Guest essay by Eric Worrall
The Guardian has opened a new front in the green effort to bypass parental controls on what their kids experience, with the launch of “Climate Hope City” – a virtual city sited in the Minecraft virtual reality universe.
According to The Guardian;
On the rooftops, there are endless luscious gardens, so that the skyline of the city looks almost like the tree tops of a vast rain forest. Beneath them, lining the roads, are multi-storey farms, producing fruit and vegetables for the local populace. There are strange sail-shaped constructions that suck CO2 out of the air, and along the canals, hydrogen powered boats glide silently through crystal clear waters. This is Climate Hope City – and for now, it exists only in Minecraft.
When the Guardian launched its Keep it in the Ground campaign in March, editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, and other senior staff, spoke about the challenge of finding new ways to discuss and report on climate change – to break out of traditional journalism and explore fresh ideas.
“We carry on flogging a load of dead horses, in exactly the same way, with exactly the same whip,” wrote columnist and environmentalist George Monbiot. “We have to constantly be reinventing our storytelling capacity.”
One answer to that challenge is to envisage a future zero carbon city in Minecraft. The hugely successful block-building game allows players to construct complex and fascinating models of everything from medieval castles to giant space cruisers. Climate Hope City is not a fantasy world but a vision of a green urban environment which uses technologies that either already exist around the world or are at the prototype stage.
The first thing which struck me is the technical inconsistencies of their vision. The city boasts large wind turbines, adjacent to tall buildings. Wind shadow anyone? One of the main reasons wind turbines are located in lonely places or offshore is that wind turbines in cities are usually an utter embarrassment – the poor airflow in the bumpy urban environment usually causes the turbines to stand idle even more frequently than optimally sited turbines.
Then there are the large vertical farms. OK, vertical farms are a way of growing a lot of food in a compact area. But the one thing you can’t increase is the available sunlight footprint – you don’t get something for nothing, unless you pump in artificial light. If you plan to use artificial light, you need a lot of energy, somewhere around a 30 watts per square metre per tier of growing surface. Given a floor size of 50m x 50m = 2500m, thats 75 kilowatts per “floor” – not counting any additional energy which might be required for climate control and irrigation. You’re not going to get that kind of energy from a handful of mostly idle urban wind turbines.
The alternative, relying on sunlight alone – vertical farms powered by sunlight cast huge shadows, they can surely only work if they are not sited next to other vertical farms, or are not sited next to tall buildings, which prevent them from receiving sunlight.
Finally there is the guided tour around the virtual city (see below) – a very sunny virtual city. But how could such a city possibly be so sunny, when every scrap of available sunlight is being utilised by the vertical farms, solar panels, or being blocked by the shadows of the towering wind turbines? The street level of such a city, even if it was physically possible, would surely be more like the gloomy, shadowy dystopian visions of movies like Blade Runner or Johnny Mnemonic, rather than the sunny urban paradise portrayed by The Guardian.
The Minecraft virtual world is a fantastic place to explore your creative skills, it is very popular with children and many adults. As a technical geek, I’m a fan of virtual reality. But like all virtual realities, the Minecraft implementation of real world physics is somewhat incomplete. The Minecraft constructions are fantasies, nothing more.