Could the Metaverse be a solution to current environmental issues? 

What Is The Metaverse?

The Metaverse is a collective virtual open space created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. It provides enhanced immersive experiences, and activities such as participating in virtual social experiences can take place in the Metaverse. 

Since the Metaverse is supposed to be an immersive experience, it is often designed to be accessed through headsets. However, it can still be accessible through computers, laptops, and mobile devices. How immersed the user will be in the metaverse depends on the device that they are using. 

The metaverse’s immersive experience also depends on whether the user is experiencing it through virtual reality, extended reality, mixed reality, or augmented reality. Virtual reality (VR) is fully immersive and makes users think they’re in a different environment or world apart from the real world. Using a head-mounted display (HMD) or headset, users experience a computer-generated world of imagery and sounds in which they can manipulate objects and move around using haptic controllers while tethered to a console or PC.

Extended reality (XR) is an umbrella category that covers a spectrum of newer, immersive technologies, including virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. Meanwhile, Mixed reality (MR) has users interacting with and manipulating both physical and virtual items and environments. Mixed Reality allows you to see and immerse yourself in the world around you even as you interact with a virtual environment using your own hands—all without ever removing your headset. You can have one foot in the real world and the other in an imaginary place. This breaks down basic concepts between real and imaginary for the user.

Augmented reality (AR) is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real-time. Unlike virtual reality (VR), which creates a totally artificial environment, AR users experience a real-world environment with generated perceptual information overlaid on top of it. Examples of Augmented reality include games such as Pokémon Go, which enables users to catch Pokémon, challenge gyms, and battle other trainers  in the real world.

What Impact Does The Metaverse Have On The Environment?

As the use of the Metaverse expands, it can also change the way we think about sustainability. In the Metaverse, participants can use new technologies, such as blockchain and NFTs, to build a more sustainable world by reducing the carbon footprint associated with traditional industries and activities. Some hope that the new Metaverse  world will be more equitable, transparent and eco-friendly. 

One benefit of the Metaverse is reducing travel through having virtual events and conferences. Reducing travel reduces carbon emissions associated with transportation. Transferring needs to travel, especially for leisure, to the metaverse can bring much-needed reprieve for the real-life cities and landscapes around us. Tourist attractions in virtual worlds can be great alternatives using less natural resources currently threatened by overuse. 

Another benefit is that virtual reality and augmented reality can increase access to educational resources. This reduces the need for physical resources and increases efficiency in other industries, including agriculture, energy production, and waste management. 

The metaverse could become a testbed for climate solutions as well. This includes designing new agricultural practices, creating architectural plans for green cities, conducting market research on new working conditions, and educating the public about access to local produce and the benefits of reusing and recycling materials.

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Despite these possible benefits, utilizing the metaverse has a few drawbacks. Some analysts are concerned that the metaverse could lead to an influx of greenhouse gas emissions. Virtual reality technology and data centers use AI and cloud services, which require quite large amounts of energy. Additionally, training just one AI model could generate an estimated 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. This is more than five times the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by a car during its lifetime! Using the metaverse will also increase the necessity for hi-res images, which only increases the need for more energy. The continuous development of VR could also increase e-waste, which pollutes soil, groundwater, and landfills.  

Though it’s currently up to major corporations and companies to find eco-friendly means of building their virtual realities, it’s also important for consumers to hold themselves accountable to creating a more eco-friendly metaverse. This includes properly recycling e-waste and using secondhand or more sustainable electronic products wherever possible.

Do you think the metaverse will become part of an eco-friendly future? Let us know by tagging us at @SustainableWat!