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Nature conservation in the bio-metaverse

March 6, 2023
Pivansuo Bog in Finland: could biodiversity conservation in such places be strengthened through the bio-metaverse? Image: Mikko Muinonen | Flickr Creative Commons

Technological advances offer significant potential for environmental engagement and biodiversity conservation, say guest authors Kristian Meissner and Kristiina Valtanen.


Biodiversity is disappearing at an unprecedented rate. Protecting biodiversity through rapid and effective action is essential to secure the future of both humanity and ecosystems. There is an urgent need for new forms of financing for environmental protection, because traditional funding is not growing fast enough.

The choices of individual citizens can play an important role in halting biodiversity loss. It is important to make everyone understand that their own actions to preserve biodiversity are meaningful. Individual actions are a central part of the needed systemic shift towards a more sustainable society.

Increasing knowledge can help us understand the significance of our own actions. However, it is not realistic to rely on knowledge alone, as not everyone has the interest or time to delve deeper into biodiversity topics. How can the potential of dormant citizens who are largely estranged from nature be harnessed to maximise the protection of biodiversity?

The world’s largest companies, Google, Amazon, and Facebook (GAFA), could serve as a model. In just a couple of decades, they have succeeded in radically changing our everyday habits. GAFA are incredibly skilful at exploiting people’s basic social needs for their own ends on their digital platforms.

At the end of last year, Facebook announced its next development goal: the internet of the future. According to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the purpose of this ‘metaverse’ is to make all online interactions more natural by providing a “sense of presence.” In addition to Facebook, many other companies are heavily involved in the development of the metaverse. Soon, applications will no longer open in front of us only through screens, but we will be able to immerse ourselves into the internet.

The metaverse uses Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) to assign ownership and trade digital things. NFTs are a type of digital certificate of authenticity. Indeed, unique digital skins have real monetary value, which many parents of teenagers already have come to realise, given NFTs have been exploited in the gaming world for a long time.

Interestingly, the promotional language around the metaverse is filled with words that refer to nature: universe, ecosystems and naturalness. Could nature and the metaverse share more than just terms with each other? With smart integration of the physical and digital worlds, unique natural objects, ecosystems and conservation measures could be tied to NFTs.

A rare orchid could be acquired and put on the wall of your study in the metaverse, and the funds from its purchase could be invested in the conservation work of its natural habitat. In the same way, you could buy a piece of Amazonian rainforest, or even a piece of a traditional Finnish biotope, such as a meadow, bog or wooded land. Your purchase could be the virtual background of your next Fortnite game.

Of course, the equivalence of NFTs and their corresponding real-world objects should be objectively verified, so that a sound basis for the value of tokens can be established.

Environmentally friendly measures undertaken by individual citizens that rapidly promote biodiversity, such as extending the intervals between mowing grasses, replacing grasslands, and encouraging plant-based diets could also be tokenised in the same way. This would not only create new forms of incentives, but would also make the importance of grassroots action as part of environmental protection more visible.

The metaverse has been said to be the embodiment of the internet. It could also offer a valuable embodiment of nature for an urbanite who has distanced themselves from nature, and provide novel means for reconnecting with it.

In the bio-metaverse, the expulsion of mosquitoes from your porch could be handled by buying a few NFT birdhouses for swallows instead of cans of insecticides. Alternatively, one could invest even more extensively in the market of insectivorous species. The bio-metaverse could serve as a platform for the most diverse work to protect biodiversity.

Of course, there is still a long way to go before all the necessary information about biodiversity can be brought into the bio-metaverse. This requires, for example, strengthening actual biodiversity research. Monitoring of conservation measures should also be stepped up to avoid mistakes and greenwashing. Despite these obvious challenges, no stone – not even digital ones – should be left unturned when looking for ways to make nature conservation more effective and affordable.


Translated and edited from an article first published in the Finnish language in the Talouselämä newpaper in October 2022.

This article is supported by the MERLIN project.

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