Thank you to our courageous mayors, governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors who are joining forces for the first time to declare that we will continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement.
This spring, our team grew to include a talented, passionate group of over 35 interdisciplinary graduate and undergraduate student volunteers from 9 universities including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Florida International University and University of Miami. The interns conducted research, storyboarding, prototyping, design, fundraising, stakeholder engagement and program planning for our VR experience.
We are proud and inspired to have brought together this amazing team, united through a common vision to create an empathetic and innovative approach to ignite social change on urgent issues for our generation.
Thank you to each and everyone of our interns:
Grace Chin - RWTH Aachen University, Computer Science
Grace is a Computer Science student with a passion for sustainability and climate justice. As a fellow at the Alliance for Climate Education, she worked with other youth to advocate for the divestment of the Massachusetts state pension fund from the fossil fuel industry. At Young People For, a progressive leadership development program, her "Blueprint for Social Justice" focused on a bill that would restructure the USDA's farm subsidization program. She has also led an Environmental Protection Agency award-winning project that helped to educate homeowners about energy efficiency and to reduce plastic waste in her community.
Maanya Condamoor - Yale School of Management, MBA, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Master of Environmental Management (MEM)
Maanya is a second-year MBA and Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale Schools of Management and Forestry & Environmental Studies. She is interested in helping businesses mitigate their environmental impact and using technology to reduce human environmental impact, and spent her summer as a Sustainability Intern at Facebook. Prior to Yale, Maanya worked in the corporate sustainability space, helping Kaiser Permanente reduce its environmental footprint and as a strategy and transformation consultant at IBM. She excited to bring together her passion for technology and environmental issues through the BITL.
Mario Parker - Florida International University (undergrad, senior), Advertising & Digital Marketing
Passionate about increasing awareness for climate change and sustainability. Communications lead for Virtual reality projects here in South Florida through the FIU Virtual lab. Excited to be a part of the BITL team and to accomplish successful call to actions with an innovative platform!
Natasha Doherty - Wharton (Undergrad, Junior), UPenn, studying Management, Social Impact and Responsibility, and Organizational Design
Natasha is a student at Penn, originally from London, UK. She sees business as a force for good and wants to use it to make life on Earth more sustainable for humans. She loves products and services that make life simpler, more eco-friendly, greener and more fulfilling for people living in urban areas. She is always open to meeting new people and loves to work on multidisciplinary teams that tackle difficult problems, like the BITL team!
Andrew Zucker - University of Miami, Ecosystem Science and Policy, Chemistry, Geology
Andrew is a senior at the University of Miami studying Ecosystem Science and Policy, Chemistry, and Geology. In regards to BITL, Andrew will be working on the Data Sub Team and is beyond excited to educate other on the imminent danger of climate change. Over the years Andrew has worked on projects focusing on the production of biodiesel and has been involved in many climate change events.
Cindy G. Castro - Florida International University, B.S. 2018
Cindy is a communications student focusing on digital media studies. She started working with the Mobile Virtual Reality Lab at FIU in 2016. That fall semester, she was the research lead and main scriptwriter for a VR video on the importance of mangroves for South Florida’s ecosystem. Cindy hopes that working with the BITL team will help make this world a better place, one VR experience at a time.
Kaylee Brent - MIT, BS in Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science
Kaylee is in her final year at MIT studying Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science with a focus in climate. She has been engaged with climate change issues both inside and outside the classroom throughout her career at MIT, and is very excited to work on the BITL team and address these problems in an innovative way.
Lisa Johns - University of Miami, PhD 2019
Lisa is pursuing her doctorate in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Miami. Her research combines environmental science, media studies, and her interdisciplinary revisual anthropology to examine the ways that NGOs use digital media to represent environmental problems and advocate for social change. She received her Master’s degree at New York University in Applied Quantitative Research, and is a firm believer in the awesome power of new technologies to transport audiences, improve scientific literacy, and drive transformative change.
Sean Charles - College of William and Mary BA English and Environmental Science and Policy (2008), Virginia Institute of Marine Science MS Marine Biology (2013), FIU PhD Biology
Sean is a PhD candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences at FIU, where he is focusing on the impacts of climate change on coastal wetland function and vulnerability. Coastal wetlands provide extremely valuable ecological services, but exist at the interface of land and sea and are thus among the most vulnerable ecosystems to climate change. As an English major turned scientist, Sean thinks that the best way to explain complex issues (like sea-level rise) and create change, is through combining powerful stories with quality data.
