Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

26 Nov 2008

The Transitioning of Second Life: by Katy Duke

I have never actually looked at Second Life myself, but this article by Katy Duke is a fascinating look at how some people are using it to communicate Transition ideas.

Blogs… I’m hooked! (especially this one), what a phenomenally immediate way to communicate and learn… though reading them soaks up time. Well this summer I had some extra time for research, laid up with a bad back, so I tried to compile the five most succinct video messages about peak oil & climate change I could find online. Having spent some considerable time talking to complete head-in-the-sand sceptics (on a car forum), I was feeling the need for clarity & succour! What transpired was a rather novel and slightly bizarre method of communicating the message ….. here’s how it happened….

I decided to see if I could construct a building designed many years before, when studying architecture, in a virtual world. Prompted by a former mayor of our transition town (Sustainable Frome), Jim Knight MP, I started to explore the 3-dimensional modelling tools in Second Life. Jim, now Schools Minister, had explored the educational potential of virtual worlds (The Naace Strategic Conference 2008 – was opened by Jim, or rather Jim’s avatar in second life!). Second Life is a virtual world in which the landscaping and buildings are all created by the residents wherein a huge range of virtual events such as conferences are held.

I discovered a fascinating place where, through their invented ‘avatar’ persona (that’s me on the left in the union jack frock & the blue hair), real people meet, build, converse and share knowledge in a virtual world with huge potential for education, invention, artistry and sharing. For people with disabilities it can give a real sense of freedom, as you are able to do things in Second Life that you are unable to in real life. You can fly for starters! You can visit three-dimensional models of many famous buildings and cities such as Dublin and Amsterdam, you can bungee-jump off Big Ben or go for a tour on the back of a dragon while having a conversation with someone in Japan, skydive, go F1 racing, visit Alice’s Wonderland & float in a giant teacup…….

So what’s all this got to do with transition? Well firstly I discovered ‘Virtual Bali’ where the conference was being relayed in real time to Second Life. Residents could put their questions ‘live’ to people at the event and interact without leaving their armchair. Then I discovered Etopia Island. This is described as ‘an inspiring, futuristic and environmentally sustainable simulated residential and business community in the revolutionary virtual 3-D world of Second Life. It is an ‘experiential educational and marketing concept designed to demonstrate real world social and environmental stewardship values and promote both virtual and real products, skills and services, which further that end.’

I got chatting to the owner of the island, known as WilliamThewise Goodman in Second Life but in real life he is Zev Paiss, an American educationalist specialising in co-housing training and living in Colorado. His vision is to use many tools to educate in sustainability. Zev works with executives, developers, green builders, land owners & entrepreneurs to assist them to take their business or project to efficient and financially successful levels of sustainability. He regularly teaches classes and facilitates discussions on a variety of sustainability topics, providing meeting space for individuals and companies from all over the world on Etopia Island.

The opportunity to use virtual worlds for educational purposes is just beginning to be explored. Companies are seeing how they can expand their reach and the ability to sell products and raise awareness of their company through virtual worlds. Offering classes and conducting meetings is both functional and interesting for their employees. IBM saved $10 million dollars in travel and meeting expenses by conducting staff meetings and trainings via the virtual world Second Life.

I suggested to Zev that the short YouTube videos I had found in my search for succinct messages would work well on Etopia, where attention spans might be rather short. After a few technical wrangles and help with scripting the five films are now available for viewing in the Clock Tower on the island and Rob’s words are being shared with a whole different audience! You can get to Etopia & try them out for yourself here (beware it will take you a while to learn how to walk & fly) or otherwise follow the links to YouTube on the Sustainable Frome website.

Catch up on the lecture and events calendar at the Etopia Island blog.

Shortly after this Zev invited me to join one of the panel of experts at a two-day event held on Etopia entitled ‘Time for an Oil Change’. Etopia hosted a concert, panel discussions, bike rides, sailing tour, freebie hunt, videos, exhibits and displays with the aim of touching more people in SL and all over the globe and inspiring changes in our world. I’m no ‘expert’ but I couldn’t resist the challenge, so I put together some facts & figures, set up a ‘notecard’ to give out to attendees giving information on the Transition movement, links to Richard Heinberg & David Strahan websites and just leapt in with both virtual feet. I was joined by a heat pump expert, XLR8RRick Hudson, JimmyJet Fosset talking on US efforts to find and use alternative energy resources and using virtual worlds to model alternatives, Solar Sierra, a High School physics teacher who runs a non-profit organization for educators interested in energy and Planetthoughts Raymaker, aka David Alexander, an enthusiastic Tai Chi Chuan practitioner and teacher who speaks on Online Environmental Activism.

Second Life allows virtual interaction while discussing issues, adding a personal angle to discussions, and an immediacy close to actually being there together, so when I was sitting on the stage with others who were definitely more expert than I, it really did feel as if I was there and everyone joined in the lively discussion (transcript available but you really had to be there!). Afterwards I mounted my bamboo bike & went on a tour of the island…….

I am currently tackling the first stages of Frome’s Energy Descent Action Plan with our EDAP group as we head towards their Great Unleashing (hopefully at the Green Fair of the Frome Festival next July)

Zev is currently getting excited about the Transition Training Tour visiting his country & is on the waiting list for the presentation in California (even though it is 1000 miles from his home!) – he is an ideal candidate for spreading the word.

See how Learning 4 Life use Second Life as a learning tool
Using Virtual Worlds in Education Programs
Second Life Education Wiki
Flying the virtual way – article & video of Virtual Bali
Press coverage for Virtual Bali

Categories: General

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Josef Davies-Coates
26 Nov 6:00pm

A comment I posted is in the spam queue because it had a couple of links in it.

