Climate change is a issue that has been around for a while now but it has only slowly began to creep in to mainstream consciousness. It is still needed to create more awareness and action to make effective changes. That is why I think getting people to visualise how their drive to work, running tap at home, or not recycling to say the least, are contributing to a problem that will probably be irreversible in a few decades.
I think the issue behind so little action taken to fight these problems is because people can’t visualise the effects they are having on the environment because its a slow process we cannot see in real time and many times it seems like a distant problem that we think won’t directly affect us personally or will only have an effect future generations. Very few people have first hand experience exploring the amazon or diving among coral and fish that will eventually disappear if we don’t make a change.
This is were virtual reality comes in; by using a simulated environment you can create an immersive experience to bring people inside an ecosystem that is degrading and show them first hand how their behaviour is having a negative impact.
In the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford, they have been trying to recreate these experiences using virtual reality technology. Instead of just watching a nature show the person is transported inside this natural environment allowing VR to feed computer genereted content to the sensory organs.
‘…we have shown how putting people in virtual reality can get them to save more for retirement, exercise more, show more empathy, and yes, act in a way that is more environmentally sound.’
The Virtual Human Interaction Lab have done studies to show the effects that virtual reality has on people. One of their studies where they had the subjects cut down a virtual tree caused the participants to use 20 percent less paper in the real world on that day compared to those who had only read about it. After surveying the subjects a week later their attitudes towards the environment remained.
Another experiment had the subjects forced to eat virtual coal to demonstrate how much energy was being consumed to heat their water in a virtual shower. Placing water sensors in real sinks after the study the subjects that had the VR experience used less hot water than the subjects that only had written indications of their their energy consumption.
‘Across these simulations, we’ve demonstrated that either reading about a problem or watching a movie affects peoples’ behavior less than having a person actually experience it virtually. More articles about climate change or documentary films – while educational – are unlikely to generate meaningful behavior change on a wide scale.’
These studies are clearly indicative that having people use virtual reality to experience such things has more of an effect than other mediums such as documentaries or reading articles about climate change. Allowing people to directly experience something and be able to see it in a different light.
Jeremy Bailenson. (2014). Virtual reality could make real difference in environment. Available: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Virtual-reality-could-make-real-difference-in-5691610.php. Last accessed 14th Jan 2016.