Did you know that 12.000 years ago about 6.6 trillion trees grew on our planet? Today there are still just over 3 million: In the last 8.000 years alone about 80 percent of our forests have been destroyed. And can you imagine, that there are children who have never seen a forest before and probably never will? So on March 21, the International Day of Forests, I would like to remind us of the importance of trees, and how much we need forests, not just to decorate golf courses, but as habitats for animals and plants, and also understand, how virtual reality may change what we see, know and learn about faraway jungles and natural habitats, only a small group of people has ever seen before.

Burning Trees

We’re losing one of the world’s most precious commodities – our forests. In 2018, 3.6 million hectares of rainforest disappeared – an area the size of Belgium. In 2019 it was the Australian bushfires which took almost 25.5 million acres of woodland with it – the same landmass as South Korea. And, despite the many protests, there is still the ongoing deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest for farming and cattle which is taking place at an alarming rate and shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has surged to its highest rate in more than a decade.

This simply can’t go on. For me, the world’s forests represent nature’s zoo – a home to so many species but also a playground for people of all ages to enjoy bike rides, walks or camping. They’re a personal haven to so many and a home to billions of creatures. They provide an opportunity for people of all walks of life to escape the stresses of the world and be close to nature – something that those of us living in big cities or built-up urban areas rarely get the chance to do.

Take a Virtual Tour Through the Jungle

So, with the destruction of the world’s forests showing no sign of slowing, it made me wonder if we are heading towards a time where we don’t even have the chance to enjoy and explore the many natural wonders our forests hold. I hope this will never be the case, but what if it did? How could future generations benefit from the learning and understanding of the world around you that you can only get from our forestlands?

The answer is technology, specifically virtual reality (VR) technology. Advancements and innovations in this space now mean that it is just as easy to strap on a VR headset and explore the world from the safety and comfort of your own home. With this has come an increased interest in how we can explore and learn about global forestry and to witness their natural beauty and learn of their history without even being there.

360° Virtual Reality Tour

The 360-degree film, called “Under the Canopy,” takes viewers into the depths of the Amazon allowing you to experience the region’s diverse environment as if you were there in person. But it’s not just about the picturesque views and beautiful vistas, the film also shares a very important message with viewers – unless we as the human race make changes, this incredible landscape is under threat and is likely to be destroyed unless we all collectively work towards keeping this landscape protected.

Virtual Reality and Education

By having the opportunity to explore these areas of natural beauty in VR we can learn so much. Education on the important role forests play in helping our climate and sustaining a vast eco-system of plants and animals is extremely important for both current and future generations. Without this technology, many of us will miss out on the vital education they provide. We won’t learn about the impact of deforestation on both the forest eco-system and the world and we won’t know how to best respond to the threat of climate change and do more to protect the wilderness and wildlife.

From this perspective, it is important that big tech firms and the many global and regional organisations responsible for the protection and upkeep of the world’s forests come together to make this happen. Tech companies have the platforms and resources to be able to deliver on the many promises VR and related technology can offer. We all know that technology is one of the best platforms for helping engage children with learning so it makes sense that it is used to encourage kids to become involved with preserving forests and perhaps consider a future career in forest preservation and management.

Fighting Climate Change

But aside from the obvious benefits, VR has in enacting behavioural change through education, there are of course many other uses. But for me, the most important is how VR technology can help us do more to respond to the current climate change emergency. I’ve been so inspired to find many filmmakers and advocacy groups using VR content as a platform for helping the world better understand the need to act on this important issue. One of my favourites from a few years ago is the film ‘This is Climate Change’. This four-part film explores the key topics of deforestation, global warming, wildfires and famine with viewers experiencing first-hand how the world and civilization suffer as a consequence of these changes. Experiencing the impact first-hand is quite an emotional ride but one that leaves you wanting to do more to help. And if VR can make such an impact on each and every one of us, imagine the enormous positive change we could all help bring about.