The rise of VR-technology in climate change communication. From distant critique to critical engagement.

Authors: Bruno MEEUS*, University of Fribourg
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Communication, Cyberinfrastructure
Keywords: climate change, outreach, virtual reality, glacier, affect, political ecology, Switzerland
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Empire Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


So far, human geographers have only to a limited extent started to analyse the rise of Virtual Reality (VR) technology in climate, environmental change and humanitarian communication projects. Actors like the World Bank and the UN however increasingly turn to VR, supposing that this new technology constructs what VR-documentary maker Chris Milk has called “empathy machines” that generate long-lasting impact on behaviour regarding climate and environmental change. Examples like the World Bank funded 360° Fiji documentary – a “message of hope” which aims to engage Western audiences in investing in Fiji - demonstrate how such projects further "greenwash" capitalism and commodify climate and climate change. While a critical stance towards such projects is of course useful and needed, this paper argues instead for a critical engagement with the development of VR immersions. To understand the affordances of VR, I argue in this paper, human geographers should step themselves into collaborative VR design projects. As such, they can investigate the power geometries during the process of VR development and negotiate with developers and other scientists the possibility to include alternative climate change discourses. As case-study, the paper develops a critical analysis of the shifting power relations and discourses on climate pasts and futures during the development phase of the VR scientific outreach project “Expedition 2°C”, an interdisciplinary collaboration I am part of that develops an immersion in the past (0°C), present (+1°C) and future (+2C°) landscape of the Alpine surroundings of the Swiss Aletsch glacier.

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