal in winter with just 154 hours in December, January, and February. Calgary, the brightest city, gets 366 hours of sun over the same three months (The Daily Courier, 2015). 

An inversion in the Columbia Valley near Revelstoke

Interesting choice of words, ‘most dismal’. The cumulative effect of a lack of sun and low ceiling for months on end is indeed a clouded, very limited vision of reality that can make people feel restricted, trapped and depressed. Ron’s article further points out that a typical October delivers 124 hours of sun in Kelowna. By December, that number has fallen to just 35 hours and things are only marginally brighter in January, with 39 hours of sunshine.

As I stood on the King Eddy paragliding launch New Year’s Day it occurred to me how influential our Field Of View (FOV) can be on our evaluation of our situation. According to Wikipedia, “the field of view is the extent of the observable world that is seen at any given moment.” When I started New Year's Day down in the valley it looked like a cloudy, dreary start to the year. But up on launch I had changed my FOV by climbing up above the inversion and I could see the sunny big picture. 

King Eddy Paragliding Launch near Coldstream, BC

This reminded me of the way I so often have seen project cumulative effects assessments undertaken within the limited confines of business as usual and the current regulatory environment that frames land use planning. I can see the dismal gridlock of environment vs. economy paradigm that is 'business as usual' clouding our vision and leaving us with few options other than to grin and bear it, to remain in the gloomy valley under a shroud of grey clouds.

If we’d rather have a bright and expansive Vision of opportunity then we need to expand our FOV. We need to expand our understanding of cumulative effects from thinking of it simply as the pain of economic development that can’t be mitigated (gloomy days in the valley) to the big systems dynamics picture. If we instead approached cumulative effects as the positive and negative outcomes resulting from the interaction of 3 big systems; the environment, people and the economies we create, over meaningful space and time, we could shift from what we must endure to what could be possible.

In my experience, toughing it out in front of ‘happy lights’ can help but doesn’t take away the feeling of confinement under that blanket of cloud. I've also found that escaping on a one week all-inclusive vacay is a temporary fix but I'll still have to return back to the doom and gloom. These mitigation measures aren’t a long-term solution.

The solution is to get elevated, to climb through the clouds and break into the sunshine, and expand our vision. Downhill skiers and backcountry hikers know the secret of getting above the clouds.

Top of Hot Sauce Run, Revelstoke Mountain Resort

The view is amazing, almost endless. And the valley cloud is transformed into an ocean filling in the valleys. Above the inversion your eyes are filled with vitamin D and the vast expanse of the upper landscape. A whole world is revealed that you can’t even imagine exists down in the greyvember valley.

A narrow FOV can trick us into a limited awareness and our perspective can become small, confined, and restricted. If we only see the cloud shrouded valley bottoms our perception of what is possible is highly limited and we resort to coping strategies of tolerating gloom and doom. We can be reduced to simply hoping for a brighter future but feeling no control.

But if we can climb up high, break through the clouds and see the big picture, we are filled with bright sunny optimism, clarity and immense possibility.

Skiing the "Critical Path" run at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

Then we have clarity and can see the path we want to follow and can enjoy the flow of moving with the system instead of against it. Seeing all the options gives us freedom to write a better story.

Here's an easy way for you to get started expanding your FOV on cumulative effects:

If you haven't yet, Subscribe here to receive new thinking, policy and creativity I find around cumulative effects delivered to your Inbox.  

One of my new intentions for 2023 is to regularly share with you new thinking, policy and creativity I find around cumulative effects. Here are a couple of examples I found this week.  You can click the title to open them in a new window:

From pollution to power: Canada's first Indigenous-owned bioenergy facility opens

The project is expected to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by more than one million tonnes over 25 years, and reduce smoke and other harmful matter to significantly improve air quality for residents

New York Becomes Second State to Require EJ-Focused Cumulative Impact Analysis

On New Year’s Eve, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed New York’s “Cumulative Impacts” bill into law, making New York the second state in the nation to require assessment of “cumulative impacts” affecting certain communities before an environmental permit is issued or renewed.

If you found a cool new perspective on cumulative effects please share it with me.


I am grateful for the privilege of living and operating CE Analytic’s head office within Secwepemcúl’ecw, the unceded Traditional Territory of the Secwépemc Nation

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Blog References:

The Daily Courier, 2015.  Inversions returning as skies foreshadow winter. last accessed January 4, 2023.

Wikipedia: Field Of View. last accessed January 4, 2023.

Photo Credits:  All photos by Barry J Wilson