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Calling the next Greta Thunberg: This kid-friendly app makes climate advocacy fun

The result is an endearing Pixar-ification of Mother Earth in dire straits.

Calling the next Greta Thunberg: This kid-friendly app makes climate advocacy fun
[Image: courtesy Olafur Eliasson]
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A clever new app uses augmented reality to give visceral form to the notion that children are the Earth’s best hope for survival. You know, because reality just doesn’t seem to be hitting hard enough.

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Artist Olafur Eliasson, in collaboration with digital agency AKQA, created an app called Earth Speakr that kids can use to articulate their feelings about the state of the planet, and the associate climate crisis that older generations have placed on their shoulders. The app uses AR to mirror the kids’ expressions, from a video they record, with a cartoon face that can be placed on anything, from a sewage drain to a tree to a hot dog. The result is an endearing Pixar-ification of Mother Earth in dire straits. As Elliason describes the app, “It’s about giving the planet a voice through the people who are going to inherit it.”

[Image: courtesy Olafur Eliasson]
The relentless tumult of 2020 has made it easy to forget that the climate crisis is still a monumental threat to the planet. Last spring, while much of the world was under lockdown, carbon dioxide levels dipped—but they’re now within 5% of last year’s levels. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, told the Guardian that “this year is the last time we have” to prevent a post-lockdown rebound in emissions that would push us toward irreversible climate catastrophe.

Earth speakr is a small way to help kids understand the urgency of the problem, and feel like they have a say in the solution. It’s fun and engaging, and according to Eliasson, it may even get adults to listen.

After kids record a message, the parent can place the “message,” which appears as a glass sphere, anywhere they feel it should be heard on a map of the world (also available on the corresponding site). Users can then click on different messages and share them. The messages on the map vary from the silly (one video asks, “Hello, who are you? Why??”) to the earnest to some that are not super audible. But hey, put kids in charge, and there’s no telling what you might get. That’s part of the fun.

“What they create can be playful and whimsical, serious or poetic,” Eliasson says. “There is no right or wrong, and it is easy for everyone to take part.” Whichever route kids takes to record their video, the sight of seeing big, cute eyes, animated expressions, and a child’s voice bringing a tree to life is sure to have an impact. It’s a conspicuous reminder that hurting the earth is hurting them, too.

About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.

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