Last week we reported on the groundbreaking new media platform Earth 2 Hub which aims to create a space for the world’s most creative artists, designers, scientists, and storytellers to explore and share their solutions to the numerous problems facing earth and its inhabitants. To shed more light on Earth 2.0 and the newly-unveiled hub, we talked to Melissa Sterry, who is one of the most well-known futurists on the planet. A design scientist and transformational change strategist for the built environment, utilities, manufacturing, design, publishing, media and communications industries, Melissa is also a PhD researcher at AVATAR – the Advanced Virtual and Technological Architecture Research group, where she is developing The Bionic City – a sustainable smart city that transfers knowledge from earth’s ecosystems to create a mega-city blueprint that can withstand extreme meteorological and geological events such as flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, eruptions and earthquakes. Step on in for a fascinating glimpse of what the future of design and architecture might hold.
INHABITAT: So Melissa, Earth 2.0 has gone through many evolutions. How did it start and what was the initial goal?
Melissa Sterry: In 2009, having witnessed some of the environmental issues hitting his home nation, Brazil, first hand, film director Frank Da Silva conceived the idea of creating an upgrade to humanity’s current operating system ‘Earth 2.0′. Initially he conceived the idea as a film. As the months progressed other routes were explored, including the idea of a TV series. I came aboard, along with Irish sustainability pro Niall Dunne, in late 2010 and we bought a digital media angle to the project. Since then we’ve been exploring how a 360 approach, that engages web, mobile, film, apps, games and other media, can enable a conversation around building a sustainable future.
INHABITAT: So Earth 2 Hub is literally a hub for discussing different approaches to environmental issues?
Melissa Sterry:Yes. It’s approach is to bring together communities that historically don’t tend to meet and engage – to bring science fiction pros together with science fact pros – artists together with scientists, filmmakers together with business executies and so on. Earth 2.0 is curating a conversation that spans silos to enable a broader perspective on the challenges humanity faces.
INHABITAT: And this is all happening online, through the various media you described earlier, or do you plan to have in-person meetings as well?
Melissa Sterry: Most of Earth 2 Hub’s activities will converge online – because this allows us to engage with anyone, any place, any time. However, in-person events are taking place too and our homepage lists the upcoming events Earth 2.0 is either hosting or participating in. A few activities in the pipeline include Earth 2.0 champions sitting on discussion panels and giving presentations on sustainabiltiy issues, Earth 2.0’s creative team presenting our short films at film festivals and presenting some of the experimental digital media, such as apps, that we’ve been creating at expos, such as the upcoming Tech City exhibition for the London 2012 Olypmics.
INHABITAT: So, what are one or two of the major reasons, in your view, that humanity has been relatively slow to reverse some of our most environmentally-destructive actions, and how does Earth 2.0 target those particular obstacles?
Melissa Sterry: I think there are two major isses at play that have held humanity’s progress on sustainability back. I think the first is our heriditary psychological predisposition. Several years ago I came to a conclusion – that the only logical explanasion for why humanity was not acting on a greater scale to tackle key environmental and social problems, was that we are neurologically programmed to see things ‘sunny side up’ i.e. present us with us with information that implies an outcome that we don’t like and we will downsize or irradicate the scenario from our minds. The idea that most people see things from a rose-tinted perspective is backed-up by several recent studies by institutions including Oxford University and could explain some of the responses we’ve seen (or not seen!) to climate change and other key sustainability issues. Thus I believe we need to frame sustainability in the context of building a better future, as opposed to presenting dystopian visions of what may happen if we don’t do certain things.
Secondly I think we need more inspirational leadership in sustainability – we need JFK’s and Martin Luther Kings – people with the vision, the belief, the determination that we can and will build a better world. In the 1960s we made it to the Moon. In the 21st century we will and we can build a brighter future.
INHABITAT: So, let’s say I was a design specialist and I had some really good ideas about zero carbon, zero waste cities, would I be encouraged to share those ideas through your creative platform? And would there will be a way for me to apply my ideas in the real world?
Melissa Sterry: Yes. There are various ways in which individuals can contribute their ideas and these include participating in our social media converations, including #Earth2Chat’s on Twitter, posting to our Facebook page, contributing comments on our site and submitting blog posts. Beyond this we are working with partners to develop digital vehicles through which specialists in fields including film, animation, design and science can submit ideas for promotion across both our own and partner platforms.
INHABITAT: I guess I’m feeling the need for action. Action that will make a measurable difference that translates to real changes on the ground (cleaning up waste, saving energy, improving the quality of life for more people.) How will participating in Earth 2.0 Hub create these kinds of results?
Melissa Sterry: Earth 2 Hub isn’t making such grand claims as ‘we’ll save the world’. We wont save the world. What we can and are doing is bringing together some of the most talented storytellers – scriptwriters, film directors, animators, cinematrographers, etc, to inject their expertise for storytelling into sustainability and science. Until now many exciting developments have been presented in unimaginative, in some cases downright dull, formats, therein it’s no wonder Joe Public was, on the whole, left unmoved.
AVATAR – a science fiction film, illicited a greater response to environmental issues than many of the factual films about similar issues and did so not through scientific accuracy, but through creativity. While we don’t have the resources of James Cameron, we embrace his approach – that the most effective call to action involves firing up people’s imagination!
INHABITAT: Can you give us one or two examples of games and apps that are available?
Melissa Sterry: Earth 2 Hub is developing its first app for release this summer. While I can’t disclose much, I can tell you it’s an augmented reality app and that its content will explore leading edge scienfitic developments within the context of the city. Other than that my lips are sealed.
INHABITAT: We are also very interested in the work that you’re doing on the Bionic City… do you have a few minutes to tell us more about that?
Melissa Sterry: Sure thing. The Bionic City is a convergence of three of my passions: Ecology, Design and Resilience. Though I started my PhD exploring wider applications of Biomimicry in the Built Envrionment, within two months I’d refined my research to explore how we may identify and transfer ecosystem resilience strategies to worst-case meteorological and geological events to our cities. While on the surface the idea seemed crazy, I’d observed that many ecosystems have embedded resilience to such events, indeed many species of flora and fauna build-in natural hazards to their lifecycle.
Historically PhD’s involve focus on a very specific field, therein I’m breaking the rules. My research involves studying a range of ecosystem responses to natural hazards (to find common principles across the range), investigating the weaknesses in our current built environment paradigm (i.e. what needs to be improved), examining the future natural hazard scenarios (namely because various studies indicate the risks are upscaling and the nature of some hazards changing) and then working out what to do with all that information (i.e. creating a blueprint for a future city that embeds biomimetic reslience principles).
10 years ago I could not have taken the task on, however, in this fabulously connected, digitally enhanced 21st century world I can access vast quantities of data, which I can process faster than ever, while building a global community of interdiscipinary gurus across all the areas associated with my research… and if I have any time left over I can potentially use digital media to illustrate my hyopothesis using more interactive tools than posters and papers! Needless to say a Bionic City app is high on my agenda!