Joseph Waukechon, CMN student, pictured above, and Rebecca Edler, Sustainability Education Coordinator attended the 2017 Planet Forward Summit on April 6-7, in Washington D.C. The summit brought together students, scientists, communicators, faculty members, policymakers and citizens of the earth to learn about environmental storytelling. The two day summit investigated effective storytelling through the categories of: character, creativity, science/data, innovation and big ideas. Story topics included: water, food, climate change, environment and biodiversity. Frank Sesno, founder of Plant Forward, led the summit activities.

Throughout the summit, presenters explained the different approaches of telling a story. Dr. Robin Kimmerer, Professor at SUNY-ESF, described the rich tradition of storytelling in Native cultures. As a Tribal College, capturing and sharing stories through our lens is critical. Dr. Kimmerer shared that in a crowded digital world, the Native oral traditions of storytelling show how we can capture the heart and soul of story.

Panels discussed how to connect through various social media venues, while breakout sessions explored social change, fake news, and how to bridge political divides.  Participants were challenged to think globally and recognize how the stories of today will impact their future as well as the generations to come.

Summary written by: Joseph Waukechon

I was recently able to go on a trip to the sweeping, beautiful city of Washington D.C. to attend the annual Planet Forward film conference. The conference discusses ecological issues like deforestation, human rights violations and other planetary concerns. Many great speakers came and plugged charities, a great deal of which were from Africa. Atop their two biggest issues, deforestation and blackouts, they discussed a major issue in Africa: when pregnant women give birth, rather than being driven to the hospital they often physically walk. This causes fistulas, causing incontinence, making them social outcasts from their community. While here in America a fistula is an exceedingly simple procedure to fix, in Africa it is not so. A woman discussed the idea of a sort of Uber for pregnant women.

Another knockout charity is C.A.T. (Conserving Acres for Tigers). Every year The Discovery Channel gives select nonprofit charities creative control over their content for a short time, a promotion called “Createchange”. C.A.T. was one such charity. What they strive to do is double the wild Bengal tiger population by 2022 by purchasing many acres between India and Bhutan.  Another great one focused on young male Russian orphans. In the foster care system, people only want infants or little girls, leaving boys ages nine and up to grow up without foster figures. The movement, which translates as ‘Movies that Change Lives’, paired a select 7 orphan boys with famous Russian directors who made short documentary films about their assigned child. Since then all the selected boys were been adopted.

I learned volumes at the conference, most of it in miscellaneous information. Such as:

-We are going to have to double our food production in a few years when our population hits 10 billion.

-There are countless crooked charities in the system playing upon our naiveness and desire to help over our skepticism. The four most trustworthy nonprofits are SalvationArmy, Unicef, Red Cross, and Oxcam.

-A football field worth of trees disappears in the Rainforest every 78 seconds. Products that do not contribute to rainforest destruction are marked with a green emblem with a tree frog on it, reading Rainforest Alliance.

-1.4 billion people in the world do not have electricity.

A big problem, mostly in America, is a habit known as ‘Slacktivism’. This is mainly on Social Media, when you post something trying to help out a cause, and then feel accomplished from solely that alone.

The main talking point, my main takeaway from this trip is that while I was there I truly experienced Virtual Reality for the first time. I have seen virtual 360 videos on Facebook before, and done it before at an animal rights conference with no sound. But two students came with a full interactive program shedding light on ocean acidification. Their video came equipped with sound, audio and somewhat of a video game. They put you into a small undersea grove littered with sea snails. The object was to take small red flags from a blue laundry basket and place them by the crabs. Then you were shown the same grove years later, scorched of algae and life, due to the steadily rising acidification of the sea. The program allowed you to look in any direction, as well as physically feel bubbles rising up from the sea floor.

Virtual reality is a speedily increasing medium. A good example of where it is breaking out is roller coasters: At Six Flags New England, they have a virtual reality ride where you can experience what it is like to be saved by Superman as he flies through the air. You do not see the tracks and when the coaster dips down and then up, your senses are tricked into thinking you are falling and then being saved by The Man of Steel himself, being lifted sharply upward. Speaking not even of the flooring technological magic that VR incorporates, fascinating studies are being done about its effects on the human brain.

For example, children have been given a 360 virtual tour of a museum, and will show signs of false memories their brain planted, such as the smell of the food or the ride there. It also affects people in the short-term. There was a study done where two people were given two different simulations: one where they were a superhero, flying around a city and given the chance to save a girl from a burning building, the other in a helicopter, able to tour the city. When the simulation ended, a person thanked both for their time and tripped on purpose. The superhero was the first to run up and offer assistance.

This trip was an unbelievable godsend, and I learned more than words can describe. I met many interesting people from around the globe. I also sat in on many great seminars talking about a variety of ecological subjects and how we can make a difference in a world where two political parties’ bickering leads to nothing.