Can one small YouTube channel heal the world? Probably not, but at least Climate Town is trying.
Rollie Williams is a lot of things: "dracula apologist," "guy who couldn't find a men's jumpsuit that fit him," "surprisingly big on billiards YouTube," and "happy just to be nominated."
But what he is, most of all, is a graduate student at Columbia University, studying Climate Science. And he's recently started putting his studies to good use, sharing his knowledge of the causes, consequences, and solutions to environmental degradation in an entertaining and informative series of videos on his YouTube channel, Climate Town.
Though he hasn't been working on Climate Town for long — the first of video went up in August of 2020 — his infrequent, high-effort videos, filmed around New York City on a shoestring budget supported by Patreon donations, have already started attracting some big views. Since Williams averages about one video a month, you can watch the entire repertoire in a little over an hour, but you'll come away from that hour with some insights that are likely to stick with you.
2 Minutes Of Fact-Checkable Climate Change Facts For Skeptics | Climate Town www.youtube.com
Because while jokes about Al Gore ("America's lamest cool guy") and shots of Williams in his underwear — fishing a laptop out of a pond — make Climate Town a lot more palatable and funny, the series is built on a foundation of solid research into the sordid history of environmental research and policy. And if you think you already know the dirty details of climate change, prepare discover entire new layers of filth.
Williams, with the help of "a ragtag team of climate communicators, creatives and comedians," goes deep into the receipts in these videos. He reveals how car companies, politicians, pundits, and oil companies have shaped America to serve their interests — with no regard for the irreversible damage they were doing to the Earth.
And that doesn't just include stuff like lobbying against climate legislation and spreading lies about how wind energy and the Green New Deal somehow caused the catastrophic power outages in Texas. Climate Town also picks apart some of the favorite band-aids a lot of us like to place our hopes in when staring into the gaping wound of humanity's impact on the planet.
Carbon Offsets! Can't we just buy our way out of climate change? www.youtube.com
It turns out that around 85% of carbon offsets don't do anything at all, the majority of your "carbon footprint" has nothing to do with what your individual activity, and most plastic recycling is (mostly) a lie. As nice as all of these concepts are, the reality is that they were all thought up as marketing gimmicks to shift the blame off of major corporations who might otherwise have been held responsible for the destruction of the earth.
It turns out that people don't love it when massively profitable companies ravage the planet, but what are they supposed to do? Be less profitable?
No, it's historically been much cheaper to convince people that individual action like recycling can solve the problem (even though that little recycling symbol doesn't belong on most plastics), or that the corporations involved are already doing enough to fix it (they're not).
So it's all hopeless, right? GM set out to create an America that was built around gas-powered cars, and they succeeded. And Exxon worked to infiltrate the first Bush administration, then undermined our shot at global climate cooperation.
The Time America Almost Stopped Climate Change | Climate Town www.youtube.com
They won; humanity lost; planet over, right? Well, as unpleasant as it is to hear about how close we've come in the past to avoiding our current problems, it's probably not quite that bad yet, and Climate Town videos always end with a note of optimism — with suggestions for how viewers can push for the kind of radical climate policy we're going to need if we want to save the world.
It remains to be seen if humanity has what it takes to clean up after ourselves, but looking at how we got here and how we can move forward is a necessary part of the massive, all-important struggle ahead of us. In a sane world, this kind of accounting would occupy most of our news and political media, as we prepare to face the defining crisis of our era.
But while the world might not be sane just yet, Climate Town is, and it makes the whole mess a little bit easier to digest.
The Randonautica app led me to a mysterious empty road. Researching it led me to conspiracy theories, quantum physics, simulation theory, manifestation techniques, and chaos magic.
The trip began with a wrong turn.
I drove confidently down the street until I realized I was going in the wrong direction, and veered down a dead-end to turn around.
Immediately, I wondered if this was symbolic, a sign from the universe that I should turn back. On a randonauting trip—at least if you adopt the open-minded and deeply superstitious mindset of many of the app's roughly 10 million and counting users—everything takes on a weird and ominous meaning, adopting a number of potentially divine implications.
The app led me down the street, out of my immediate neighborhood and up some of the windiest streets in my town in upstate New York. Treacherous even on the sunniest day of summer, the serpentine road set me on edge. Suddenly, a car veered towards me out of nowhere, forcing me to swerve.
When I arrived at the destination, all I saw was forest on both sides, two parallel ravines on the edge of the paved road. I opened up the Randonautica app as if it would give me some kind of wisdom about what I was supposed to find.
The Randonautica app, if you aren't familiar with it, describes itself as "the world's first quantumly generated choose your own adventure game." Essentially, it's an app that sends you to completely random locations near where you live.
