You’ve encountered the word “Metaverse” at least three times on your feed this week. This concept will redefine the way we interact with each other, the way we work and the way we live. But while beneficial for economic sustainability, will it be our ally or our enemy when it comes to environmental sustainability?
What is Metaverse?
Metaverse is a collective virtual open space, created by the convergence of practically enhanced physical and digital reality. It is a 3D version of the Internet that offers enhanced immersive experiences and is expected to become an $800 billion market by 2024. Access to this world is through a virtual reality headset, and users navigate using their eye movements, feedback- controllers or voice commands. The headset immerses the user and generates the physical feeling of actually being there.
What impact on the environment?
Metaverse is a virtual world where users can share experiences and interact in real time in simulated scenarios, it has been described by Microsoft as “a new version of the Internet.” The amount, variety and speed of data that will be generated by users will require AI applications for their analysis. According to Data Quest, Metaverse will likely lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, and since virtual reality technology and data centers use AI and cloud services, this will undoubtedly require quite large amounts of energy.
Metaverse is also likely to rely on virtual reality (VR) technologies, which already use AI technologies such as deep neural networks for precise hand tracking and deep learning for eye tracking. Data center processing, especially for AI workloads, has large environmental costs.
Training a single AI model can emit up to 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is nearly five times the amount of greenhouse gases a car emits over its lifetime. Cloud gaming, which is necessary for VR, may also increase CO2 emissions in 2030. In addition, Metaverse will also likely require very high-resolution images, which will further increase energy consumption.
Furthermore, the continued development of VR will encourage people to buy new technologies, which means an influx of electronic waste that pollutes our soil, groundwater and landfills.
Environment and NFT
NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), which use Blockchain technologies to enable the exchange of unique digital objects and keep track of their ownership, are an essential component of the Metaverse. While replacing physical creations with virtual ones can be beneficial, storing these virtual assets in the form of NFTs can have side effects. According to Digiconomist’s estimates, a single Etherum transaction emits about 110 kg of CO2, which is equivalent to 42,734 VISA transactions or 18,253 hours of Youtube viewing.
Every time an NFT is minted or traded, another block must be built on the blockchain. It’s not hard to imagine the amount of shows whose creator studios move into the Metaverse.
Metaverse can reduce emissions from other industries
It is possible that Metaverse can offset emissions in other areas of life. For example, by organizing concerts, talk shows or celebrations in virtual spaces, the environmental costs associated with travel will be reduced. In addition, with office space in Metaverse, commuting emissions can also decrease. This will reduce the net emissions and thus the overall environmental impact of Metaverse.
We can therefore imagine a world where businessmen could work in the Metaverse instead of going to the office every day, and where air travel would almost completely disappear.
Potential: Web 3.0 technology
Synonymous with lasting results, Web 3.0 technology has exciting potential, according to its fanatics, for various reasons. First of all, it is decentralized, it eliminates intermediaries, manual mediation and arbitration, thus avoiding centralization of power and reducing costs. Second, it enables multidimensional inclusion, strengthens reliability and traceability, and ensures the highest level of governance. And finally, it provides safe and secure transactions and smart contracts, besides reducing the risk of corruption and manipulation.
It is not yet known to what extent the Metaverse will invade our lives. It undeniably comes to us as a double-edged sword, but apart from its environmental impact, it is also controversial whether the Metaverse will threaten social sustainability. Will it be a more inclusive and equal universe, or will it exacerbate inequalities?