The Power of Place: virtual habitat builds that engage people to appreciate,
understand and conserve natural habitats
Delia Lake / Linda Kelley
November 22, 2009
These are the speaker’s notes for the presentation, which were pasted into text chat for those who could not hear. They do not reflect all of what was said.
Earth’s natural environments are a source of enjoyment and solace to some people and a source of livelihood and food to many others. What people share is a desire to have the habitats they know and care about continue. Yet today, impacts of human activity have thrown many of Earth’s precious environments into severe stress conditions.
People care about places that touch them. Can virtual simulations of natural environments be engaging enough for people to experience a sense of “being there” and carry away memories of those habitats as places to value? Are virtual media robust enough platforms for meaningful collaborative explorations and co-creation of options to resolve difficult, far-reaching and important environmental and social problems?
This presentation uses as its backdrop three simulated natural environments in Second Life®: the Center for Water Studies and Camp Darfur on Better World Island, Prairie Past and Future on Meliora Terra, and the Albaycin Nature Preserve.
A primary purpose of the Center for Water Studies, Better World Island and Albaycin Nature Preserve is to connect and facilitate the cooperation among individuals, organizations and networks in order to address some of the most pressingly important issues of our time such as food security, water rights and adaptation to climate disruption.
Center for Water Studies. To visit, download and open the Second Life program and click this link: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Better%20World/79/67/14
Human rights are tightly tied to environmental sustainability and resources rights. Without a foundation of food security, rights to safe potable water, and just access to natural resources other human rights are difficult to maintain. What gives place a recognizable character? Can we frame environmental issues experientially? 3D presentations raise awareness, give a sense of what can live together under similar conditions. They tell us what constitutes an ecology.
“A Climate Carol: Prarie’s Past and Future” exhibit on Meliora Terra. To visit, download and open the Second Life program and click this link: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Meliora%20Terra/132/229/17
What the virtual offers for environmental education is engagement, a sense of being there. It can enrich, deepen a person’s relationship with many natural environments. Knowing a person or place intellectually sets in place the same neurological reactions that knowing a RL person or place does. Even when stick figures are used to represent people, those motor neurons go into action, as when Ellie’s feet hurt when she was dancing too much.
It is a multi-sense participatory experience, the visceral experience of knowing virtually, using sight, hearing and kinesthetic senses. It produces memories of knowing by being there, just as life in the “solid world” does.
This past spring I gave a talk on the environmental roots of conflict in Darfur, I decided to hang out in camp Darfur on Better World Island. I checked in every day, and did things there. I looked at the pictures, performed acts that people of Darfur would do. I became habituated to Darfur; I began to feel uncomfortable when I went somewhere in SL where people were wearing shoes, and dressed up. The people of Darfur were my neighbours, I didn’t feel as if I fitted any more.
Camp Darfur on Better World Island. To visit, download and open the Second Life program and click this link: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Better%20World/175/222/41
Since then, I notice that I read all the press reports, internet pages, not only on Sudan, but on any article on refugees, I read it differently than I did before. We must take virtual platforms very seriously and ask “can we engender a sense of moral witness through virtual experiences?” My answer is yes.
Virtual spaces allow us to bring larger contexts to discussions than we could in real world. How different would it be to hold a meeting about child welfare on a virtual toxic dump? To hold virtual meetings on job creation on a virtual space showing destroyed farmland?
Time is altered in Virtual worlds, and distance disappears. I may not be able to see pristine water habitats in Mongolia, comparing them to pristine water habitats in Peru, but I can do these kinds of comparisons here doing virtual sites. At the Center for Water Studies you can walk through a temperate rain forest and see the difference with other habitats. You can’t do this in real life.
Given these experiences, the work we’ve done using the platform of SL & other virutal spaces, we find that virtual relationships are real. The use of virtual media to affect real world change looks to be an important and viable strategy.