Could virtual reality radically change the way that we think about climate change? VR developer and environmentalist Jeremy Bailenson believes so. In his TED Talk Jeremy Bailenson explains how VR can give us an emotional experience of what environmental degradation looks like. This in turn can in turn change how we feel about climate change.
Bailenson starts his talk about how for the past twenty years he has tested the effects of VR on humans. He shows an experiment with a woman who has a VR experience walking on a thin plank over a chasm. In her mind if she steps off she believes she will fall into the chasm.
Presence is where the mind thinks that the VR experience is real. Bailenson has observed dozens of people how undergo the plank & chasm VR experience. Some people refuse to go out onto the plank. People sometimes fall down and so there needs to be a spotter.
While he believes that big money is betting that games will be the killer application. In his lab they have been developing non-lethal VR experiences. His labs tests show that VR can cause profound change. One of these areas is conservation.
Everyday behaviours can be hard to change. He cites a New York Times article that soft toilet paper comes from non-recycled paper. But people prefer it. So how do you actually change behaviour? His lab ran an experiment and forced the participants.There were three groups. One was made to cut down a tree in virtual reality, a second group watched a video of tree can be cut down, and the last read a well written prose article of a tree being cut down. While all three groups said that the information they absorbed impacted their perception of tree cutting only VR actually affected their behavior. In fact the VR group reduced their paper wastage by 30%.
Next Bailenson goes onto to discuss the unique marine ecosystem of Ischia in the bay of Naples. This island is home to underwater volcanic vents. These vents are a canary in the coalmine for ocean acidification because the environmental degradation that is occurring on Ischia will also occur in all of our oceans in the future.
The problem is that most people have not heard of ocean acidification. Using VR you can be brought to Ischia to experience the problem for yourself.
For the last few years the Stanford Lab has been building a field trip to Ischia. People can see for themselves the devastations that has occurred. Bailenson points out that now the experience has been developed the next billion copies that are distributed will be free. All the tech companies want to put the VR technology into people’s living room. Bailenson wants to package the Ischia experience with one of these systems.