You’ve come across 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 although it is beneficial for economic sustainability, will it be our ally or our enemy when it comes to environmental sustainability?
What is the Metaverse?
The Metaverse is a collective virtual open space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. It’s 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 sensation of actually being there.
What impact on the environment?
The 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 volume, variety and speed of data that will be generated by users will require AI applications for its analysis. According to Data Quest, the Metaverse is likely to lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, and since virtual reality technology and data centers use AI and cloud services, this will undoubtedly require fairly large amounts of energy.
The Metaverse will likely also rely on virtual reality (VR) technologies, which already use AI technologies, like deep neural networks for precise hand tracking and deep learning for eye tracking. Data center processing, especially for AI workloads, comes at a huge environmental cost.
Training a single AI model can emit up to 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is almost five times the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by a car over its lifetime. Cloud gaming, which is necessary for VR, could also increase carbon emissions by 2030. In addition, the Metaverse is also likely to require very high resolution imagery, which will further increase energy consumption. .
Moreover, the continued development of VR will encourage people to buy new technologies, which means an influx of electronic waste, which pollutes our soils, groundwater and landfills.
Environment and NFT
NFTs (Non-Fungible Token), 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, saving these virtual assets in the form of NFTs could have side effects. According to Digiconomist estimates, a single Etherum transaction emits around 110 kg of CO2, which is the equivalent of 42,734 VISA transactions or 18,253 hours of Youtube viewing.
Each time an NFT is minted or traded, another block must be built on the blockchain. It’s not hard to imagine the amount of broadcasts if creator studios move into the Metaverse.
The Metaverse could reduce emissions from other industries
It is possible that the Metaverse can offset emissions in other areas of life. For example, by organizing concerts, talk shows or festivities in virtual spaces, the environmental costs associated with travel will be reduced. Additionally, with office space in the Metaverse, commuting emissions could also decrease. This will reduce the net emissions and therefore the overall environmental impact of the Metaverse.
We can therefore imagine ourselves in 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 a variety of reasons. First of all, it is decentralized, it eliminates intermediaries, manual mediation and arbitration, thus avoiding the 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, in addition to reducing the risks 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 aside from its environmental impact, whether the Metaverse will threaten social sustainability is also controversial. Will it be a more inclusive and egalitarian universe, or will it exacerbate inequalities?