Pokemon GO: Natural Exploration or Oblivious Obsession?

If you haven’t heard of the new augmented reality app Pokemon GO, simply head to your local park. Hordes of kids, teens and downloadadults have taken to the streets to “catch ’em all” using this new interactive app that requires users  to move about their physical surroundings in order to catch Pokemon and battle other trainers. The game has taken the world by storm, and has become the object of both high praise and intense scrutiny. While many arguments exist for both sides, our blog seeks to unpack the pros and cons of using a video game to explore and experience a bioregion.

Picture this: people who once were shut inside with their gaming devices, sitting stationary for hours indoors,  are now out and about in their neighborhoods seeking new Pokemon to catch. In the short time that the game has existed, people have already begun claiming that the game has aided their mental health and that they are more active than ever before.

Earthos believes that the health and well-being of people is an essential resource for a thriving bioregion. Ideally, this game is getting people to experience the outdoors and even exercise by giving users an incentive to leave home. People are finding new, mentally and physically stimulating ways to cope with social anxiety and depression through this app. While it can be argued that players are simply glued to their phones instead of actually taking in their surroundings, we also see great potential for exploration and exposure that may not have been possible before. If playing this game is a gateway for people to begin going outside more and taking care of their minds and bodies, can the pros outweigh the cons?

Of course, we are well aware of the dangers of Pokemon GO. Users may be distracted when  they are walking around, making them prone to accidents and even trespassing . The game warns users to be alert when playing, and there have been numerous warnings about the dangers of attempting to  play while driving. These concerns are very real, and it will be interesting to see what changes are made to this (still very new) game in the coming weeks to ensure user safety.

We are also interested in this type of technology as it can be potentially used in some of our projects. For example, as we work on the Roxbury Memory Trail, we have been thinking of creating a phone app that will help people experience and understand locations on the trail. We hope that this would serve as a positive and practical application of technology in our work.

The jury is still out on whether this game is a major success or a dangerous distraction. We wholeheartedly support any effort to get people outside and into a healthy mental and physical state, as long as the effort is safe. Pokemon GO is still working out obvious glitches and pitfalls in the game, and we are anxious to see what precautions Nintendo and Niantic (the creators of the game) take to protect budding and seasoned trainers from the dangerous of the real world. For now, we applaud the players who are taking the time to explore their bioregion, and encourage them to be safe and to catch ’em all!

-Earthos Intern Team (Lauren Jackson, Omari Spears, Ellie Rochman)

Concerned About Carbon: an Intern Reflection

We aren’t the only ones.

In our first week  of the summer, the Earthos intern team was introduced to an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review titled “Making it our Business to Conserve Ecosystems (Not Just Elephants)” written by Marc Baker, Jo Anderson and Joris de Vries. The article discusses Carbon Tanzania, an organization that has used carbon credits to better serve indigenous communities in Tanzania. As we learn more about the practical application of bioregional urbanism in  the real world, this article helps us understand what groups around the world are doing to more efficiently utilize the resources in their bioregion to the benefit of their ecosystems. In this post, we unpack their methodology and why we at Earthos believe that it is in line with our mission for just and sustainable bioregional development.

Carbon Credits Explained 

A carbon credit (often called a carbon offset) is a financial instrument that represents a tonne of CO2 (carbon dioxide) or CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent gases) removed or reduced from the atmosphere from an emission reduction project, which can be used, by governments, industry or private individuals to offset damaging carbon emissions that they are generating.” (For more definitions and information, visit http://www.carbonplanet.com/introduction_to_carbon_credits).

In simple terms, a carbon credit is an opportunity for an organization, company, or even a country to offset their carbon emissions by implementing additional carbon reduction efforts (for example, planting forests or creating carbon sinks.) While there are numerous arguments both for and against implementing carbon credit systems (see: “Carbon Credits Undercut Climate Change Actions, Says Report” (BBC, 2015) bbc.com/news/science-environment-34042115), we are shining our spotlight on an organization that has harnessed carbon credits as a way of benefiting indigenous communities and ecosystems in Tanzania.

Carbon Tanzania: Who are they?

For those unfamiliar with this organization, here is a blurb from their website:

Carbon Tanzania, with deforestation and social justice in mind, has “built a social enterprise focused on the rights and needs of local people whose livelihoods depend on forests. We have aligned the financial and practical incentives of people who until now have not been able to rely on basic goods and services being available to them – education for their children, basic medical care and year round food security. Unlike more traditional approaches to “development”, we offer a way for companies and individuals to contribute positively to social change, to the conservation of biodiversity and natural habitats, and to quantifiable and genuinely sustainable development.(http://www.carbontanzania.com/about/)

By selling carbon credits internationally and utilizing revenue to increase opportunity and wealth within the community that they serve, Carbon Tanzania has created a sustainable cycle that not only benefits human populations, but the ecosystem as a whole. This widens the typical conservation lens from focusing on one individual species (human and nonhuman) to envisioning an ecosystem in which all living beings are interdependent on one another.

This comprehensive approach encourages conservation efforts to not just look at the “elephants” (as the article title suggests) but to understand life systems as a whole. Carbon Tanzania employs the bioregional lens that we have been diving into here at Earthos. By investing the money generated from selling carbon credits back into the Hadzabe community in the Yaeda Valley of Tanzania, the indigenous people are able to fund education, healthcare, and further conservation efforts. The humans within the ecosystem benefit from improved services, and the nonhuman actors benefit from a healthier natural environment!

How is this Relevant to Us?

As new interns at Earthos, we are discovering how to create healthy bioregions starting from the communities within. We are in the process of learning that true sustainability relies upon the collaboration between science, design, community and policy. Like Carbon Tanzania, Earthos believes in tailoring our initiatives to the specific communities we are working with. We also know that solutions to environmental issues are not “one size fits all”, and that unique, collaborative action is needed to create just and sustainable life systems. Each of our current initiatives is a response to a stated community need, and our mission is to bring together all of the actors necessary for meeting that need. By involving prominent community members alongside developers, architects, environmentalists, etc, we create a holistic approach to the desired outcome. Carbon Tanzania has found a creative, market-based solution for contributing to the health and wellbeing of both the Hadzabe people and the ecosystem to which they belong, bridging the gap between social and environmental sustainability. Bioregional urbanism at its finest!
Check out the article here: ssir.org/articles/entry/making_it_our_business_to_conserve_ecosystems_not_just_elephants

Authors: Earthos Interns Omari Spears, Ellie Rochman and Lauren Jackson