There was nothing here in particular to be found at the destination where it had sent me—only the quietness of a suburban road. Yet a closer look revealed that even this plain-looking street was studded with potentially meaningful images. A blood-red dot on the wooden pole nearby. A few numbers emblazoned on the pavement.
I stepped out of the car and began to wander around. Though it was a sunny summer day, as the wind picked up I suddenly began to feel afraid, then almost terrified. I've spent a lot of time traveling and exploring foreign cities alone at night, and never once had I felt the same fear I did then, in my hometown in the brilliant sun.
I jumped back into the car and plugged in my next destination. On the way, I felt a mix of emotions—fear, but also a sense of catharsis, as if something had been burned out of me by that rush of adrenaline on that empty road.
When I arrived at the cul de sac in front of my next destination, I found a tag for pigskin gloves. Inside was a list of mysterious numbers and writing in a language I didn't know.
That's the magic of Randonautica. In theory, it sounds mindless. But when you're actually out there in the world, brought to a random location generated by an algorithm, it can be an emotional, even revelatory experience—which is, as it turns out, entirely by design.
What Is Randonautica?
The original Randonautica code came from a group of programmers working on something called the Fatum Project. They were interested in the potential inherent in randomness, and in gaming randomness to discover new heights. It turns out that Randonautica's theoretical roots go deep.
"The Fatum Project was born as an attempt to research unknown spaces outside predetermined probability-tunnels of the holistic world," explained a Reddit user named unitiveconsciousness, "and has become a fully functional reality-tunnel creating machine that digs rabbit holes to wonderland."
In 2019, 29-year-old Joshua Lengfelder discovered the group on the messenger app Telegram, and used the code to create a bot that sent people to random coordinates. The bot would eventually become Randonautica.
While Randonautica has been popular with Reddit users and other online communities for quite a while, it's only recently become popular on TikTok, as quarantined teenagers adopted the app and began using it as an excuse to venture around their hometowns and cities.
Now, TikTok and YouTube are full of videos (almost always set to eerie horror-movie music) and vlogs about people's experiences with Randonautica.
10 Most Scary Randonautica Videos www.youtube.com
The app has guided users to some peculiar places, but no Randonautica-related incident is more infamous than the time the app led a group of kids in Seattle to discover a suitcase that contained two corpses. The incident, which occurred in June, catapulted the app to a new level of Internet notoriety.
Henry ✰ on TikTok www.tiktok.com
Something traumatic happened that changed my life checkkkk 😐🥺 @natthecvt #fyp #viral #crime #murder #randonautica #randonauting #scary #washington
The app's success is partly thanks to events like this and partly thanks to its ingenious branding. Like many meditations, manifestation exercises, or similar pop psychology phenomenons, the app encourages users to set an intention before going Randonauting—an act that, at the very least, inevitably adds layers of significance to any experience. It also asks users to go exploring with a positive mindset. (They're also asked to bring a bag to help the environment, according to the app's Pro Tips).
Randonautica uses "a random number generator to produce specific coordinates within a set radius of your current location that you can travel to as a way of exploring the world around you," according to Wired. "People gather these coordinates through a dedicated app...where they can further define what they want to encounter. The app encourages users to set a personal intention before visiting a location, in the hopes of uncovering 'synchronicities,' coincidences or occurrences outside usual patterns of experience."
Perhaps because of all its peculiar context, there are some dark conspiracies swirling around Randonautica that add to its growing intrigue. Some fans have spread (baseless but undeniably creepy) rumors that the app is actually collecting people's locations in order to connect them to sex traffickers—and, naturally, that was the very rumor that cropped up in my head as I walked around my randomly selected destination.
These conspiracies are fueled by a variety of odd, coincidental anecdotes from Randonauts, many of which resemble those old homemade Slenderman YouTube videos in that they certainly could have been fabricated, but have a way of gripping the imagination.
There's no evidence that the app has led anyone into the hands of sex traffickers. It has, however, led users to discover strange things about themselves and their neighborhoods.
WARNING RANDONAUTICA IS REAL AND CREEPY - Do NOT Try This CRAZY App (Gone Wrong) www.youtube.com
While often eerie and some are just absurd, many Randonauts' stories are extremely poignant. A user named @gothboithrift claims that the app sent him to his relatives' graves. Another said that while setting their intention, they asked for help with an eating disorder—and were taken to a poster about eating disorder recovery. Another discovered a letter from a man whom she later discovered had recently died; she was able to transport the letter to his wife.
Another user said she was seeking closure for her sister's death when she stumbled upon a field of flowers—the same flowers she had tattooed on her in commemoration of her sister.
