You’ve come across the word “Metaverse” in your feed at least three times this week. This concept will redefine the way we interact, the way we work and the way we live. But while 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 virtual enhanced physical and digital reality. It is a 3D version of the web that provides 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 arouses 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 generated by users requires AI applications for the 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, it will undoubtedly consume quite large amounts of energy.
The Metaverse will also likely rely on virtual reality (VR) technologies, which already leverage 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 huge 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 emitted by a car over its lifetime. Cloud gaming, which is necessary for VR, could also increase CO2 emissions by 2030. In addition, the Metaverse will probably also require very high resolution images, which will further increase power consumption.
Moreover, the further development of VR will encourage people to buy new technologies, which means an influx of electronic waste, which pollutes our soil, 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 part of the Metaverse. While it can be helpful to replace physical creations with virtual ones, storing these virtual assets in the form of NFTs can have side effects. According to Digiconomist estimates, a single Etherum transaction emits approximately 110kg of CO2, equivalent to 42,734 VISA transactions or 18,253 hours of YouTube viewing.
Every time an NFT is minted or traded, another block has to be built on the blockchain. It’s not hard to imagine the number of broadcasts as creators studios move to the Metaverse.
The Metaverse can reduce emissions from other industries
It is possible that the Metaverse can offset emissions in other areas of life. By organizing concerts, talk shows or festivities in virtual spaces, for example, the environmental costs of travel are reduced. In addition, office space in the Metaverse could also reduce commuter emissions. This will reduce net emissions and therefore the overall environmental impact of the Metaverse.
We can therefore envision a world where business people could work in the Metaverse instead of going to the office every day and where air traffic would disappear almost completely.
Potential: Web 3.0 technology
Synonymous with lasting results, Web 3.0 technology has exciting potential, according to its fanatics, for several reasons. First of all, it is decentralized, it eliminates middlemen, manual mediation and arbitration, avoiding centralization of power and reducing costs. Second, it enables multidimensional inclusion, enhances reliability and traceability, and ensures the highest level of governance. And finally, it offers 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 like a double-edged sword, but beyond its environmental impact, it’s also controversial whether the Metaverse will threaten social sustainability. Will it be a more inclusive and egalitarian universe, or will it increase inequality?