A high-tech project aimed at engaging residents in climate change issues by enabling them to visualize the changing landscape amid rising seas was launched in Marin County.
(TNS) — A high-tech project aimed at engaging residents in climate change issues by enabling them to visualize the changing landscape amid rising seas was launched this week at Marin Civic Center.
A $150,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay for the program involving two sophisticated interactive devices called "Owls" that look like traditional viewfinders — but are programmed to envision how the landscape will appear under future scenarios, as well as how it looked in the past.
The viewfinders will be stationed at the Almonte entrance to the Mill Valley-Sausalito Multi-Use Path in a 12-week program shepherded by Supervisor Kate Sears. The program involves a number of participants, including county staff, FEMA, Autodesk, Climate Access, a climate education firm, and Owlized, a high-tech visualization company.
"The interactive device is intended to capture the responses of viewers, and would also direct them to a website where they could get additional information about the individual and community actions to address flood risk associated with climate change," according to Ron Miska, assistant parks director. "The county and its project partners ... anticipate reaching, motivating and obtaining input from thousands of individuals of all ages and walks of life through this project, which if successful, could be repeated elsewhere for similar purposes," Miska reported.
"Sea level rise is a long, natural process," he noted. "It's difficult to get people to think about it."
A grant contract with FEMA, which is interested in nurturing public understanding of flood control issues, indicates that "both units will be located in a single high-traffic location vulnerable to sea level rise and or flooding in Marin County." The contract adds that "Once the location has been identified, data to program the devices to replicate visual surroundings will be secured and the devices will be programmed to show a panoramic 360-degree view of how that location has already been impacted by flooding, and how flooding will be manifested in the future under different sea level rise scenarios."
Volunteers will solicit passers-by to use the devices, and responses will be logged through audio recordings as well as a touch pad survey. One device will be erected with easy access for kids and the disabled.
"This is such an exciting way to learn about future sea-level rise," Sears said. "I'm very curious to see how the community interacts with it, especially kids ... I hope that the Owls will intrigue people and inspire action," she added. "We're hoping that the thousands of students, walkers and cyclists who use the path will take the time to interact with this incredible device and will become community partners as we start the essential conversations about how we plan for sea-level rise."
After the devices are installed sometime next spring, Stanford professor Susanne Moser will conduct a social science study of the project, observing from a distance and documenting viewer use over 12 weeks.
The project also will test the Owl device itself "and its usefulness as a catalyst for driving community engagement," Miska said.
Owlized CEO Aaron Selverston said the Owl devices that will be posted in Marin are part of the San Francisco startup's first production run. Selverston, a former journalist who won a George Polk Award for a story on the impacts of sea level rise on Kiribati, a remote central Pacific atoll and island nation, said the firm founded this year has clients including public agencies in San Francisco, Fremont and Palo Alto. The company "provides visualization solutions that enable people to experience and engage with the past, present and future of places," according to its website, and boosts civic engagement along with "data visualization and marketing initiatives for cities, developers and learning institutions."
The Owl, Selverston said, "is going to be a game-changer to help the public understand the impact of sea level rise."
Climate Access, a nonprofit working to educate people about climate change, sustainable and reduced carbon lifestyles, will administer the project and cover all aspects of its implementation under the federal grant, including programming software in the Owl devices, overseeing Moser's study, facilitating a community forum on climate change and issuing a final report. The value of county staff services devoted to the project will be about $10,000, Miska said.
©2014 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.