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/ 07.11.2019

Could Virtual Reality Make Us Care More About Climate Change?

A new equation showing that the world is in a “deep state of climate emergency” was unveiled on September 24 by Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, one of the world’s leading authorities on climate change. Talking to Horizon he said, “we don’t want to see the truth” and “I would like people to panic and take action according to the state of emergency we are in.”

Like Professor Han Joachim Schellnhuber, Extinction Rebellion believes the time for denial is over, it’s time to act. The movement also believes the world’s leaders are failing in their duty to act on our behalf. Therefore, Extinction Rebellion promotes mass above the ground, nonviolent, civil disobedience to shake the current political system and raise awareness.

On the other side of the coin, some are less concerned and don’t view climate change as such a serious threat. Across the countries surveyed by Pew Research, a median of 20% consider global warming only a minor threat. 

Climate March Held In Montreal, Canada
GETTY IMAGES

There may be divided opinion on the extent of the threat, but no one can argue with the fact that we need to do something. Many different approaches are being used. Virtual reality is just one of these.

Why Virtual Reality?

The immersive and engaging nature of virtual reality has been used to help tackle the impact of climate change and motivate and inspire us to solve the climate crisis. Filmmakers and advocacy groups have turned to the medium as a tool for building empathy and driving action. 

Research has shown that using virtual reality to engage and change behaviour works. Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab found that if a person has a VR experience of cutting down a tree—during which they feel the vibration and sound of the chainsaw and the crash of the tree—that person is more likely to conserve paper.

I’ve taken a look at some of the immersive projects that are trying to make a difference. 

Tree

This project transforms you into a rainforest tree, with arms as big as branches and your body as the trunk. You experience the tree’s growth from a seedling into its fullest form and learn firsthand the challenges that it faces throughout its lifecycle.  Since humans started cutting down forests, a staggering 46% of the world’s trees have been felled, and around 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed over the last 50 years. Trees are vital for human existence, absorbing the carbon dioxide we exhale and the greenhouse gases we emit. These huge numbers can often be overwhelming and it is hard to see just how devastating the effects of deforestation are—which is where Tree comes in. It aims to educate people in a hauntingly entertaining way, showing equally the beauty of nature and its fragility. 

Tree
NEW REALITY CO.

This is Climate Change

In this virtual reality docu-series from Participant Media and Condition One, you go on four journeys across the globe to be fully immersed in the direct impact of climate change: Famine, Feast, Melting Ice and Fire. Each short film takes a look at a key topic—deforestation, global warming, wildfires and famine—and shows you the people that suffer as a consequence of these changes. Al Gore, American politician and environmentalist, provides the voiceover for the “Melting Ice” film as you observe the melting glaciers and the impact this has on the environment all over the globe.  It is a raw and harrowing set of films that educate and shock in equal measure.

THIS IS CLIMATE CHANGE POSTER
CONDITION ONE

We Live in an Ocean of Air

We Live in an Ocean of Air uses awe and wonder to instil curiosity in the user about other living things on the planet. The project is about how something as simple as breathing, connects humans and plants to each other to create a whole ecosystem of life.

Throughout the 20-minute experience, the cutting edge technology sheds light on the connection between the human and natural world. Breath and heart sensors track your breathing and encourage you to reflect on our impact on the organisms we share our planet with.

While this experience isn’t as hard-hitting and haunting as the others in this list, it’s a beautiful way to visualize our relationship with the world around us. In understanding this connection, the hope is that those who have been through the experience are more aware of our planet and its individual parts, and more willing to protect it.

Ocean of Air poster
MARSHMALLOW LASER FEAST

Greenland Melting

This experience was inspired by the calls for the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was met with strong emotions from U.S. citizens. Created in collaboration with FRONTLINE and NOVA, Greenland Melting from Emblematic provides a “rare, up-close view of icy Arctic scenery” that is quickly disappearing. Utilizing 360-degree video, CG models, 3D data visualizations and holograms of NASA researchers, Greenland Melting gives you a unique perspective on the impact of global warming, showing just how devastating the effects will be. 

ice cap melting
EMBLEMATIC

IMMERSE

Developed by The Hydrous, IMMERSE is a 360-degree film aimed to generate awareness and scientific understanding of coral reefs and the threat they face due to rising ocean temperatures. In the experience, you become a diver and follow Dr Erika Woolsey, marine biologist and CEO of Hydrous, as you swim next to sharks, sea turtles and manta rays. The Hydrous believes that VR is the best medium for education about this topic as it allows people to visit places they may never go to in their normal lives. The immersive nature of VR connects the user to the underwater world and encourages them to understand life below the surface. As Woolsey puts it—“How can we protect what we don’t see or think about?”

Immerse cover picture of a diver under a manta ray
THE HYDROUS

The Reality of Global Climate Change: A Mixed-Reality Hackathon 

This annual event challenges the brightest minds from Yale University to create applications that gamify real-world data with mixed reality to better understand themes of global climate change by looking at them in a new way. At last year’s event, students created virtual worlds where carbon emissions formed towering columns, life-size graphs reacted to policy decisions, and a game-world where players plugged holes with carbon dioxide pouring through them.

This hackathon is intended to challenge students to not only stretch their technological skills, but also think about how the issue of climate change can be made accessible through the medium of XR.

The Reality of Global Climate Change: A Mixed-Reality Hackathon
YALE UNIVERSITY
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