According to the World Economic Forum (which brings together the most powerful elite of world capitalism), “a twin transition approach recognizes that there is a huge and largely untapped opportunity for technology and data to drive sustainability goals. Rather than treating digital and sustainability in isolation, a twin transition strategy combines these critical functions to unlock huge benefits in terms of efficiency and productivity”.
At our institute, we are very critical of this concept. And we had the opportunity to make a two-minute statement at the public event “Twin Transition (Green and Digital) – Roundtable” -on the “stakeholder day”- in the context of the OECD Digital Economy Ministerial Meeting held in Gran Canaria, Spain. You can read it here:
If you are in Barcelona, you can go to the Santa Monica arts center from June 9 to August 21 to see the exhibition “La irrupció” (free admission) curated by Marta Gracia, Jara Rocha, and Enric Puig Punyet. More than twenty international and local works will open a dialogue about the complex circumstances we are living on the planet after the disruption of the pandemic.
Jara Rocha <3 also invited us to think about an itinerary, which you can do in person from now until August 21, 2022. Curiously, as many of these works are digital, you can also do the itinerary remotely, completing the pieces from your imagination, ghosts, and desires. You can find it right here.
In general, it's challenging to compete with the imaginaries imposed by hegemonic digital technology where concepts such as “digital revolution” and “disruption” champion every time a problematic aspect is raised. The first reading of the CODES Action Plan draft, in this sense, raised an alert: once again, the mere (commercial) promise of digital technologies seemed to have more relevance than the scientific evidence on the effects of digitization (those we know and, also, very important in the planetary limits in which we find ourselves, those we do not know) on the environment. We made this apprehension known in our comments. On that occasion, we stated:
”...if CODES really wants to give greater importance to the promises of digitization concerning sustainability rather than to the environmental damage and challenges that lie ahead due to the deployment of the technologies themselves, we urge that this strategy be rethought for at least two reasons. On the one hand, and as various academic literature has recognized, the digital promise of the future is an integral part of the “capitalism as usual” engine that this same document points to as a problematic attitude. And on the other, because the environmental damage of digital technologies is real, as are its challenges, and it seems unrealistic – especially in line with official IPCC documentation – that it is not given at least the same level of importance in the text.”
We’re glad that a certain empty optimism about digitization has been left behind in the final document. A turnaround is visible from the very first pages:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report called “Climate Change 2022. Mitigation of Climate Change” recognizes that the lack of adequate governance of the digital revolution may hinder the role that digitization could play in supporting the achievement of stringent mitigation target goals.
This regard calls for the coordinated implementation of policy instruments that can help accelerate change in the desired direction. Targeted technological change, regulation, and public policy can help steer digitalization, the sharing economy, and the circular economy towards climate change mitigation.
It also understands that digitalization must be deployed in the context of decreasing consumer demand to lower energy consumption.
For the Latin American Institute of Terraforming, the report is a breakthrough in understanding that digitalization cannot be sustained only on the hegemonic technological promise of a sustainable future and needs bold public policies based on independent and multidisciplinary evidence.
Perhaps World Water Day, celebrated this March 22, could be an excuse to talk about how fundamental this element is for the deployment of digital technologies and how its intensive use brings socio-environmental conflicts that we are not used to hearing about. Yet, is not digitization and the digital economy the necessary step towards sustainability? Will not technological innovation be the same that will solve the intensive use of resources such as water?
Latin America, in this scenario, has a varied catalog of socio-environmental conflicts due to the use of water by digital technologies. Just to name a few: water mining for lithium extraction in the Atacama Desert, a fundamental element for the batteries of our digital devices, which has forced the displacement of indigenous populations as well as other native species; the intensive use of water by hyper-scale data centers (the cloud! ) to cool their equipment which could affect human consumption of water as well as the feeding of entire ecosystems such as wetlands; to which is added the intensive hydro-energy use to mine crypto which, in the middle of the energy transition, raises the question of how to decide socially in what clean energy is invested.
The UN Secretary-General has said that “the digital revolution can be steered to combat climate change and advance global sustainability, environmental stewardship and human well-being.”
For that reason, the Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability (CODES) initiative has been recently launched as an important part of the broader follow-up to the Secretary-General's Roadmap on Digital Cooperation. CODES was initiated by UNEP, UNDP, the International Science Council, the German Environment Agency, the Kenyan Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Future Earth and Sustainability in the Digital Age, and now is leading a global multi-stakeholder process.
In this context, its first mission is to co-develop an “Action Plan for a Sustainable Planet in the Digital Age” to identify the key shifts and strategic priorities needed to harness digital technologies to accelerate environmentally and socially sustainable development. Taking advantage of one of the last spaces to present observations to this plan, the Latin American Institute of Terraforming sent a document with its comments this month. Among the most critical points that we believe can be reinforced in the draft presented, we highlight:
A submission by the “Latin American Institute of Terraforming” for the special consultation called “The Environmental Impacts and Benefits of the Internet,” launched by the ITU Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) in October 2021.
According to a November 2021 survey of IPCC scientists, a large majority believe that we are heading for a 3,0°C global temperature increase due to political inaction. In this context, it is urgent to rethink the role of digitalization and its contribution to global warming, according to scientific evidence. It is risky to assume that the new efficiencies enabled by ICT will suddenly start creating significant carbon savings in the economy at large without a strategic role for governance. Therefore, the catalytic role of the ITU must be even more critical, assertive, and decisive for the challenge of the climate crisis so as to be able to drive digital environmental justice. To this end, we suggest five actions (of many others that can be implemented), based on scientific evidence, that can be considered by ITU around greenhouse gas emissions due to ICT use:
This talk announced the call by the “Latin American Institute of Terraforming (terraforminglatam.net) and was carried out in the context of the International Seminar on Architecture and Design “Views from the gender perspective” of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Chile, on September 7, 2021.
Paz Peña O. is a consultant and activist who seeks to build bridges between digital technologies, feminism, and social justice. More information at www.pazpena.com
English translation: Natalia Tranchino Molina.
I would like to begin this talk by quoting one of my favorite thinkers, feminist Rosi Braidotti (2015), with a quote that I think captures very well the feeling of many of us. Particularly, those who grew up in the 20th century and were used to a world that now seems far away; the idea that this century and its immense complexity unsettles us, to the point of interrupting our daily lives.
Human hubris aside, unless one is comfortable with the current multidimensional complexity, no one can feel truly at home in the 21st century.
Without a doubt, one of the causes of this immense complexity is the unrelenting climate crisis. Reading the related news and witnessing the critical change of the local climate, it seems that, for some time now we are at home, yet we have lost the feeling of home.
What are the new rules of living in a warming planet? Can we design an Anthropocene from the logics of feminist theory?
In truth, I am here to make you a formal invitation to think about it. However, before I hand out the invite, I would like to provide you with some context so that you understand from what place I am talking about.