Second Life avatars aren’t as eco-friendly / carbon neutral as first thought?

Anuradha Vittachi’s presentation at the United Nations OCHA +5 Symposium mentioned that each flight killed a child. She then went on to demonstrate the potential of Second Life to cut down on air travel by meetings in sims and showcased OneClimate Island that will have virtual events running in parallel to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, 3 – 14 December 2007. As noted here,

OneClimate.net is supported by Cisco Systems. Adrian Godfrey, Director of Corporate Affairs at Cisco, says: “We are delighted to be supporting OneClimate.net as a global initiative that brings together Cisco’s commitment to tackle climate change and to utilising the power of the human network to make a difference.”

OneClimate.net links directly through to OneClimate Island, built by OneWorld within the 3D virtual world of Second Life.

“It will come into its own when the United Nations meets on December 3-14 to hold its Climate Summit. We will be opening a virtual window on events in Bali for anyone in the world who can access Second Life. But unlike its Real Life equivalent – and appropriately for a climate change conference – it will produce no travel-related carbon emissions.

Emphasis mine.

On the other hand, in Avatars consume as much electricity as Brazilians, Nicholas Carr writes:

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.

Now, if we limit the comparison to developed countries, where per-capita energy consumption is 7,702 kWh a year, the avatars appear considerably less energy hungry than the humans. But if we look at developing countries, where per-capita consumption is 1,015 kWh, we find that avatars burn through considerably more electricity than people do.

More narrowly still, the average citizen of Brazil consumes 1,884 kWh, which, given the fact that my avatar estimate was rough and conservative, means that your average Second Life avatar consumes about as much electricity as your average Brazilian.

In a comment on this post, Sun’s Dave Douglas takes the calculations another step, translating electricity consumption into CO2 emissions. (Carbon dioxide, he notes, “is the most prevalent greenhouse gas from the production of electricity.”) He writes: “looking at CO2 production, 1,752 kWH/year per avatar is about 1.17 tons of CO2. That’s the equivalent of driving an SUV around 2,300 miles (or a Prius around 4,000).” 

So while Anuradha was correct to emphasise the fact that meetings in OneClimate Island in Second Life will not result in any travel related carbon emissions (which is not to be scoffed at), it also seems to be true just using Second Life has a very real environmental footprint.

Or does it?

Carr’s findings are hotly contested in the comments and read in particular the comment by Markus Breuer on May 19, 2007 at 5:49 AM.

Whatever the case, I’ve long since argued that Second Life holds great potential, in the right circumstances, for Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). If it means that in some way it’s use cuts down on carbon emissions through the reduction of air-travel, then I guess it’s all the more reason to promote it as a platform for serious work and collaboration.