Tuvalu Metaverse: Tuvalu Has a Desperate Plot to Upload Itself to the Metaverse, Along With a Secret Message.
In light of the existential threat posed by increasing sea levels, the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu has decided to create a replica of itself in the metaverse. On Tuesday, a scary digital speech from Tuvalu’s Minister of Justice, Communication, and Foreign Affairs Simon Kofe was sent to world leaders at the COP27 climate meeting (Nov 15).
He explained that the “worst case scenario” plan entails developing a metaverse digital duplicate of Tuvalu to preserve the country’s unique culture and replicate its beautiful islands.
There are no words to describe the tragedy of this outcome,” she said. If we don’t do something about global warming, Tuvalu might be the first country to exist only online, but that won’t be the case for long.
To “truly function as a sovereign state,” Tuvalu would need its citizens to relocate, but the metaverse may provide that opportunity.
Here, we have two separate narratives. One depicts a Pacific island nation under assault from an outside force that is relying on cutting-edge technology to ensure its survival.
Furthermore, if Tuvalu could avoid the worst impacts of climate change and continue to exist as a terrestrial nation, that would be the most ideal future scenario. If so, maybe this is how it plans to attract global notice.
Reproduce a Nation in the Metaverse?
The metaverse is a vision of the near future in which technologies like AR and VR permeate every aspect of human life. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta (formerly Facebook), has the most widely known vision of what the metaverse could be like.
The idea that the metaverse is all about connected, immersive 3D environments is central to the majority of these visions. As readily as a person might go from one room to another in the real world, a persistent avatar can hop from one virtual realm to another.
The goal is to make it harder for people to tell reality apart from simulations, for better or for ill.
Three facets of Tuvaluan identity are suggested by Kofe to be transferable to the virtual world.
The territory is an interactive depiction of Tuvalu’s stunning natural landscape.
Culture, or the capacity for Tuvaluan people to maintain their shared language, norms, and rituals through interaction, exists independently of physical location.
Can the government of Tuvalu have sovereignty over cyberspace if it loses control of all the real estate on Earth, a catastrophe beyond comprehension but which they have begun to contemplate?
Is It Possible to Implement Tuvalu’s Plan?
What might Tuvalu’s plan look like if it were to be taken at face value rather than as a metaphor for the risks posed by climate change?
Creating stunning, lifelike, and technically accurate recreations of Tuvalu’s landmass is now a breeze. The existence of thousands of online communities and 3D worlds (such as Second Life) proves that fully virtual interactive spaces may exist and thrive while retaining their unique culture.
It’s possible to create a “digital twin” of Tuvalu by combining these technology skills with elements of governance.
Governments have previously experimented with migrating location-based services to their digital counterparts. For instance, non-Estonians can use Estonia’s e-residency program to register a corporation and access other services normally reserved for Estonian citizens. Second Life also has some virtual embassies built by different nations.
To digitise and integrate all the aspects that make up a nation, however, presents tremendous technological and societal obstacles.
Even though Tuvalu only has roughly 12,000 residents, it still presents a technical hurdle to allow for real-time interaction between that many people in an immersive virtual world. Many people also dislike using headsets because they make them queasy or feel dizzy, therefore there are also problems with bandwidth and computational capacity.
To date, no one has proven that nation-states can be successfully ported to the digital realm. Others maintain that in today’s digital age, nations are obsolete even if they were to be re-established.
The plan by Tuvalu to construct a digital twin of the country in the metaverse is a message in a bottle, the last resort in the face of tragedy. However, there is a hidden message for those who are contemplating a move into the digital realm as a means of coping with the effects of climate change-related loss.
The Metaverse is Not a Safe Zone
The metaverse relies on the hardware of computers, data centers, network routers, gadgets, and HUDs.
This entire technological infrastructure has an invisible carbon footprint and needs constant physical upkeep and power. It has been estimated that by 2025, the Internet will use up to 20% of the world’s electricity, according to a study published in Nature.
As a solution to global warming, the concept of the metaverse nation is symptomatic of the kind of thinking that led us into this mess in the first place. The terms that have been coined to describe the latest technological developments, such as “cloud computing,” “virtual reality,” and “metaverse,” give off an eco-friendly vibe.
Words like “greenwashing” and “technology solutionism” are often used in conjunction with these types of phrases. They obscure the reality that the high energy and material costs of many technological answers to climate change make the situation worse.
What Does This Mean for Tuvalu?
Kofe knows the metaverse does not provide a solution to Tuvalu’s issues. He makes it clear that we need to work on measures like a fossil-fuel non-proliferation treaty to lessen the effects of climate change.
His provocative movie on Tuvalu’s impending migration to the metaverse has gone viral. Like his heartfelt plea at COP26, while knee-deep in rising water, it received international attention.
However, Kofe warns that if people don’t start caring about each other and the Earth as a whole, people everywhere may start moving online as their physical homes vanish.
Moving to the metaverse as a solution to climate change is a risky idea, even if only on an implicit level. There’s no doubt that the metaverse, as a digital museum and community, can help keep history and culture vibrant. However, I don’t see how it could function as a makeshift nation.
And, of course, none of it would function without the vast tracts of land, complex infrastructure, and abundant energy that power the Internet.
The world would be better served if we focused on the other projects undertaken by Tuvalu and detailed in the same study. The first step of the project is to promote diplomacy based on Tuvaluan values like olaga fakafenua (community living systems), kaitasi (shared responsibility), and fale-pili (being a good neighbor), with the hope that these principles will inspire other countries to recognize their responsibility to combat climate change and sea level rise for the sake of global prosperity.
Tuvalu’s message in a bottle is not about the potential of states in the metaverse. The message is unmistakable: back communal housing, share the load and be a good neighbor.
The first of these does not work in a digital setting. We need to reduce our consumption for the second and show compassion for the third.
Marcus Foth is a professor of urban informatics at the Queensland University of Technology, and Nick Kelly is a senior lecturer in interaction design there as well. Originally published on The Conversation.