Could VR help us better understand climate change’s impact? These geographers think so.
Climate change deniers take note: Penn State University geographers have seen the future, and it’s climate ravaged.
The faculty and student-led geography team created a VR simulation showing how forest ecosystems will change over time as a result of climate change.
Virtual reality, the team hopes, could change that grim future. It worked with the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin to develop a virtual forest walk-through. The walk-through shows forest composition, ecology data, and how varying climate changes could impact native trees.
“Inspired by the Menominee’s deeper connection to the environment we believe that experiencing the future is essential for all environmental decision making,” Alexander Klippel, PSU geography professor, said in a press release. Klippel also runs Penn State’s Center for Immersive Experience.
According to the developers, the VR models also show the impact severe weather events would have on forests. Many of these events like windstorms, fires, and flooding are related to the changing climate.
“Our approach to create visceral experiences of forests under climate change can facilitate communication among experts, policymakers and the general public,” the researchers noted.
In the future, next-generation versions of the tech could allow for “more holistic and visceral access.” This would make it more accessible to the masses and, the team hopes, inspire them to take climate change seriously.
“The main problem that needs to be addressed is that climate change is abstract,” Klippel said. “[Climate change’s] meaning only unfolds in 10, 15, or 100 years. It is very hard for people to understand and plan and make decisions.”