Alicia Noriega - MIT/ Urban Studies and Environmental Policy, MCP 2018
Alicia is in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) at MIT, where she is focusing on sustainable city design and engaging stakeholders around water and energy solutions for resource-scarce areas. Her focus at DUSP is to harness dynamic spatial analysis and gaming simulation to facilitate collaborative visualization of answers to complex problems, particularly those in the arid and rapidly growing areas in the developing world. Prior to DUSP, Alicia worked for 5 years in international development, mainly in the Middle East.
Trevor Thompson - Yale University, MEM/MBA Candidate
Trevor is pursuing a joint Master of Environmental Management (MEM)/MBA at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale School of Management. His main interests are climate change and its impacts on health, environmental health, climate justice and adaptation, environmental justice, environmental racism, and corporate and organizational sustainability in relation to the planetary boundaries framework. Before coming to Yale, Trevor worked as a professional futurist at the Institute for Alternative Futures, where he conducted scenario planning, forecasting, horizon scans, and strategy advising for clients, mainly in the areas of public health, health care, emerging technologies, and sustainability. He is excited to work with this group and impressed with the credentials of the team.
Aisha Jamali - George Mason University B.A. 2017
Aisha is an undergraduate at George Mason University, double majoring in global affairs and environmental sustainability studies with a concentration in policy. Her interests include; International environmental policy, ecotechnology, and sustainable development.
Currently, with her capstone project she is focusing on creating more stronger and sustainable institutions in her local community as one of the U.N Sustainable Development Goals. As part of the BITL Social Science team, she is excited to be a part of the BITL mission and multi campus collaborative to raise awareness of climate change through VR technology.
Cindy G. Castro – See above in Data Team. She is a member of two teams
Jingning (Alicia) Hong - Boston University, M.S. Candidate in Marketing Communication Research 2018
Alicia is a graduate student enrolled in Marketing Communication Research program at Boston University (BU). She has great passion for virtual reality technology and is a strong believer in its power to bolster human intelligence, create awareness, inspiration and social changes for our planet. Her work at BU explores the mind-and-body relationship within different media contexts in VR using biometric devices and psychological measurements. After graduation, she wants to work for a cutting-edge technology company that provides a meaningful service and redefines social rules to further human intelligence. She hopes that her work with the BITL team will help infuse social science in the simulation outcomes to effectively inform audience of the urgent message sent out via the virtual environment.
Roxanne Rahnama - MIT, S.M. Candidate in the Technology and Policy Program (2018)
Roxanne is a first-year S.M. student in the Technology and Policy Program at MIT and fellow at the MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Environmental Economics & Policy, with a minor in Global Poverty & Practice from the University of California, Berkeley in Fall 2015. Prior to MIT, she worked as a research assistant on multiple projects with Professor Edward Miguel at UC Berkeley and Professor Jonas Hjort at Columbia Business School, as well as an activist and student organizer for the Raise Hope for Congo Campaign of the Enough Project in Washington, DC. Roxanne is passionate about the intersections of behavioral and development economics, participatory design, natural resource management, climate change and conflict. Her current research at MIT Tata involves investigating financial, socio-economic, political, cultural, behavioral, and regulatory roadblocks that impede rural electrification and energy access, with a focus on India and east Africa.
Anna Hassan - George Mason University BA 2018
Anna is a student at GMU pursuing a degree in environmental and sustainability studies with a concentration in equity and environmental justice. She aspires to be an environmental lawyer and defend those that are most vulnerable to environmental injustices and climate change. Anna hopes that through BITL’s VR she can provide feasible solutions to better serve those who are being affected by climate change.
Ben Wilson - FIU, Ph.D. Candidate in Biology
Ben is a current Ph.D. Candidate at FIU finishing up his dissertation work looking at the effects of saltwater intrusion into coastal ecosystems, specifically the Everglades. His passion is finding ways to turn environmental research into material that can be effectively communicated to the appropriate groups with the goal of enacting effective policy. He served as a science communication fellow with the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science and has participated in many outreach events in order to better engage the community in the scientific process. He is looking forward to using his knowledge about the environment and the way it functions to create effective policies and calls-to-action relative to this project.
