Planet:tech - Issue #10: Tackling climate change: How VR can help?





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February 12 · Issue #10 · View online

Dedicated to curating tech products and startups solving the world's most pressing problems, including climate change, pollution, and sustainability.

Just a few weeks ago, a new climate change VR experience was premiered at the World Economic Forum Annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Be Earth #13 is a collaborative project by Facebook’s Oculus, the United Nations and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) that aims to teach users more about climate change. 
In one of the previous issues, I’ve covered how VR has been used to promote a better understanding of nature and environmental challenges. In this issue, I’ll cover some of the interesting projects in this space. 😎

But why virtual reality?
Image source: Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab
Image source: Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab
Could virtual reality make us care more about climate change? While the answer isn’t 100% clear, VR is certainly gaining steam as a tool for climate education. First of all, due to its immersive and engaging nature. Second, its ability to trick the human brain and blur the distinction between reality and its virtual representation. This ability is what sets VR apart from traditional means of consumer content, such as TV or PCs. In other words, VR has the unique ability to fully immerse the user in an environment where she feels as though climate change is happening in the present and creates the potential to resonate on a deeper emotional level.
The researchers are betting that the VR approach will help to evoke the most empathy. For example, a research group at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab determined 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. 
You hear about global warming and the effects of it, but to be able to see it in real time is an eye-opener.
That is why filmmakers and advocacy groups around the world have used VR as a tool for building empathy and driving action. Let’s take a look at some of the immersive projects that are trying to make a difference. 
This is Climate Change
This Is Climate Change  is a four-part virtual reality docuseries that takes you inside impacted parts of the world through an immersive, 360-degree view.  The first episode Melting Ice featuring Al Gore, an American politician and environmentalist was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017. The remaining three parts – Feast, Famine, and Fire explore one particular topic—deforestation, global warming, wildfires—and shows the people that suffer as a consequence of these changes.
Greenland Melting
Greenland Melting gives you a unique perspective on the impact of global warming, showing just how devastating the effects will be. It uses 360-degree video, CG models, 3D data visualizations and holograms of NASA researchers to show the icy Arctic scenery that is quickly disappearing. 
IMMERSE is a VR 3D 360º film co-developed by the Hydrous and Horizon Productions and launched on the Oculus Store for the Oculus Go headset on the World Oceans Day on June 8th, 2019.
The film aims to raise awareness of coral reefs and the threat they face due to rising ocean temperatures. The film takes you on a virtual dive on coral reefs, guided by marine biologist and Hydrous CEO Dr. Erika Woolsey. The immersive nature of VR helps to connect you to the underwater world and encourages to understand life below the surface. As Woolsey said, “How can we protect what we don’t see or think about?
Be Earth #13
Be Earth will take you on an immersive experience set in the Amazon rainforest in the aftermath of wildfires. The experience invites you to learn more about climate change and to “take action and personal responsibility to help end global warming”. 
The project was developed by XR Impact, funded by Sida and Facebook, and made in collaboration with the United Nations and climate experts, researchers, and artists. The title ‘Be Earth #13’ refers to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, the thirteenth of which deals with climate action.  
VR for good
There’s nothing virtual about the difference we can make. We have the potential to transform education, improve productivity, advance social movements, and expand our understanding of people and cultures around the world — all through the power of virtual reality.
VR for Good is an initiative started by Facebook Oculus, designed to support content creators and impact innovators who see virtual reality as a way to make the world a better place. 
As part of the Oculus VR for Good initiative, its Creators Lab partner with independent filmmakers from around the world to produce VR films covering a wide range of social issues through immersive storytelling.
You can explore some of their projects here. The topics range from taking the audience to Anne Frank House back in 1942 to reimagining a regular school class and creating a three-dimensional space shared by teachers and students.
To watch
How do we care about something we never see or experience, asks marine biologist and technologist Erika Woolsey. “We can’t bring everybody into the ocean, so we are trying to find scalable ways to bring ocean to everyone. Virtual reality and ocean’s environment is a match made in heaven.”
Watch this 3-minute lightning talk by Woolsey on why VR is so important for generating awareness and empathy to the problems of protection of coral reefs.
“Let’s think of how we can use design and new technologies to share and protect the places we love.”
How can we care about something we never see? | Explorers Festival 2018
Wrapping up...
If you want to stay up-to-date on all things VR, I recommend subscribing to Inside VR newsletter. 👌🏼
Till next issue,
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