This post is in support of Blog Action Day.
Is it possible to have environmental concerns in a virtual world? Are there negative environmental impacts that could occur in for example SecondLife, for which Linden Labs has no cure? Are there repercussions of environmental issues in a virtual world that carry over into the real world?
Is it possible to have environmental concerns in a virtual world?
I think there are environmental concerns prevalent in SecondLife such as the role of real estate excess and pollution. When someone in SecondLife starts an avatar or buys property and then abandons the world â€“ what happens to all this unused albeit virtual stuff? Will someone else come along and rebuild the structure, a form of recycling? Are there are limits to the amount of new land that Linden is willing to create? If not, then SecondLife will quickly become a land of environmental excess and potentially waste. Currently, there is no sense of ecological cost to participants. Dangerous.
In terms of pollution, SecondLife must deal with issues such as noise and traffic. Is it safe to a let a real child play and explore on SecondLife? Are there safe areas where they are guaranteed safe haven from swearing, sex and gambling? If not, this inability to safeguard will result in an unsustainable environment.
Are there negative environmental impacts that could occur in SL for which Linden Labs has no cure?
This question I do not have the answer to. Could there be a disease (a virus), or a natural disaster (un-backed up server failure?) that wipes out the entire SecondLife population? If this were to occur, could SecondLife rebound? Would people who had invested so much be willing to rebuild?
Are there are any repercussions of environmental issues in a virtual world that carry over into the real world?
Definitely. Following up on Tony Walsh’s question: â€œIs SecondLife sustainable?â€� Nicholas Carr ran a fascinating post discussing the real-world resource requirements necessary to support SecondLife:
â€œSo let’s do the math.
If there are on average between 10,000 and 15,000 avatars “living” in Second Life at any point, that means the world has a population of about 12,500. Supporting those 12,500 avatars requires 4,000 servers as well as the 12,500 PCs the avatars’ physical alter egos are usingâ€¦ So an avatar consumes 1,752 kWh per year. By comparison, the average human, on a worldwide basis, consumes 2,436 kWh per year. So there you have it: an avatar consumes a bit less energy than a real person, though they’re in the same ballpark.â€�
Later, Julian Bleecker followed up with an even more impressive analysis, making such conclusion that the energy consumption was a bit more tame than that proposed by Carr, but still staggeringly large:
â€œEvery year, every Avatar in Second Life produces CO2 emissions equivalent to a typical, honking, bloated, arrogant SUV driving 1,293 miles, based on the assumption that this kind of SUV generates 1 lbs of CO2 per mile.â€