How you can help the environment with a piece of cardboard on your face

A new virtual reality app takes viewers on trips to the Amazon rainforest and Arctic Circle.

Smartphone users can transport themselves to remote wildernesses they’ve never been before - from river basins in the Amazon rainforest to the Arctic Circle - and learn how to protect them, thanks to an app using virtual reality technology.

The app launched this week by environmental group Greenpeace includes short videos that highlight vulnerable areas around the globe that are at risk of deterioration due to climate change or governmental development, and gives viewers tools to help them.

A cardboard virtual reality headset offers an immersive 360-degree view of the nature featured on the app.

“Much of our planet’s remaining wilderness is under threat. But these places we never visit, and rarely even see, often take a backseat to problems we view as more important,” John Sauven, Greenpeace UK’s executive director, said in a statement.

“By using virtual reality we hope to bring political decision-makers, corporate leaders and members of the public much closer to the amazing places we’re campaigning to protect,” he added.

Greenpeace and Alchemy VR, the studio that helped produce the videos, spent two weeks with the Munduruku tribe, who live on the banks of the Tapajós River in the Amazon rainforest.

By using virtual reality we hope to bring political decision-makers, corporate leaders and members of the public much closer to the amazing places we’re campaigning to protect.

John Sauven, executive director, Greenpeace UK

Viewers get both sprawling views of the river and intimate looks into the lives of the Munduruku. They can take virtual boat rides on the Tapajós, and watch as a man applies ceremonial face paint.

The resulting virtual reality video highlights their culture and struggle to preserve their lands, which are at risk of being used by the government to build massive dams. Viewers get both sprawling views of the river and intimate looks into the lives of the Munduruku. They can take virtual boat rides on the Tapajós, and watch as a man applies ceremonial face paint.

“VR as a medium has an incredible potential to immerse people in locations they might never be able to see otherwise, and to foster empathy for threatened groups and places through the immediacy of the experience,” James Manisty, the director of the Munduruku video, said.

Another video takes viewers to the deck of the Greenpeace-owned vessel Arctic Sunrise, as it traverses the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, a region rapidly changing due to rising global temperatures.

More 360-degree videos will be added to the app over time, Greenpeace said.

The app, called Virtual Explorer, is free on the Apple and Android app stores.

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate.

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