I recently had a wonderful experience taking part in the organization and planning, and finally the execution, of Earth Day in the virtual world of Second Life.
A group there (Environmental Council) decided to coordinate and publicize Earth Day activities created by its members and others; this turned out to tap a hidden need - there were many dedicated, skilled environmentalists, connected with both not-for-profit and for-profit organizations, already present in the virtual world. It did not take long before word-of-virtual-mouth brought more than 20 individuals representing almost that number of environmentally conscious organizations, and all their members, together.
We built a team of organizers, and technical tools whose most visible result was an attractive green (virtual) wristband that was worn by almost 700 avatars in Second Life and that announced Earth Day events throughout Second Life as their time slot approached. Supporting the wristbands was a single virtual server, and vending machines that looked like attractive signs but when touched (as per instructions on the sign) offered the visitor a wristband plus a set of instructions. These vendor signs were placed widely in Second Life, and are still visible.
Close to 1,000 people attended the various events on Earth Day, and all went smoothly. But, even though we had a successful all-day concert of world-wide musicians who none of us would have seen or heard otherwise, and even though there were numerous talks on critical issues such as water availability, solar energy theory and practice, Gaia principles, sustainable development, and so on, it has been asked by some: why have an Earth Day in a virtual world, using hot servers that are fed by carbon-producing electric generation plants (or in some cases by radioactive nuclear plants).
And here is my answer: at this time information is worth far more than the carbon dioxide it releases. I can not give you a calculation, but will try to work on it this year, coming up to the next Earth Day, so I will have a more detailed answer. But it will always be hard to determine the value of information that affects world-wide processes. If nearly 1,000 people are more aware of the options available with solar power, and wind, and water power, and so on, and they talk to friends and neighbors, and within a few years most of them do install solar panels, or vote into power more progressive local, state, and Federal governments, that has value, doesn't it? What if the environmental benefits of their actions, caused at least in part through Earth Day participation, far outweigh the excess electricity needed to run the computers? Clearly it is a net benefit to the planet.
I am a believer in knowledge, as well as the ability to share that knowledge and to motivate people by one's own determination. That is my understanding of our virtual Earth Day 2007: information and enthusiasm spreading across the Americas and Europe (and to a lesser extent Asia, at this time), and opening doors for many of us in the most energy-intensive and wasteful societies on Earth. Can that be a bad thing because we have some extra computers running, instead of, possibly, televisions or automobiles? I think not. I think the benefits outweigh the environmental "footprint", at least for now, when education and new forms of action are key to helping our environment.
Now, let's get going and making sure that more of that electricity is green-generated. OK? Do I have your promise to help with that? Thanks.
In 2006 I started building the PlanetThoughts.org Web site to raise awareness of environmental issues, but I have been in the software field since 1978, working primarily on healthcare-related and not-for-profit organizations, but also for some general commercial companies. I have also long been a supporter of environmental causes.
I am an enthusiastic Tai Chi Chuan practitioner and teacher. This helps balance my brain after sitting at a screen for hours at a time, and lends some balance to life.
In early 2006 global warming and other environmental and energy challenges, as well as escalating wars in numerous locations, became central to my understanding of issues that our whole planet faces, and I wanted to do something with my skills to spread awareness and understanding of environment and energy issues, as well as discuss better philosophies of living, for greater satisfaction beyond consumerism.