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