image-senior VR
Virtual reality technology was the focus of a recent presentation at Senior Coastsiders. Participants say the technology helps them visualize new experiences and to empathize with others. Kyle Ludowitz / Review 

There was a striking scene at Senior Coastsiders on the night of Dec. 11. More than half of the assembled crowd of more than 30 in the dining commons had an Oculus Go headset strapped on, and each took turns looking all around at their new virtual world. 

While the virtual reality experience was new and thrilling for most, the content shown on the viewers was a serious matter. In conjunction with media companies Participant Media and Condition One, Senior Coastsiders presented two virtual reality segments from “This Is Climate Change,” a four-part series directed by Danfung Dennis and Eric Strauss. 

The cross-generational event gathered a handful of students from the Youth Leadership Institute and the local seniors to use the latest technology, leading many to ask themselves why virtual reality was so effective in these instances. “Melting Ice” took viewers to Greenland with former Vice President Al Gore as he studied glaciers with local researchers. “Feast” delved into the Amazon rainforest as it was logged for industrial cattle ranches. 

“I feel it gave more of the reality,” said Alexandra Arouxet, a student at South San Francisco High School. “Because you feel like you’re in it. You can be there to experience it. It’s very hands-on.”

The event is part of a grant the city of Half Moon Bay received earlier this year that was divided among the Youth Leadership Institute, Ayundando Latinos A Sonar and Senior Coastsiders. These organizations, in turn, host climate awareness events and report their findings and suggestions to the city’s climate action and adaptation plan.

Gail Evenari, a local filmmaker who provided the Oculus Go headsets and remotes, is well-versed in educational research and has written and designed social studies textbooks. She has produced award-winning films about indigenous cultures for public television and schools. Evenari believed the virtual reality technology can have profound ramifications for climate awareness because it gives the audience a realistic experience that can’t be found elsewhere. 

“I realized kids these days aren’t watching TV and media like they used to,” she said. “They’re watching it on little screens, and I feel like that’s not going to build empathy or deep awareness. I think that VR has that potential.”

Montara resident Nancy Margulies said the films reminded her of the severity of climate change. 

“I think this technology has enormous potential and impact because people are bombarded with images on a screen all the time,” said Margulies, who is 72 years old. “So, to feel like you’re actually there, especially in the fire, to feel you’re in the midst of it and see how these guys were trying to carve out areas to stop the fire, it made it more dramatic and real.”

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