Johanna Falkenhagen - FIU/ Digital Studies and Mass Comm. 2017
Johanna is a student pursuing her Bachelors in Digital Media Studies and Mass Communications. She has been working with Dr. Gutsche from FIU throughout various projects involving VR and research. Being a part of the BITL team inspires her to keep on participating in these types of research projects which help to shed light on topics that are usually ignored by others who can’t quite comprehend the severity of certain problems in our planet. She is looking forward to gaining more and more experience by cooperatively working with people from Universities from all around the world.
Bridget Power - Harvard Divinity School, MDiv Candidate (2019)
Bridget is a documentary filmmaker interested in using digital storytelling for social and ecological justice. She spent a year living in Southwestern Alaska where she witnessed the impact of climate change on rural communities. Bridget feels fortunate to be part of this interdisciplinary team of storytellers working to address climate change.
Alexandra Cleaver - Florida International University BA
Alexandra is a journalism student at FIU. After graduation she hopes to work for a non-profit. She hopes that her work with the BITL team will help bring a greater awareness of climate change through the immersive world of virtual reality.
Catherine Mieses - Florida International University, B.S.
Catherine Mieses is a student at Florida International University majoring in journalism with a concentration in international relations. This semester, she is the narratives lead at the Mobile Virtual Reality Lab at FIU, which focuses on innovative storytelling. With the BITL team, she hopes we can expand the conversation and develop probable solutions regarding climate change.
Lisbette Castillo - Florida International University, BA
Lisbette Castillo is a communications journalism student at Florida International University with a minor in art history. She is currently a staff writer for FIU’s newspaper The Beacon and plans to go to grad school to study child psychology. Her main interests are traveling, writing, art and music. She is currently exploring and unraveling her interests in production and media and tuning into the virtual reality world.
Sara Rafsky - MIT Comparative Media Studies M.S. 2018
Sara Rafsky is a freelance journalist, M.S. candidate in Comparative Media Studies at MIT and Research Assistant at MIT’s Open Documentary Lab. She was previously Researcher on Central America at Amnesty International in Mexico City, the Americas Program Researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York, and has worked as a freelance journalist and with international foundations, human rights organizations and think tanks throughout Latin America. She has written widely about documentary film and served as a film screener for documentary film festivals. Sara is excited to work with BITL to further her MIT research on how documentary practices and new technologies can advance social justice issues.
Shelby Servais - Florida International University, Ph.D. Candidate
Shelby is a biology Ph.D. candidate at Florida International University. Shelby ’s research focuses on how microbial community structure and function will change in the Everglades as sea levels rise. Shelby is also a science communication fellow at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science and is interested in how science is translated to the public.
Tatiana Delgado - Florida International University, BA
Tatiana Delgado is a student at Florida International University who is studying journalism and business entrepreneurship. She loves Disney, traveling, animals and has recently become a vegetarian. Delgado was born in Ft. Benning, Georgia but has lived in Miami since 2007. After graduating with a BA she plans to move back to her home state and study architecture at Georgia Tech. The environment is extremely important to her and is proud to be a part of such a movement that brings knowledge and information to the public about the drastic effects of climate change.
Wan Chantavilasvong - MIT | Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning | International Development | MCP 2018
Wan is in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) at MIT, where she is seeking ways to develop economic, social, and environmental sustainability in rural areas in developing countries around the world. Prior to DUSP, Wan has her background in architecture and design, the skills of which used to help various social enterprises in Thailand improve their stories and reach a wider audience. With her backgrounds and aspirations, Wan is interested to find ways to bridge art into the dialogue of sustainable development.
Albert Elias - FIU Masters of Architecture 2016, FIU MAA 2017
Albert is a Research Assistant and Graduate of the school of Architecture at FIU. He is currently designing and developing Augmented/ Virtual Reality solutions for immersive Data Visualizations. His focus is in developing creative workflows that will encourage the communication of ideas, enhance our understandings of complex networks, and better inform policy makers. He is passionate about natural systems and is using his background in computational design to work with scientists to develop an application for Everglades restoration, Sea Level Rise, and their effects on our Urban Environment.