Sometimes users' experiences are just plain weird, often in a charmingly kitschily and beautiful way. Users stumble on fridges in open fields, abandoned houses with lights on, strange symbols, car washes doused in rainbow lights, coyotes standing in open fields, doors in the middle of nowhere.
And then you have the grimmer side of things: a corpse by a shopping mall, creepy dolls, a man who had just been shot lying by a gutter. These things aren't exactly new, supernatural, or surprising, per se, but in the context of being sent to them by an app, it's easy to see why conspiracy theories abound.
Glitches in the Matrix: Conspiracy Theories About Randonautica
Some users believe that Randonautica is sending them to places for specific reasons, possibly in order to connect them to strange and meaningful entities or to lead them on various quests.
"Personally I wouldn't use the app cause NO ONE can give[sic] me a guarantee that those coordinations aren't 100% random. Often times people end up in eery [sic] places and sometimes there are some suspicious people there," wrote one Redditor named SchuzMarone5.
| Randonautica - [ TikTok Compilation ] 1 | www.youtube.com
Another Reddit user named Undernourish proposed a more mystical explanation: "In a nutshell: [Randonautica] messes with synchronicity. The way the world manifests things is through random events. Think chaotic good," they wrote. "So, if you put enough yin energy (cool, tingly) when you put intent into an idea while you yawn deeply (flowing stream sound at the back of your head), the randonautica algorithm sets a completely random location so that the universe has an easier time slipping things into the world."
With all its emphasis on "consciousness" and "quantum physics," the app inherently emphasizes out-there theories and leads people towards strange experiences far beyond what they would ordinarily encounter.
Some users view the app as a way to enter a more interconnected, spiritual state, or even as a pathway to enlightenment. "After visiting the point," advised one user named crackenhigh_69, "have the intentions in the back of your mind all the time. You will see that your life experience morphs into delivering for you the intention even after you left the point. After some practice you will be able to stop using the app and see life as one infinite painting and you are the painter."
Still others have followed that wavelength further, proposing that Randonautica is an "undercover operation that's setting out to prove we all live in a simulation by showing glitches in the system," according to a user named Daniel Falconer.
The coincidences and symbolic images Randonauters find, many argue, are the app's efforts to reveal cracks in our everyday reality—cracks which could lead to doors to other dimensions.
Finding Meaning in Randonautica (and in a Random World)
Most likely, Randonautica has led so many users to peculiar experiences because it's asking them to actually look at the world around them.
We often go through our lives on autopilot, yet the world around us abounds with strangeness, omens, violence, and mysterious, offbeat beauty. There's a reason why people have always believed in gods, extraterrestrials, and folk magics; regardless of whether these things are actually real, our minds are wired to search for much greater forces than what we usually see in our day-to-day lives, and our world seems happy to present hints of those forces if we let it.
Possibly the Randonautica app utilizes some kind of chaos magic, a form of modern occultism that relies on the idea that "belief is a tool for achieving effects." In chaos magick, as in Randonautica, "nothing is true and everything is permitted."
It's simple logic: If you go somewhere expecting to find something coincidental or eerie—or if you just truly open your mind to the possibility that strange forces might be afoot—they'll probably appear.
That's part of the magic of travel in general. You see things you'd never ordinarily see, make connections, and discover that the world is a lot stranger than you ever imagined.
Neurologically, humans only see a very limited part of the world at one time, and our brains patch in the gaps in our perception. We're also excellent at detecting coincidences, connecting disparate experiences, and essentially seeing what we want to see—yet another example of the power and pitfalls of our perception. Confirmation bias leads us to search for and detect information that confirms our values or beliefs. These psychological phenomena are the foundations of manifestation techniques as well as, arguably, prayer.
In light of all this, it makes sense that Randonautica is currently going viral. Many of us are stuck at home; the world seems more random and chaotic than ever; it's clear that evil and invisible forces are at work behind the scenes, be them pathogenic or political.
In an often disconnected and random world, Randonauting allows us to make contact with our natural, immediate surroundings, while also playing into our desire to find deeper meanings in it and in our lives.
So if you're going out seeking evidence of parallel dimensions, Randonauting might be your way in. Though if you're planning on venturing out alone into a strange destination selected by a glitchy app, be sure to bring a mask, a friend, and some ample caution, because you never really know what you'll find.
As for me, my Randonauting trip made me reflect on the beauty of nature and the infinite complexity of the trees, as I knew it would. I also reflected on the wastefulness of suburban lawns and the eeriness of suburbia in general, and confronted my own feelings about being at home for such a long period of time. I thought about the pliability of my own thoughts, and how easily my emotions can be warped by a few flickering lines of code. Inevitably, I made a TikTok.
