Of Scooters, Brazilians and Avatars
Scooters in JapanImage by toner on flickr.com
Here's a little imaginary scenario.
My husband used to ride a scooter whenever he could, rather than drive our car, because the scooter (obviously) guzzled so much less fossil fuel. Even in freezing fog, he'd be out there, complete with muffler and crash helmet.
But then a pesky journalist wrote a blog with a deliberately provocative headline claiming that a scooter used up more fuel than an average Brazilian! After which his life was made a misery.
The poor fellow was attacked by all kinds of strangers for being a hypocritical would-be-green scooter-phoney - and, even more painfully, for going out of his way to be mean to Brazilians.
In the end, a broken shadow of his former self, he threw the scooter into the recycling crusher and went back to using the car.
And no-one wrote a counter-blog pointing out that cars used even more fuel than Brazilians because that was far too obviously true to be worth mentioning. And as no-one bothered to send this counter-thought on to their friends as a saucy little insight, since it wasn't one, the nonsense about scooters being ungreen became a viral nuisance that went round and round the blogosphere for months and years.
Of course this little tale is imaginary. No-one has actually been absurd enough to attack my mufflered and helmeted husband for using the scooter instead of the car. Not yet, anyway.
But this daft logic does prevail in Real Life. There have been too many sloppy and self-righteous criticisms of genuinely environmentally-friendly folks for using virtual worlds - on the (much-argued-over) premise that an avatar uses more energy than a Brazilian - even when the avatars in question were being used in ways that manifestly reduced fuel consumption and GHG emissions.
For example, you don't need to burn any midnight oil, or to drown in hideously complicated calculations, to work out that flying to a conference on the other side of the world uses up more energy than 'flying' to a conference in a virtual world. And yet people use planes persistently, when using their avatars would do.
Last December, for example, the mainstream press reported that some 100,000 tonnes of carbon were emitted in flights by 10,000-15,000 people going to the Bali conference - that's the UN's Conference on Climate Change. That's around 300,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases emitted into the earth's atmosphere in order to save the atmosphere... How ironic is that? (These are obviously very rough figures, but you get the picture.)
It raised a critical question: how many of these people really needed to get to Indonesia in person, to make the decisions about the Bali Roadmap and sign on the dotted line? Not many, clearly. Thousands and thousands of these conference participants could have stayed at home and interacted virtually - like the people who came to the OneClimate team's Virtual Bali experiment.
Here, people from dozens of countries around the world - from Chile to China - dialogued through their avatars on OneClimate Island with participants actually in Indonesia. Even more people had the chance to interact live with Bali participants via the streamed-video version on oneclimate.net.
Around 5,000 people engaged in Bali virtually through OneClimate: that's a third to a half the number who flew to Bali. The non-flyers would have added mightily to the tonnage of greenhouse gas emissions had they flown to the conference: but they didn't.
But what if the careless 'avatar-Brazilian' taunt had put people off the virtual option? For some people don't always hang around to work out what is really going on before they start hurling criticisms. Just breathe 'Second Li...' and they are off before you complete the phrase.
'Brazilians!' they cry indignantly, and at a stroke they have forgotten that you been urging people for years to care about climate change and climate justice, and have dismissed you instead as a rabid techno-imperialist.
A recent Cisco study of sustainable cities underlined the point: "When it comes to urban sustainability, ICT is part of the problem (based on its contribution to overall energy consumption), but an even bigger element of the solution. A recent study... found that ICT is a significant contributor to energy efficiency: for every extra kilowatt-hour of electricity demanded by ICT, the U.S. economy increases its overall energy savings by a factor of 10."
To save a lot, you often have to spend a little. The point is to spend it wisely.
Ask any Brazilian.blog comments powered by Disqus