Cool Planet Experience set to boost climate awareness in 2017

16 Dec 2016

Vicky Brown, CEO of Cool Planet Experience. Image: Vicky Brown

A new initiative in Co Wicklow will seek to boost climate awareness and education. Claire O’Connell spoke to CEO Vicky Brown.

Climate change is rarely far from the headlines – and these days it is unfortunately for all the wrong reasons, such as thinning sea ice in the Arctic, and denialism and defunding of research by the incoming arbiters of power in the USA.

But there is some good news – a new space due to open in Powerscourt Estate, Co Wicklow, next summer will seek to get visitors thinking about how they can help to mitigate the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change.

Called Cool Planet Experience (CPE), the emphasis is very much on experience, with visitors getting a personal sense of how they are affecting the planet and what they can do, according to CEO Vicky Brown. 

“We want to start where you think about your own carbon footprint and impact,” she said. “It is done in a fun and creative way, you think about what may be in the future and then you go back to your own piece again.”

The concept is the brainchild of entrepreneur Norman Crowley, who is now CEO of Crowley Carbon, an energy efficiency company based at Powerscourt Estate, a site that attracts around half a million visits a year.

Brown started working with Crowley on the CPE idea around two years ago and within months, she became CEO.

Empowerment for change 

By bringing people into CPE, Brown hopes they will feel empowered that they can do something: “I think one of the challenges with climate change is that it feels too big, too away from your life,” she said.

“We want to make people realise there are small things in their lives they can do and if we all make small steps, that collective group action does make a difference. So [for example], the next time someone buys a car, they opt for a hybrid, or an electric vehicle.”

The experience is designed around a ‘narrative arc’ developed with Martello Media and science communicator Phil Smyth, who heads public engagement at CPE.

One of the primary audiences is kids – for good reasons, explained Brown, who spoke on a panel with Mark Leslie from Martello at the Sci:Com conference in Dublin last week.  

“Children are going to be dealing with climate change, so we need to engage and inspire them, and becoming more aware of climate issues might encourage them to choose science-related subjects at second and third level,” she said.

“Also, a nice benefit is that children are amazing at making their parents do things.” 

‘We want to make people realise there are small things in their lives they can do and if we all make small steps, that collective group action does make a difference’

Game on for climate change action

One practical way of engaging kids (and people in general) is through games. One of the rooms at CPE will feature a 3D model of a city (made from soft drink bottles, to ensure plastic is being reused) and visitors need to avoid a dystopian future by playing games that change how we manage aspects of city life, such as transport, energy and waste. “It’s about looking for solutions,” said Brown. 

At present, the initiative is funded through industry sponsors, including Crowley Carbon, NTR Foundation, Vodafone Ireland Foundation and Calor.

“This is a critical issue for companies,” said Brown, who previously worked with Barnardos and The One Foundation before taking up the CPE role. “We would love Government to come in and fund us, we believe they have a remit to address this issue with the public.”

And her hopes for 2017 and beyond? “I really want Cool Planet to be open and running successfully over the summer, it is such a big aspiration and to walk in there physically and see it will be hugely proud moment,” she said, noting that the concept has already attracted international interest.

“And let’s open the next one.”

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication