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Mansi Parikh

Immersive Futures & Conservation

13 Jun 20194 min readMansi Parikh

Imagine walking through a dense woodland…in the middle of Times Square?!

This is the idea behind PopUp Forest: Times Square a recently funded Kickstarter campaign, launched by urban ecologist, Marielle Anzelone. The goal of the project is to make those millions of people walking through Times Square to feel connected with their neighbouring woodlands.


A rendering of the PopUp Forest: Times Square

Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to bring the forest to the people but it’s essential to create these scenarios where people experience first hand their potential futures should certain events come to pass. As I wrote about in Part 1, books and stories are one of the many ways in which we can immerse people in these extreme situations but another is through living experiences.

Imagine if we could make people feel some of the consequences of accelerated climate change. In fact climate change was the theme of an esoteric event called The Next Menu hosted at a restaurant called “egg” where dinner guests were “treated” to a five course meal with ingredients like microalgae, and seafood desserts.

Now if you’re sufficiently disgusted, I’m right with you. But guess what, these are some of the ingredients that scientists expect will “survive” accelerated climate change. I suspect at least some of the diners who attended this event will be affected enough to think more deeply about their impact on the environment?

A Designer, Shihan Zhang imagined the Personal Carbon Economy accompanied by this video to examine what will happen if Carbon Credits become the future global currency.

The World Carbon Bank — A Speculative look at a Future currency by Shihan Zhang

The video helps us begin to examine the pros and cons of a world in which carbon becomes a currency. In understanding these impacts and we can begin to come up with long-term solutions to address the issues.
There are also other ways to create these immersive experiences, VR is possibly one of the first that comes to mind. Google is already looking into this aspect through the Google Expeditions app which can transport you to any number of popular global landmarks, from Costa Rica to the Great Barrier Reef and Amazonian Rainforests. These immersive experiences can give viewers a better appreciation of the biodiversity we are trying to preserve.


A screen grab of one of Google’s Expeditions

Not just design fiction, walk through experiences and VR but even gaming is being used to create these immersive experiences. Games like the strategy game, Carbon Warfare and alternate reality game, World Without Oil are allowing gamers to think about and “experience” the impacts of climate change all while compelling them to analyse the root causes and effects to bring awareness to the key issues affecting natural ecosystems.

In fact, there are countries who are beginning to get ahead of the Post Traumatic Design trend and are already viewing ecosystems changes as an opportunity instead of a threat. In 2017, at the World Government Summit, the Dubai Futures Foundation, an arm of the UAE government unveiled the Museum of the Future — Re-imagining Climate Change. This interactive exhibit immerses visitors in an interactive examination of how UAE can come out of the possibly catastrophic impact of declining biodiversity to rebuild as a leader in water, food and building technology, through science, technology and progressive leadership.

Dubai’s Museum of the Future 2017 — Re-imagining Climate Change

The striking aspect of the exhibit isn’t just how imaginative it is but the optimism it projects, allowing visitors to engage with and imagine this future.

With the accelerated pace of human development and its impact on surrounding ecosystems we are always two steps behind. This narrows our perspective and artificially limits our solutions. For instance, we worry about the fact that our urban infrastructure is buckling under the influx of migrants from rural areas. Our solutions center around beefing up the urban infrastructure to handle the increasing inflow, but what if we took a step back and thought in terms of Rural Futures instead? Why not work on building robust rural infrastructure which discourages urban migration? Wouldn’t both these solutions complement each other nicely?

A friend of mine calls our current approach Post Traumatic Design, where we are so busy trying to plug the leaks that we forget that they are just the symptoms of a much larger problem. Immersive storytelling and immersive experiences are just some ways in which we can begin to address the cognitive dissonance created by the realities of our daily lives superimposed upon this vague, looming threat that is biodiversity loss.

Maybe if we step into our future if only just for a little while, we may be more inclined to act to change our present.

Read Also: Part 1 where I discuss the use of Immersive Storytelling as a tool for conservation

First published in < href="https://medium.com/the-himalayan" target="_blank" class="un" >The Himalayan