If A Tree Falls In The Bialowieza Forest: A Minecraft Education

WRITTEN BY AARON CHAPMAN

It’s 11:00pm and I’ve conceded to the fact that I may not be getting any sleep tonight. The roadworks outside my window drill a jackhammer into my dreams of dreaming. So I make a tea, rub some lavender oil into the back of the neck like any normal person and take my mind somewhere else. I meditate. I think of a calm forest. But my mind is busy. I start thinking laterally. Forest. Forest. Bialowieza Forest. I think about the Bialowieza Forest.   

The Bialowieza Forest is the last of its kind in Europe. 700 square kilometers of pure verdancy; pure organisms. Well, at least that’s how it currently stands. I’m sure the area was a lot greater prior to a recent logging initiative aimed at eradicating spruce bark beetle. Who's the real pest? Beetles are destroying trees so we destroy forests. That makes sense, right? According to the scientific community, this is exactly the kind of active protection that interferes with the forest’s natural order.

So how do you combat ignorance? Exactly the opposite—knowledge. Knowledge equals power after all. Greenpeace Poland commissioned Ogilvy & Mather Poland, a lucrative advertising agency to increase awareness of the current threats the Bialowieza Forest faces as well as advocate Darwinism. How? Minecraft—the online game where you traverse surreal, pixelated landscapes. Basically it’s a tool of imagination. Kids can build, dig and mine whatever they want. They can build farms. It’s an alternate universe.

Greenpeace Poland has put their wishes in a language everyone can understand by building a 1:1 scale Minecraft Map as part of the To The Last Tree Standing campaign. How accurate is it? Put together using satellite imagery, you’ll find every one of the 6 to 7 million trees that form the forest. In the entire 700 square kilometers of the Polish section of the forest, you’ll find every river, swamp, stream, tree and clearing outlined in block form. Blocks, as a unit of Minecraft measurement, are worth about 18 gigabytes. And there’s more than 50 billion blocks in this map. That’s a lot of memory.

To The Last Tree Standing has been organised to educate youth on the importance of sustainability and the preservation of the UNESCO protected forest. And thanks to the campaign, school students are learning the true value of the forest (I’ve now learned how to pronounce it). “Thousands of youths are voluntarily learning the Bialowieza Forest at home,” says Ogilvy & Mather Poland’s creative directors. But teenagers and adults have also been levitating through the online forest to hear spruce sway in the wind, watch leaves rustle and streams flow. It’s no surprise that more than 100,000 unique visitors hopped online the first weekend it went live.

The campaign is ruffling feathers among those wishing to destroy it. Along with the Minecraft Map, To The Last Tree Standing also encompasses a short documentary and a group exhibition that showcases some of Poland’s best contemporary photographers. The photographers were tasked with capturing the forest in their own light, with one exception … they had to make images in the Minecraft Map. Yep. They’ve “created the world’s first photographic exhibition of video game screenshots,” the project claims (see the full list of photographers below). Floating through the digital Bialowieza Forest, these photographers snapped eerie landscapes that represent their own artistic affinities imbued with the underlying discourse of preservation.

The message is simple. You can look at the Bialowieza Forest, walk up and touch the bark of a tree. You can look at a Minecraft Map of the Bialowieza Forest, glide up to a tree with the click of a button. Either way, it’s beautiful and it needs protecting. Unless you plan on visiting Poland in the near future, I highly recommend experiencing the digital version. You’re bound to find a reason for wanting to protect the forest.

And for those wondering, no, I still can't sleep. There's too much industry. 

Photographers: Jan Kriwol, Konrad Ćwik, Zuzanna Krajewska, Paweł Fabijański, Igor Omulecki, Jacek Poremba, Karol Grygoruk, Maciej Miloch, Bartek Radwan, Bartosz Maciejewski, Jacek Kołodziejski and Łukasz Ziętek.

See the exhibition and learn more about To The Last Tree Standing here: https://www.thelasttree.media/photography/