Annabelle Santos - Florida International University, B.S. in Communications, Digital Media Studies, 2018
Annabelle is a digital media studies student at FIU, learning about the world of digital media from the communications perspective. She hopes to integrate what she learns from digital media with her growing background in graphic design, and aspires to be a user experience and user interface and interaction designer (UX/UI). Most of her technical experience comes from participating in various MLH Hack-a-thons across Florida since 2016 as a graphic designer for various short-term hacks. Her involvement in the Mobile VR Lab at FIU is her first step in creating content in a new media, as she’s always looking to add more tools to her creative toolset in creating a portfolio for herself.
Armando Rubi III - University of Miami, Ph.D. Candidate in Communication
Armando focuses on game studies, digital environments and the impact that they are making on society. As an instructor, he has taught and guest lectured on a wide range of topics dealing with culture and technology. By focusing on the direction technology is taking, Armando is researching and pioneering in the fields of virtual and augmented reality, preparing for what the future holds. He is currently conducting research on Pokemon GO and has is working on articles focusing on the impact of social media and online relationships.
Charity Everett - Harvard Extension School, ALB Candidate 2019
Charity Everett has a background in musical VR Experience Creation. She previously was the head of VR Evangelism and Artist relations at Simmetri, and was selected as an Oculus LaunchPad Fellow for her work on creating musical Virtual Reality experiences. She has developed experiences for the Microsoft HoloLens, the HTC Vive, the Samsung Gear VR, and the Oculus Rift. Additionally, she served as a mentor at MIT Hacking Arts, a participant in the Reality Virtually Hackathon, and spoke on a panel on the future of VR and AR development at WECode Harvard.
Erick Pinos - MIT, B.S. in Management, 2017
Erick Pinos is an MIT undergraduate studying management with computer science. His foray into virtual reality began before he knew it was called that. He was working at the Media Lab on projection based augmented reality for urban planners when it clicked for him that the future of mixed reality and holograms he’s dreamed of as a child was right on the horizon. After that, he dove head first into the industry, booking last minute tickets to conferences, borrowing 360 degree cameras to experiment with VR films, and even buying a headset to develop new and interesting applications.
Leslie Ovalle - Florida International University BA 2017
Leslie is a journalism student at Florida International University. She is a freelance reporter for the Miami Herald and is passionate about documentary storytelling. Through her contribution with BITL she plans to illustrate the greater story of the Earth’s environment through South Florida’s story.
Russ Darrow - University of Miami, MFA (Motion Pictures) Candidate 2018
Russ is a second-year University of Miami MFA in Motion Pictures student. Russ spent his undergraduate career at Brown University where he studied Economics and Literary Arts. During his undergraduate studies, Russ spent a semester at Stockholm University where he studied the economic implications of sustainable ecosystems. This experience prompted him to seek work as an intern for Barry Gardiner MP, UK House of Commons Special Envoy for Climate change, in the UK Parliament during the summer of 2012. Russ focused his energies on a documentary about Social Enterprise after leaving Brown. Following these efforts, he spent two years at Google before decided to pursue both his love of storytelling and technology at the University of Miami. A 360-film class at UM sparked Russ’s passion for VR. He believes there are significant, wide-ranging applications for 360-film and VR. He looks forward to contributing to BITL’s effort to facilitate widespread environmental-consciousness with VR-technology.
Ben Wilson – See above in Solutions Team. He is a member of two teams
Russell Darrow – See above in VR Team. He is a member of two teams
Sean Charles – See above in Data Team. He is a member of two teams
Shelby Servais – See above in Stories Team. She is a member of two teams
We had a busy Earth Day. We had a VR demo at the Cambridge Science Fair on MIT Kresge lawn. The kids loved VR! We also attended and helped mentor at the VR EcoHack, where one of our team members, Alicia Hong, won for her team's AR hack. Finally, big thanks to the MIT Environmental Sustainability Initiative for sponsoring our new HTC Vive set.
Today, I leave you with these parting words: Ask not what your Earth can do for you, but what you can do for your Earth.
Monday, March 20, 2017
To the Sponsors and Co-Sponsors of the Republican Climate Resolution,
Representatives Carlos Curbelo, Elise Stefanik, Ryan Costello, Mark Amodei, Don Bacon, Barbara Comstock, John Faso, Brian Fitzpatrick, John Katko, Frank Lobiondo, Mia Love, Brian Mast, Pat Meehan, Tom Reed, David Reichert, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Mark Sanford,
We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you!
We are Before It’s Too Late, an initiative led by almost 40 students from nine universities, using interactive storytelling and simulations in virtual reality to awaken and unite people to take action on climate change. We are writing to thank you for being courageous and inspiring voices during this imminent crisis facing our generation.
Climate change is an urgent threat, yet many people are not motivated to act, and it has even become a partisan issue rather than the all-American issue that it is. In this unnecessarily politicized environment, your actions give us hope and faith in our leaders. We are deeply grateful to your team for joining your voices to highlight this as an important issue and to demand swift, bold action to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Thank you for being the Republican representatives who have broken the partisan divide to focus on an American issue.
Our team is currently working with the Southeast Florida Climate Compact to develop our first virtual reality experience for South Florida, which has been dubbed “America’s ground zero for climate change.” We are bringing attention to the calamities, solutions and interdependent systems around sea level rise in South Florida, including impacts to freshwater supply, jobs, housing, the Everglades and the ocean ecosystems. We are also building empathy and narratives for the diverse people and communities within Miami, from those who are most vulnerable to the bold solutions drivers among our community, business and municipal leaders. We are tremendously excited about our partnership with South Florida, not only because the effects are visual, current, and we believe our platform has the potential to drive real change, but because the stakeholder group in Southeast Florida is so strong. There is a real communication across four counties and regional organizations to drive bipartisan solutions.
In conclusion, we reached out to thank you for being the voices for solutions on an urgent issue within a challenging political environment. It fuels us with more energy to pursue our initiative, which we are proud to share with you. We think that the time is vital for Americans all around, from our systemic leaders such as yourselves, to our grassroots citizens such as us, to unite and engage in a challenging dialogue to drive necessary action and solutions. We hope that together we can transform the narrative on climate change by opening hearts and bringing people together behind a common cause #beforeitstoolate. To learn more, you can visit us at vrbeforeitstoolate.org and follow us on twitter @vr_bitl.
Thank you again.
The Before It’s Too Late Team
and Adriana Marquez (Hult), Albert Elias (FIU), Anastasia Forte (FIU), Anna Hassan (George Mason), Annabelle Santos (FIU), Armando Rubi (UMiami), Catherine Mieses (FIU), Cindy Castro (FIU), Erick Pinos (MIT), Jacob Lowenstein (MIT), Jen Ballen (MIT), Johanna Falkenhagen (FIU), Leslie Ovalle (FIU), Lisa N. Johns (UMiami), Lisbette Castillo (FIU), Maanya Condamoor (Yale), Mike Drachkovitch (MIT/Harvard), Natasha Doherty (UPenn), Roxanne Rahnama (MIT), Russell Darrow (UMiami), Sara Rafsky (MIT), Sean Charles (FIU), Shelby Servais (FIU), Tatiana Delgado (FIU), and Trevor Thompson (Yale)
Happy New Year!
Dear Friends and Supporters,
Our Before It's Too Late team has made great leaps and bounds in the past six months. We've created a coalition of leading academic institutions, partnered with top VR agencies and identified our pilot production location in Southeast Florida. In honor of the new year, here is a list of our top 10 accomplishments of 2016.
In 2016, we..
This year we will be focused on developing our pilot BITL experience in Southeast Florida. We have partnered with the counties in the Southeast Florida Regional Compact to spearhead development. Be on the lookout for more periodic updates!
We want to thank you for your continued support in our project. We hope that our combination of art, science, and technology will change the hearts of people.
The BITL Team
BITL's progress over the past three months has surpassed even our own expectations. We are so excited to collaborate with our partners in the new year, and to our supporters, we cannot thank you enough.
