Pokécology: people will never put down their phones, but games can get them focused on nature

By Jessie Buettel & Barry Brook. Original published on The Conversation.

Anyone who has been outdoors in a populated area in the past month will be aware of the massive success of Pokémon GO, which has rocketed to the top of the gaming charts.

People have been avidly collecting Pokémon creatures in various media formats for two decades, so it was a logical move to use smartphone technology to turn the franchise into a “mobile augmented reality” (MAR) gaming app.

It has proved to be an economic as well as a social phenomenon, sending the market value of its owner Nintendo soaring to US$39.9 billion. But the game was not actually developed by Nintendo; it was created by Google spin-off Niantic, which also built Pokémon GO’s popular MAR predecessor, Ingress.

ingressscreenshotSimilar to Pokémon GO, Ingress is a reality-embedded sci-fi game in which players interact with real-world objects that are overlaid (using smartphone cameras) by a veneer of simulated characteristics.

In a new paper published in the journal Restoration Ecology, we argue that MAR games such as these can be a force for good in ecology and conservation, rather than being a cause for concern, as others have argued.

The key is not to lament or rail against the popularity of gaming or augmented reality, but rather to embrace what makes them a success. They tap into people’s sense of fun and competitiveness, and they get people into the great outdoors – and this is all stuff that can encourage people to embrace nature.

The problem

The growth of our modern civilisation, spurred on by technological innovations, has been underpinned by the exploitation of the natural environment. Today, a large fraction of the Earth, once swathed in wilderness, is now monopolised by humans. Populations of plants and animals have declined, leading to local losses and global extinctions, as a result of habitat destruction, harvesting, invasive species, and pollution.

Yet although the direct causes of wildlife loss are clear enough, what’s less obvious is why many people seemingly don’t care. The environmental writer George Monbiot has ascribed society’s ongoing destruction of the environment to the fact that not enough people value nature and wilderness any more.

This “eco-detachment” has been described as a symptom of our modernised, urbanised world, in which new technology both dominates peoples’ interests and simultaneously increases society’s ability to damage the environment.

But what if augmented reality – from MAR apps on smartphones to HoloLenses – could be harnessed in a positive and proactive way, to reconnect the wider public to nature and so unlock their inherent biophilia?

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Open Thread 26

Time for a new open thread, since apparently the previous one is now loading a little slowly… I’ll close the old one to comments, so please continue discussion here.

As for the quiescence of BNC over the past few months, well, I’ve been travelling — what can I say? But I have a new post to put up tomorrow, and a few others in train.

The Open Thread is a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. So get up on your soap box! The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the general content of this blog.

The sort of things that belong on this thread include general enquiries, soapbox philosophy, meandering trains of argument that move dynamically from one point of contention to another, and so on — as long as the comments adhere to the broad BNC themes of sustainable energy, climate change mitigation and policy, energy security, climate impacts, etc.

Ph.D. scholarships in ecology & conservation

phdPh.D. projects now offered in the Dynamics of Eco-Evolutionary Patterns (D.E.E.P.) research group, based at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Tasmania. We study ecological and evolutionary dynamics, global change, and conservation biology. Our study systems include plants and animals, with a focus on the unique Australian environment.

The Ph.D. project topics include the response of biota to global change, dynamics of ecological communities, ecosystem modelling, conservation biology, threatened species management, and impacts of land-use change on biodiversity. The three major research themes are:
(i) using ‘patterns’ to understand the processes shaping ecosystem structure and dynamics;
(ii) technology and biology: never the twain shall meet? and
(iii) faunal habitat use and the impacts of disturbance (biodiversity and conservation).

We are also open to the possibility of exploring other projects and welcome students to express their own research ideas.

DEEPCandidates from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds are encouraged to apply. In addition to TGRS, APA or IPRS scholarships (which covers course fees and provides a tax-exempt stipend of $26,288 p.a. [2016 rate]) there will be substantial operational and logistical support, funded by a 5-year research grant to Prof. BW Brook (ARC Australian Laureate Fellow). An additional top-up award of $4,000 p.a. will also be considered for outstanding applicants.

Click on the hyperlinks above for more detailed information on the topics, and how to apply. See here for an overview of Projects and Opportunities for students in D.E.E.P.

Open Thread 25

Time for a fresh open thread! (the old one being weighed down by over 1000 comments).

The Open Thread is a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. So get up on your soap box! The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the general content of this blog.

The sort of things that belong on this thread include general enquiries, soapbox philosophy, meandering trains of argument that move dynamically from one point of contention to another, and so on — as long as the comments adhere to the broad BNC themes of sustainable energy, climate change mitigation and policy, energy security, climate impacts, etc.

On the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission

NFCRCBack in February 2015, I posted on BNC about the announcement of a Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle (henceforth NFCRC) in the uranium-mining state of South Australia (SA).

This was followed up by a post on The Conversation by Ben Heard and me, entitled “Royal commission into nuclear will open a world of possibilities“. In that article, we speculated on what the NFCRC might conclude. I was later appointed as a member of the Expert Advisory Committee.

After more than a year of compiling evidence, analysing facts and opinion, and testing ideas, the NFCRC handed down its 320 page final report, in May 2016. You can read it here. (Yes, it’s worth reading in full…but at least look at the summary!)

In caricature (at least by my abstracting), the NFCRC report says:

  1. Mining, milling and further processing of radioactive ores — activities that already occur in SA — will continue to be pursued and developed, but not expand greatly. There is limited scope here for substantially increased economic activity.
  2. Development of uranium enrichment capability and advanced manufacture of fuel elements (including international fuel leasing) in SA would require quite specific techno-economic circumstances to be worthwhile, and raises proliferation issues. It is not likely to happen in isolation of other developments.
  3. IFR vs LFTRElectricity generation from nuclear fuels would probably not, in the present circumstances, be economically competitive in SA. Advanced reactor designs such as the IFR or LFTR should not be built (first) in SA, but a watching brief ought to be kept on small modular light-water reactors.
  4. Hosting of an international nuclear used fuel repository in SA ought to be considered seriously. Very seriously. Although it  would face many logistical and policy obstacles, and would inevitably involve a long-term strategy, the ultimate and ongoing socio-economic benefits it could deliver to SA are stunning (hundreds of billions of $ income).

My interpretation…

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