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San Diego resident Jose Esquivel learns about his environmental choices while taking a virtual reality bike tour of California at the San Diego County Fair. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Environmentalism soars to new heights at fair exhibit

DEL MAR — Visitors to the San Diego County Fair can get a bird’s-eye view of some amazing California landscapes without stepping foot on the midway or digging into their wallets.

Energy Upgrade California is offering a free virtual reality bike tour to help people understand how their everyday decisions impact the environment.

With both feet planted firmly on a stationary bicycle and a VR headset strapped to their heads, participants 13 and older “pedal” over the state’s mountains, forests, beaches and urban areas.

During the hang glider-type experience they are prompted to answer energy-related questions that impact the virtual experience.

Responses that positively affect the environment show California thriving. Less environmentally conscious decisions result in deterioration.

For example, while soaring over a reservoir, riders are asked if they use hot water when doing laundry. If their answer is yes they pedal forward and watch as the water recedes.

“This is a fun way to let Californians know that the little things they do can affect the environment,” said Jean Vreeland, Energy Upgrade’s marketing and channel integration manager. “It gets you thinking.”

Following the three-minute ride, participants can provide an email address to receive a selfie of their experience and more information about becoming an “energy advocate.”

“This is all about educating people on ways to save energy,” Vreeland said. “We’re a resource. We’re not selling anything.”

“It’s awesome,” San Diego resident Jose Esquivel said after taking a ride. “I did pretty well with the environment.”

Energy Upgrade California is a state initiative to help residents take action to save energy, conserve natural resources, reduce demand on the electricity grid and make informed energy management choices at home and work.

The interactive experience provides participants with an opportunity to see how their energy and water choices affect the bigger picture, and by making small, easy changes to the way they use water and energy at home and work they can help California stay golden for generations to come, the organizations literature states.

The VR bike tour travels statewide to fairs and malls. Vreeland said it is also set up occasionally at sporting events to recognize energy-saving leaders, such as the San Diego Padres.

“We hope we can encourage Californians to put more thought into their everyday actions and help them understand that by tweaking a few of their habits they can make a big impact on the world around them,” Vreeland said.

The demonstration can be found in O’Brien Hall, behind the DirecTV exhibit, through July 4, when the fair ends.

Visit for additional information on the bike tour or for fair hours, directions and more.