BITL'S Pilot Production: Welcome to Southeast Florida
Sea level rise poses a threat to Southeast Florida. The problem is current, urgent, and the effects interdependent. Among the concerns are the potential destruction of drinking water when freshwater and saltwater become one, the subversion of houses on the coast, affecting the real estate and insurance industries, and the dying coral reef. As such, we are tremendously excited to partner with Southeast Florida, not only because the effects are visual, current, and we believe our platform has the potential to drive real change, but because the stakeholder group in Southeast Florida is so strong.
"Five years ago, local leaders down here, Republicans and Democrats, formed the bipartisan Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact - an agreement to work together to fight climate change. And it's become a model not just for the country, but for the world."
- President Barack Obama
The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact was created by Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach Counties in January 2010 to foster collaboration on sea level rise mitigation and adaptation strategies. The Compact has partnered with the Institute for Sustainable Communities, the South Florida Water Management District, the Nature Conservancy (FL chapter), and the Florida Climate Institute. We are so excited to work with this strong stakeholder group.
A Packed, But Fulfilling Itinerary:
We spent two days in Southeast Florida, meeting with a plethora of inspiring groups. We met with, and established partnerships with, the following:
- Mayor Jim Cason and the City of Coral Gables Sustainability team
- City of Miami
- City of Miami Beach
- Miami-Dade County
- Broward County
- Southest FL Regional Climate Change Compact
- University of Miami (U-Miami)
- Florida International University (FIU)
- Nature Conservancy South Florida Chapter
- Miami Children's Museum
- Citizens' Climate Lobby
- Young Republicans
We talked about what success would look like (action, particularly at the state and national level), fundraising ideas, the data that is available, the manner in which to communicate to the public, and many, many narrative ideas for the virtual reality content itself.
We found in Southeast Florida a true excitement and need for BITL. This, in turn, drives us to work even harder. We have created a strong partnership to help launch our pilot story with many inspiring Southeast Florida leaders. We are so excited to learn from these leaders.
Next steps on the agenda include: fundraising, data experimentation in the MIT media lab (January), and creation of a multi-university student team across U-Miami and FIU to help us from FL launch our pilot (spring semester). The future is bright.
Dear Friends and Supporters,
Our Before It's Too Late team has been hard at work to create a virtual reality experience that will engender empathy and action for climate change. We are taking an interdisciplinary approach combining climate science, behavioral psychology and communications in order to create a truly impactful experience. In order to achieve this, we have been building an academic coalition of organizations at MIT, Stanford and Yale. We plan to begin outreach to directors, producers and funders by the end of 2016.
In the past two months, we have:
Before the end of 2016, we plan to:
We want to thank you for your continued support in our project. We look forward to our next meeting and we will continue to provide you with periodic updates on our progress.
- The BITL Team
“Art, like science, is restless. Art, like science, feeds on revolutions. To reach through the screen is no longer enough to state our empathetic desires. Today’s storyteller yearns for a sharper and more precise tool by which to power the machines of empathy. Virtual Reality is that tool. It is the apex, the hilt, the child of an artistic and technological revolution.
…Now, in our time, you can actually walk a mile in another man’s shoes.” – VRSE
The confluence of technology, art and content creation has allowed us to change the way we tell stories. This new way of storytelling is connecting humanity in a way that has never before been possible.
Psychologist Paul Ekman delineates three different types of empathy: Cognitive empathy, the ability to understand someone else’s point of view and know what they are thinking; emotional empathy, an emotional contagion that occurs from mirror neurons firing in the brain when one can sense another’s emotional state, and compassionate empathy, a deeper form of emotional empathy that moves one to act. Compassionate empathy, according to Ekman, is a skill that can take years to cultivate. All three are interconnected, and all three have the potential to encourage positive action and thus bridge inequality gaps.
AN EMPATHY DEFICIENCY
One of the largest impediments to alleviating the current climate crisis is inaction, caused by a lack of empathy and accountability. As an example, Hurricane Katrina’s destruction was exacerbated by the apathetic response from the parties charged with mitigating the emergency. Response times are lagged even longer when there is no mandate for action.
These fundamental deficiencies in empathy and accountability stunt action on behalf of government, corporations and individuals. The notion that a lack of innovation is the largest hurdle to the environmental crisis is flawed. Innovation is plentiful. Rather – and this is a generalization – those with resources, those best poised to alleviate the environmental crisis, cannot truly empathize with the manner in which environmental destruction is inflicting those without resources. There is a massive disparity between the effects of climate change on society in the developing world, versus those in the developed world. And, thus, those best poised to help are missing a sense of responsibility: either a.) “it is not my problem to fix” or b.) “the problem seems far away.”
