REAP | Research Entrepreneurs Accelerating Prosperity | Can Art and Technology create Global Empathy at 2015 United Nations’ Climate Change Conference?


MaRs Studio Y  Fellows and graduates, Scott Baker and Ross Curtner, partnered with REAP for a Thinkering event on Friday. The co-founders of Adjacent Possibilities, Scott and Ross challenged REAP to propose out-of-the-box ideas in preparation for the 2015 United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in November. Their challenge to REAP? To use a specific technology  — Muse  —  a headband that turns sensed brainwaves into a feedback and training tool, to create empathy-based art that will highlight the importance of climate change.

The Thinkering event brought together 36 Waterloo Region artists and technologists out to meet the design challenge to explore these key questions:

“How might we use biometric data to creatively foster global empathy around climate change?  How might we provocatively communicate this in Paris at the next international climate meetings?”

After a 35 minute brainstorm, here were some ideas from the group.

Virtual Terrarium: Create a “virtual biosphere,’ with its health dependent on MUSE users around the world.  In each pre-selected location around the world, a MUSE user experiences empathy and passes it on to another user.  100s of empathic experiences multiply to 1000s.  Each MUSE user gets biofeedback on their influence/ impact, as well as the biofeedback being displayed in Paris, making it visible to users, and over internet, globally.  In Paris, attendees and the public could watch streaming video, perhaps at the glass pyramid at the Louvre.

The Trees and the Forest: Using the Oculus Rift and the Muse, delegates could experience a 3D experience of the hazards of global warming. As they learn to calm their minds, rather than to merely react, they watch a tree in front of them bud, burst into leaves, then fruit. If they lose their concentration and serenity, the tree loses its leaves. Each participant can also see the cumulative effect of everyone else’s mental discipline and empathy, providing yet another input they can build on (if positive) or overcome (if negative).  The goal here is to learn mindfulness in the pursuit of global welfare.

Dynamic Globe. What globe will look like if climate change continues unabated? Install a physical rotating globe at the conference, with screens in background of different data and visualizations. Step 1: In Paris, each conference participant tries the Muse at some point during the conference, which captures each participant’s response to the geographic impact of climate change on their home region. Then, participants can personally pledge what they want to do differently, and send the pledge out to their social media – friends, family etc.  Step 2: Global Coordination – preselected individuals from different parts of the world do the same.  In Paris, a second globe could track global responses and promises to show regional responses.

“Patient Earth”:  We know the ideal body temperature for human health, but do we really know what the earth’s temperature is?  Part 1: Outside a purpose-built space, attendees/ the public can watch a screen of participants who are inside the space.  Part 2: participants come into a purpose-built space, and as time goes on, the space gets warmer as the participants watch infographics about climate change.  In response, they can touch images (eg. blue box recycle) to decrease rising temperature or do nothing and feel the increasing temperature in this “bio-feedback” exercise.  An actor enters and makes all wrong climate change choices, and earth punishes the actor.