With AR, Greenpeace hopes to create greater empathy between us and forest ecosystems under threat.
A unique global ecosystem circling the planet, stretching from Alaska through Canada and Scandinavia all the way to the Pacific coast of Russia, The Great Northern Forest plays a vital role in preventing climate change.
It holds almost a quarter of the world’s trees, stores more carbon than all the tropical rainforests combined, and houses a bio diverse ecosystem full of animals such as eagles, bears, wolves and owls. It’s also the ancestral home of many indigenous peoples like the Cree in Canada and the Scandinavian Sami.
Like most of vital ecosystems, however, the Great Northern Forest is facing severe threat of destruction, as only 3% of the forest is actually protected. Vast areas are being lost every year as logging companies use the trees to manufacture various products such as paper towels and packaging for human consumption.
Greenpeace Nordic is hoping to reverse these destructive practices by using augmented reality to expose people to the beauty of this ecosystem and educate them on just how fragile it is.
“We need to protect these forests now, if we are to mitigate the worst effects of climate change,” says Ethan Gilbert, a Greenpeace Nordic forest campaigner. “This is a landmark in our global campaign to raise awareness of the dangers our planet faces if we fail to safeguard critical forest landscapes,” he adds.
The idea came about a few months ago during a coffee break at the Greenpeace office in Helsinki. Gilbert and his team were fresh from a documentation trip to the Great Northern forest where they had been left in awe not only by its natural beauty, but by the rate of destruction to which the land was being subjected.
“If only everyone in the world could see how amazing this place is and how much of it is under threat… I wish we could just transport people straight there!” spoke someone in the group, to which a member of the digital team replied that you could indeed using immersive technology.
The app – which runs on ARCore-enabled Android phones 7.0 or higher, as well as ARKit compatible iPhones with iOS 11.0 or later – was developed in collaboration with Helsinki-based creative AR production company, Arilyn.
“Deploying Augmented Reality for the good of our forests and climate is an exciting opportunity, so being a part of this project is a huge privilege for us. Our team has spent weeks in this virtual forest and it has started to feel like home. I really hope that walking through the gate can be an eye-opening experience for everybody”, says Otso Kähönen, the Creative Director of Arilyn.
The experience begins with a virtual gate appearing on your phone’s screen. As soon as you walk through you’re instantly transported to serene camp site. As you cozy up to the fire, you can see the shimmering Northern Lights twinkling above in the clear night sky.
As meditative as this sounds, the serenity doesn’t last long. The next stop on your journey will allow you to see – and hopefully feel – the destruction of this beautiful forest first-hand. At the end of the experience, Greenpeace hopes you’ll better understand exactly what’s at stake and therefore feel more inclined to protect it.
“The Great Northern Forest can protect us from climate change, but only if we protect it first,” Gilbert concludes. And if we don’t want to live in a world where the only way to experience the wonders of nature is through technology – a world where all the real trees are gone and animal species wiped out forever– then we’d best get our act together, using any tools at our disposal.
Image Credit: Greenpeace / Arilyn