Perhaps the biggest roadblock to affirmative action against climate change is the perception that it occurs in distant areas, affecting other people. This is not helped by the majority of outreach and education surrounding climate issues, which tend to be fact heavy, focus on the negative, and, as such, fail to be particularly engaging. Yet outreach and education are exactly what we need to inspire change, so the question becomes: how do we create engaging content that inspires tangible action? The answer may lie at the intersection between art, science, and technology.
Enter virtual reality: computer generated, 3-dimensional environments that stimulate our senses (all of them!) and allow us to explore and interact within. VR can achieve an effect known as sense of presence, essentially where the user truly feels that they are present in the virtual environment. For someone who thinks a lot about cognitive dissonance, (briefly: the discomfort we feel when our beliefs and behaviours do not align, made difficult to overcome when consequences occur in distant places) this truly sounds like an answer. Research has shown that virtual reality can prompt strong emotional responses in users that lead to shifts in attitude and behaviours. By providing interactive and immersive experiences that bring the effects of climate change to us—wherever we are—researchers and entrepreneurs are hoping to inspire action.
The Reality of Climate Change is an immersive virtual reality project created by researchers from the University of Leeds, aimed at fostering connections with, and teaching empathy for, climate change issues in schools. Sessions allow students to explore the effects of climate change first-hand, from their desks. Smartphone technology that allows 360° picture taking also means that students can become researchers, sharing their environments with other users around the world.
Nonprofit Before It’s Too Late works with high school students in Miami, Florida and experimental virtual reality technology, creating 360-degree films focusing on local climate issues. The goal is to bring exposure to ideas and solutions, as well as the people working on these issues that those viewing the films might not have known about before. Founder Linda Cheung says, “I think the most powerful thing here is that they are seeing by practice how as kids and individuals you can create impact”.
The Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) helps people understand long-term effects of climate change through its Ocean Acidification Experience. The slow-motion and largely out of sight consequences of ocean acidification don’t generally elicit much response from us up here on the surface—unless we can become the coral. That is exactly what Jeremy Bailenson, director of the VHIL, and his team set out to accomplish. Bailenson hopes that as VR systems become more affordable Stanford’s software will be a model for virtual “field trips” because, as he says: “You’re not watching something, you’re doing it. You learn by doing”.
Between the internet and the prevalence of cell phones today, global issues can travel far and fast but are easily brushed off as just another headline in our newsfeed. By engaging our senses, virtual reality provides a platform for the gravity of climate change to land.
How do you feel about the increasing prevalence of technology in education, especially with regards to outdoor education?
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