Is the metaverse an ecological disaster in the making?

The metaverse is presented by tech companies as the future of the Internet. But doesn’t it go against ecological concerns?

The potential uses of the metaverse are not lacking and are constantly proposed: collaborating on a professional project, making purchases, attending a concert, playing games or meeting all kinds of people. The environmental impact of these virtual worlds is very little discussed. And for good reason, the results are more than mixed.

Many resources to mobilize

To smoothly view 3D universes in real time and in very high quality, you will need many super-powerful data centers and computers that will perform 24/7 computations. Since the goal is usually to make them work in virtual reality, this means that all users – hundreds of thousands of people – will need to purchase a headset. The manufacture of these helmets requires, as for our computers and smartphones, rare metals, which contribute largely to pollution from digital devices.

As the metaverse is now associated with the web3, we must also take into account the environmental impact of cryptocurrencies and NFTs which has created controversy for several years. Although the metaverse is touted as the future of the internet, it is unlikely to completely replace it. Likewise, most people prefer to go to a concert in person and actually go on vacation. This will not replace existing uses, it will simply add to them, thus increasing the pollution associated with digital technology.

Is it possible to compensate?

It would be illusory for metaverse companies to deny the environmental impact of the materials used and the servers necessary for its operation. Most of the talk therefore revolves around ways to compensate for this pollution. For example, professional metaverses could replace certain journeys and limit the impact of transportation, especially the use of the plane for travel abroad. However, it is possible to fall into the same traps as telecommuting, which is to say that there are definitely some savings on transportation, but, as people are all in different places, it takes longer electricity for lighting and heating or air conditioning. .

Having a metaverse full of advertising could instead incentivize excessive consumption in both the virtual and the real world.

On the cryptocurrency side, the environmental issue has been such a controversy – a real thorn in the side of NFTs – that they have been forced to question themselves and find solutions. Ethereum has made some real progress recently with The Merge. It remains to be seen what it will be like if the metaverse spreads and if cryptocurrencies have to handle tens of millions of additional transactions.

Another possible positive impact, according to advocates of the metaverse, is the replacement of some real objects with virtual ones. For example, satisfy his desire to fast fashion in virtual, while it is consumed in a more sober and virtuous way in reality. In theory, this could actually reduce pollution related to the textile industry (manufacturing, transport, etc.), but there is no certainty, again, that this can act as a substitute. Having a metaverse full of advertising could instead incentivize excessive consumption in both the virtual and the real world.

To comply with the Paris Accords, it would be necessary to move towards more durable, lower-tech computing equipment and social networks that consume fewer resources by displaying fewer images, videos and advertisements. All the opposite of the metaverse. While these virtual worlds are struggling to convince users, isn’t it time to consider the future of the Internet from an innovation standpoint? And sobriety?

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