How many worlds do we live on and in? We currently live on just the one, but there seem to be many worlds within. And where you live can massively influence the way you live. Trying to live in an environmentally responsible way is one of those areas where actions may be taken almost for granted in one place, but impossible in principle or practice somewhere else.
I currently live in Leipzig, Germany. I have three car sharing stations (access to the whole car, not just a passenger seat on a specific journey) within a five-minute bike ride of home, a density which means that most people here have one within easy walking distance. People can thus opt to make use of a car for a few hours when they really need one, without having to own one. They are then more likely to use their feet, bikes and public transport the rest of the time.
Although the myriad of hurdles facing car clubs in Britain are now coming down (authorities, insurance issues etc.), car clubs are still pretty rare. I realise that not having a car club round the corner is ‘not the end of the world’, but it is one of those elements which affects how I live my life and view those around me. As I’ve written before, a car-sharing society is one sign of having a caring, sharing society. Of course, this isn’t the end of the road; I’d like to see clubs make electric vehicles available, and a goods bike or two, but progress is being made.
Another example is wind power. In Germany there are some 17,000 turbines up and running, and I also own a share in a wind farm myself. My share produces about 50 times more green electricity annually than my home electricity use. In Britain I have to put up with negative articles and people saying that wind turbines ‘don’t work’.
It really does seem to me to be a different world when I’m in England, even a different planet perhaps. Judging by the goings on around me on some topics, I could quite easily believe that the air is simply too thin for wind power to work, or that because of some quirk of chemistry and household plumbing all water must be made drinkable first, regardless of the non-drinking use it is then put to.
I have now discovered a new world, one in which people of different nations live and work side by side, with plenty of space and no material shortages, as long as you are prepared to spend a certain amount of time working to acquire them. As you’ve probably already guessed, this new world is unfortunately not a real one: it’s only a massively online computer ‘game’, or experience, where thousands of players online can interact in real time in a 3-d environment. And yet, having another realm of experience at my disposal in addition to my German and English ones has got me thinking about how many shared environments I can actually take part in and whether they can affect each other. What could be learnt here and taken into the real world?
Unless they provide real-world funding for themselves in the virtual world, citizens start off poor and have to work their way up over a period of months. After a couple of years of running, the economy has already reached the point where the basic raw materials are worth next to nothing, and the large number of gatherers are not fairly rewarded for their work. If someone were to fight for the principles of fair trade here, for example, that might also consciously reach players in their real lives too, where virtually 100% are playing the well-off side of the coin. As it’s not about actual life and death in the virtual world, it’s almost a challenge to put your nose to the grindstone, but the unfairness of then being paid a pittance is striking.
It’s still early days yet, but the registered population is already about half a million and rising. An interesting factor may become the timescale of development. Whatever happens to this society, the odds are that it will happen much faster than changes to real-life society, just as human society has changed at a pace which must come as a complete shock to any gods who have been watching Earth’s progress according to geological timescales. Can we learn about different avenues that we may take by simulating them on virtual worlds with real participants? Green taxation, citizens’ income? Has the time come for Friends of the Earth to go virtual? Don’t just get a life, get a virtual one!