And of course, I started planning my next trip.
Following Youtube's recent restrictions, many content creators are moving away from the platform.
A little over a month ago, Youtube changed its policies regarding videos that include firearms.
While Youtubers can still give shooting demonstrations or display their weapons, users are no longer permitted to post videos intended to sell firearms to prospective buyers. Youtube has also put a ban on all videos "providing instructions on manufacturing a firearm, ammunition, high capacity magazine, homemade silencers/suppressors, or certain firearms accessories as those listed above." On the one hand, this move prevents illegal gun sales from taking place on Youtube's site, certainly making their lawyers happy. On the other, it's the absolute least they could do in the wake of the Parkland School Shooting.
If one were to assume that Youtube's core demographic is comprised of sane, relatively rational folks, then the logic follows that this move should have been a slam dunk, both from a legal and public relations perspective. Still, some of the more ardent gun enthusiasts are taking their content elsewhere in order to protest Youtube's decision. As if a group of people being upset that Youtube–a site famous for cat videos and Charlie Bit My Finger–won't broker their firearms deals isn't surreal enough, the first place they turned following the ban was Pornhub.
Yes, that Pornhub.
Unlike Youtube, Pornhub's restrictions for what goes up on its site are, um, pretty lax, and firearm aficionados are flocking. While Youtube certainly has more daily active users, Pornhub is still one of the most popular sites in the world, and would probably be a good alternative save for one simple fact; as its name implies, Pornhub specializes in a very specific type of video. For example, if you type the word 'gun' into the Pornhub search engine, the first video that comes up is of two men in tactical gear titled 'Glock 19 vs Hudson H9,' the second video is called 'Crazy girl ***** her ***** with a gun.' . The sociological implications of so literally blending sex and violence aside, the second video, as well as the rest of the page, certainly makes it difficult for content creators to gain mainstream appeal using the adult entertainment site.
Firearms information courtesy of Pornhub
Possibly with Pornhub's limitations in mind, the founders of Full30.com recently created an all new platform for firearms enthusiasts to share the content that they love. The site is broken up into three sections: video, blog, and forum. The video section contains the same types of videos that Youtube recently banned, namely men, mostly middle-aged and white, loudly explaining how their weapons work. Most of the videos are posted by accounts with names like God, Family, and Guns or Big Shooterist, and unlike Youtube–where videos can get millions of views in a matter of hours–posts on Full30 only tend to get around 500-1000 views a piece. The videos range from weapons tutorials and roundups, to Internet philosophers waxing poetic on their interpretations of the second amendment. While the comments sections are lacking in volume, they aren't lacking in enthusiasm or vitriol.
You'd be hard pressed to find a video on Full30 in which the comment section doesn't feature some iteration of "dumbass liberals are scared of guns."
Exuding a similar spirit, the Full30 blog is a section of the site dedicated to the discussion of gun policies that looks like it could have its own tab on Breitbart. On top of this, every article seems to be written by someone named Matt, and it's pretty safe to assume he's the only person churning out content for this portion of the site. Aside from various articles offering a conservative stance on gun control, the section also features thinly-veiled native advertisements for AR-15s and other assault rifles. Regardless of one's stance on gun control, seeing an ad for an AR-15 next to an article about the Parkland School Shooting can feel a little jarring.
Still, the most active part of Full30 is its forum, a sprawling list of comments where pictures of assault rifles captioned "A socialist judge killed more children than my AR15s" without any context compete with posts about the death of democracy.
Outliers aside, the forum reads a bit like a carefully curated Facebook wall. Specific questions about guns are answered swiftly and carefully, while social issues discussed there are usually approached with an attempt at nuance in lieu of expertise. It's worth noting however, that the threads on Full30's forum do fall into a similar trap that Facebook and Twitter feeds do; namely, they're echo chambers, resonating a relatively universal worldview and not putting much of a premium on diversity of thought.
Screenshot of Full30's Forum
Many of the posts in the forum also call for the creation of safe spaces for conservatives and gun lovers, and Full30 might be giving us a glimpse into what a conservative safe space might actually look like. While questioning American democracy may not seem like a proportionate response to Youtube telling a few content creators to stop selling weapons on their (Youtube's) platform, it's important to remember how insular and partisan online communities can be.
When a tight-knit group, online or otherwise, perceives a threat to their way of life, they tend to retreat inward.
As the world changes and gun policy gets (somewhat) stricter, it's a virtual guarantee that more sites like this will start popping up. Full30 is still pretty small, but inasmuch as a community's hobbies and entertainment are indicative of its worldview, the site is an interesting glimpse into the collective psyche of the American gun lobby's most diehard supporters.