Zev Paiss
26 Nov 10:11pm

Katy – I appreciate your comments on my virtual eco-village. It is interesting that when the Island was created in April of 2007 I knew nothing about the Transition Town movement but as an environmental planner in real life, I believe that providing visions of how we can live in a more sustainable way can be very powerful! Onward…

Steve Atkins
27 Nov 8:04am

I had a go at Second Life recently, it was a pretty surreal virtual experience, great to see peoples imagination run riot, loved the flying and met friendly strangers.

I’ve not flown to Etopia Island – will check it out some time – sounds great & I’m sure worth promoting Etopia to games people.

One thing that concerned me… running the ‘Second Life’ program was very energy intensive on my computer, generated alot of heat & the cooling fan was running continuously, (on a macbook pro).

George Peattie
27 Nov 10:39am

It’s not just the local PCs that use a lot of power the servers running the virtual world also pull in a lot of power.

Basically it looks like the virtual you consumes as much power as a Brazilian. A quick google on Second Life and Brazil should dig up the details.

Steve Atkins
27 Nov 11:37am

Thanks for the info George – thats it, I’m about to delete the Second Life application from my computer and stick to playing scrabble (which i prefer) : )

In terms of education, the internet is an incredibly powerful tool – but the massive power consumption (as you’ve pointed out) is bad, really bad.

A way forwards could be:

1. All websites hosted on 100% renewable energy sources
2. ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) run on 100% renewable energy sources
3. All computers (home & office) run on 100% renewable energy sources

…I think each and every Transition website should be promoting this.

Michael Ryan
27 Nov 3:20pm

Our company, Magrathean Technologies @ has built in Second Life for several years. Our education division has developed a “distance education” simulator named Sprott Shaw, one of our clients. Their sim was the first one developed in Second Life to accomplish their distance education objective. All of the respective technologies were constructed before “voice” was enabled. This sim was designed to include all forms of communications and was given recognition by the BC Ministry of Education. Second Life is a wonderful system which can facilitate distance education and hopefully, always will be.

27 Nov 3:51pm

Wow, that’s a scary amount of energy consumption. I have to agree that it’s a very “sexy” place and process, though. Maybe this is an opportunity to work from within, and find ways for it to suck less?

It’s not going to disappear anyway. Any good Transition hackers looking for something to do on winter evenings?

George Peattie
27 Nov 4:33pm

I have a suggestion lets strip out all the graphics, take th environment back to bare nekkid ascii. We could have clients capable of threading conversations, call it noosnet or something. If you really need interactive we could keep the real time and go for some kind of chat relayed around the internet 🙂
Seriously though, the amount of data needed to represent 3D spaces, especially big well rendered 3D spaces is never going to be a light load on servers or PCs. Keeping us on the treadmill of ever increasing hardware requirements is always going to come at a cost in energy use, not to mention the investment in infrastructure needed to keep the network going if everyone started hanging out in Second life.

27 Nov 5:33pm

bare nekkid ascii! I love it! But I think you’re missing a basic point- a little mystery is often sexier; shouldn’t those nekkid ascii be wearing thongs? 🙂

Sure, the amount of data is not going to change quick- but; frequently first versions of software are very clunky and slow compared to something refined by a really sharp programmer. Could easily be a way to cut processing considerably just from that standpoint. Maybe? I’m not really familiar, and it’s out of my area. But my brother was part of the team that developed digital cable- and that was “impossible” when they started-

Katy Duke
28 Nov 9:03am

The ‘roughtype’ forum where the power discussion happened initially seemed to get the calculation of power consumption wrong, and later concluded; ‘The roughly 1,000,000 avatars active now in Second Life – thank god – never are using peak power all at the same time. They all SHARE the energy consumption of the whole Linden Lab data center and a part of their PCs power consumption over the year. And on average they use less than 75kWh per year.’

It’s still a lot but I hope that even when/if our solar/wind/water/CHP-generated electricity is rationed, companies like IBM will switch off their aircon (but not in the server room!) and continue to be able to meet & educate virtually rather than travel, even if we have to give it up as a social networking tool.

I’ve found a couple of local companies providing solar servers but the pv arrays are in California!

Zev Paiss
28 Nov 4:32pm

Great conversations folks! I wanted to add in that the power consumption used to run the Linden Lab server for Etopia Island, has been “offset” by purchasing Carbon Offset credits. We are part of a group called “Green Island Project” where we pay $50 USD per year to offset the power used by the central server through the purchase of renewable energy. It is not perfect, but it is showing our understanding that even the power used in this application needs to be generated in a sustainable manner.

Katy Duke
6 Dec 3:25pm

At 5.30 pm today (Saturday) in Second Life the ‘One Climate’ group I’m a member of will be on the air in the main arena on OneClimate Island. The message they sent follows;
Danny Nelson reports of what’s been happening today in these crucial UN negotiations and introduces two guests – giving you the chance to put your comments and ask any questions on tackling climate change. We look forward to seeing you – and please pass the invitation on. You can join us right here:

Katy Duke
6 Dec 3:29pm

Oh, and if you want to go to Etopia Island you can get there here;

Katy Duke
6 Dec 9:25pm

WOW! That was truly an exciting event and incredibly powerful technology – Zev & I met virtually and were able to put our questions to forestry experts in Poznan, fresh from the conference talks in Poland. At OneClimate Island they are holding more ‘live’ sessions every day next week, but if you can’t make it you can watch at 5.30pm GMT here –
You can also see a great blog from Amanda Chiu here –