But climate change is not far away. It is affecting millions of people every single day. In fact, climate change is arguably the largest problem humanity has ever faced.
VIRTUAL REALITY: THE ULTIMATE EMPATHY MACHINE
“Film is an incredible medium, but essentially, it’s the same now as it was then. It’s a group of rectangles that are played in a sequence. And we’ve done incredible things with those rectangles. But I started thinking about – is there a way that I can use modern and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways? I was trying to build the ultimate empathy machine. Let’s talk about Virtual Reality…it’s difficult to explain…because it’s a very experiential medium. It feels like real life, it feels like truth.”
– Chris Milk, award-winning filmmaker, director, photographer and Founder of VR Company, Within.
Chris Milk has done incredible work in the field of Virtual Reality and sums up the immense power in an inspiring Ted Talk: The Ultimate Empathy Machine.
I urge you to take ten minutes to watch:
The Ted Talk concludes with a clip of an ever-powerful VR film “Clouds Over Sidra”: a collaboration between Milk, film director Gabo Arora and the United Nations. Clouds over Sidra films a 12-year old girl who has been living in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan for the last year and a half.
“And when you’re sitting there in her room, watching her, you’re not watching it through a television screen, you’re not watching it through a window, you’re sitting there with her. When you look down, you’re sitting on the same ground that she’s sitting on. And because of that, you feel her humanity in a deeper way. You empathize with her in a deeper way.
And I think that we can change minds with this machine. And we’ve already started to try to change a few. So we took this film to the World Economic Forum in Davos in January. And we showed it to a group of people whose decisions affect the lives of people. And these are people who might not otherwise be sitting in a tent in a refugee camp in Jordan. But in January, one afternoon in Switzerland, they suddenly all found themselves there.”
Milk and the United Nations are working on producing more films with similar intent: to provide decision makers with better information such that action is no longer hindered. And so, through a pair of high-tech goggles and the production of valuable content, Chris Milk and the United Nations are literally changing the world.
Ovrture, a VR content studio, among other productions, has collaborated with MSNBC to film “Lockup 360″, allowing viewers to truly see behind the bars of America’s jails. The use of powerful content like Lockup 350 and Clouds over Sidra to influence decisions has the potential to change millions of lives. And there are other pockets of virtual reality initiatives that are doing their part to change the world. An MIT startup known as Rendever is delivering immersive virtual reality experiences to the elderly. Technology allows endless possibilities.
Somewhat paradoxically, this little piece of technology is connecting humans more than ever before.
Virtual Reality, once an isolated technology with its roots in sci-fi literature and its application solely for military applications and niche scientific experiences such as flight simulations, has finally caught on as a crucial medium through which to share ideas. In the 1990’s, funding for VR was sparse and R&D was limited as most technology companies could not yet foresee the commercialization and the power. Crowdfunding has effectively altered the dynamic between producers and consumers of content. The Oculus Rift raised $2.4 million from 10,000 contributors, spurring the revival of the entire VR industry. In 2014, Facebook purchased Oculus for $2 billion, solidifying the notion of VR as an emerging and highly powerful industry. The modern era of crowdfunding bypasses the hurdle of risk averse investors and enables startups to leap from prototype to production.
A NEW ADVENTURE: BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE
THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW.In collaboration with students and professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Yale’s Center for Communication, and Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, as well as virtual reality producers, The Sustainable Investor (while continuing to write) is embarking on a new adventure.
Before It’s Too Late (BITL) is a virtual reality exposition dedicated to climate change stories, simulations, and solutions, striving to change the climate change narrative by closing society’s empathetic distance from it in.
BITL’s first four storylines will show the story and offer solutions for: sea level rise, climate justice, water scarcity, and the U.S. energy transition. We are bringing our content, along with customized calls-to-action, on the road to policy makers and corporate leaders in order to drive systemic change. We are additionally measuring our impact from start to finish through a rigorous academic study that will measure intent to act and actual actions of our viewers.
Before It’s Too Late