• Transform magazine
  • February 04, 2023

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The metaverse is a game. Turning back climate change is not

Screenshot 2022 12 22 At 14.25.19

Paul Domenet, partner and communications creative director at Free The Birds, questions the prioritisation of emerging technologies, such as Web3, over combating climate change.

Ironically, the phrase to describe our current situation is ‘the perfect storm’. The real world is in a precarious ecological state whilst the virtual world is set to enter a new phase with the much-heralded arrival of Web3 and the metaverse. At a time when behaviour change is needed on a universal scale to address climate change, the shiny lights of a new digital experience are beckoning. Excitement and investment in this new digital world are surging faster than the water levels. In fiscal year 2022, the World Bank Group delivered a record $31.7 billion for climate-related investments, but the market size of the metaverse is over $38.5 billion.

It is a time for priorities and perspective. The rising seas, the melting ice caps, the forest fires, the vanishing species are real. Our problems are physical and can only be fixed physically, not digitally. People’s minds, especially those of the young, are going to be increasingly bent towards the stimulating and seemingly limitless opportunities offered by the metaverse when it has never been more important to focus on the world, we actually live in.

Currently, the metaverse appears to be a place for affluent society. Championed and built by the super-rich and accessed, for now, via technology which only few can afford. Meanwhile in the real world, the less affluent people are the first to feel the effects of climate change on their environment. We have set in motion a series of events, which if not addressed, will ensure we meet the dystopian predictions you’ve heard about. This sends me spinning back to the first time I saw the film WALL-E and to acknowledge its increasing prescience.

On a mega galactic cruise ship ploughing through space, the entitled evacuees from a dying planet recline on their loungers plugged into their VR headsets bloated and slowly losing their physical ability to put one foot in front of the other. Down on Earth, the heroic refuse-collecting robot WALL-E sweeps up all the detritus left behind by the demise of the planet and builds it into citadels of landfill. The only difference is that, should this vision of the future prove accurate, it will be real people not robots who will be left behind in the wreckage of the real world. And the spaceship the lucky ones will escape to will be the metaverse. To play.

We're in an urgent need of a reality check and straightening our priorities as a community. Choosing to meaningfully solve the climate crisis shifts us into a more mature adult role.  Choosing to subscribe to the metaverse points us in the opposite direction, and we become more like children who decide to ignore the damage and mess they have created in their ‘rooms’ and escape into the screens. The metaverse is a fabricated reality. It will be what we want it to be. But one of life's pleasures and challenges is choosing how we want to live – not to have the basic building blocks and boundaries (literally) coded by computer scientists in Silicon Valley.

Yes, the positive promise and potential of the Metaverse is huge. It is a place of boundless creativity, a playground for the imagination. You only have to watch Travis Scott’s live virtual gig on Fortnite to see the mind-blowing worlds which can be dreamed of and delivered, the jaw-dropping, eye-popping experiences which can be shared.

As someone in the creative industry, one rubs one’s hands at the thought of what might be possible, including the impossible. But I’m also someone in a chair, at a desk, in a building, in a city, in a country, on a continent, on a planet.

And that planet isn’t well.

And it needs us all to have our heads in its future ahead of a fantasy. Solving the climate emergency in the future can be the pinnacle of human collaboration and problem solving on a global scale. Or we can hide away, in a questionable alternative VR space where things are as we wish them to be. The more time we spend in the latter, the more we lessen our chances of solving the former.

Sure, imagine virtual. But act real. The choice is yours to make.