Computing Within Limits

LIMITS

I have just attended LIMITS 22, the eight annual workshop on computing within limits.

As the name suggests, the workshop addresses the role of computing in human societies affected by real-world limits, for example limits of extractive logics, limits to a biosphere’s ability to recover, limits to our knowledge, or limits to technological “solutions”.

Very much tied to the interests of the TechnologyBloggers website, this collection of researchers and practitioners aim to reshape the computing research agenda, grounded by an awareness that contemporary computing research is intertwined with ecological limits in general and climate- and climate justice-related limits in particular.

This was a virtual distributed workshop, with many participants joining hubs so that they could avoid travel but still attend a social event. I touched upon this as a model in my post about conferencing a few weeks ago.

I attended one of such hubs in Rotterdam (Netherlands), held at Varia, a space for developing collective approaches to everyday technology. There were a dozen people there, computer programmers, university lecturers and students and the likes, which made for interesting discussion during the break-out sessions and a very nice social mix.

I won’t go into the individual presentations too much, but would like to highlight a few of the questions addressed and point readers towards some resources.

What is the carbon footprint of streaming media?

Researchers estimate that streaming media accounts for about 1% of global carbon emissions. These emissions are created throughout the chain, with only a small percentage visible to users (the electricity that appears on their household bills), the vast majority hidden as it is produced during data storage, cooling, delivery, maintaining back-up systems and during a miriad of other processes (not to mention construction, mining of raw materials, etc).

This website offers lots of information, beginning with the startling revelation that ICT in general is estimated to use about 7% of all electricity used, so may contribute (depending how the electricity is produced) to up to almost 4% of global greenhouse gasses.

So the actual carbon footprint is very difficult to measure, with a range offered for watching a streamed film as equivalent to burning between 1.2 and 164 kilos of coal (depending on your calculations and not the film).

The large data centres providers often claim that they use clean energy for their centres, but this was also questioned as their mass use of this energy has been shown to monopolize access, at very least having an enormous effect on the local networks and sometimes resulting in others having to use fossil fonts,. Their green claims were described as cherry-picked.

Digital platforms

Well we all love a digital platform don’t we? Facilitating car sharing, what could be better than that? Well even here a critical perspective appears, as we have to add ICT emissions to real emissions if calculating the possible environmental implications. And not only that! For example, using one car instead of two halves the emissions for analytical purposes, but on top of this we should add the ICT emissions (which as we know are difficult to work out). But we can come up with an estimate. Then behavioural change might also come into play. People might drive further because they are sharing, some will share a car and leave the bike at home or not take the usual train. It all becomes rather murky.

Other discussions

Other questions arose: what are the implications of framing the discussion in terms of limits, rather than abundance? Could such a reframing bring in an ethics of care? Can we discuss the relationship between humans and nature and its ties to capitalism? What role can religion take? How important are imaginaries of the (technological) future? Does the public have the information required to understand the environmental implications of their choices?

As you can see, it was very stimulating.

Check out this website for a perspective.

And the Chaos Computer Club for another.

The papers are all available here so fill your boots.

Ecosia 🌍

What is Ecosia?

Simply put, Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees with its profits.

💻📱 👉 💷💲 👉 🌱🌳

Which Search Engine Does Ecosia Use?

Ecosia is an organisation and search engine in its own right, but its results are powered by Microsoft Bing. Bing itself is carbon neutral and the whole of Microsoft are looking to go green by committing to be carbon negative by 2030.

How Green is Ecosia?

Ecosia recognise the impact the internet has on the environment of our planet. Ecosia runs on renewable energy, meaning your searches aren’t negatively impacting the planet.

“If the internet were a country it would rank #3 in the world in terms of electricity consumption” – Ecosia, 2018

In fact, searching with Ecosia is actually positively impacting the planet, with each search removing CO2 from the atmosphere. How? Because they plant trees with their profits.

As mentioned above, Bing (which powers Ecosia) is carbon neutral, so searching using Ecosia is a win-win from the perspective of your carbon footprint 👣

How Does Ecosia Make Money?

Like Google, Ecosia don’t make money from search results, they make their revenue from the ads that sit alongside the results.

Every time you click on an advert on Ecosia, you contribute to their revenue, which ultimately leads to trees being planted somewhere around the world

Ecosia tree tracker

They have a helpful counter on their search results to show you how many trees you’ve personally contributed towards.

So far they have planted over 100 million trees worldwide, supporting projects in 15 countries.

Why am I Promoting Ecosia?

The reason I wrote this article is because I think Ecosia awesome. They’re an organisation trying really hard to do the right thing and they’re clearly having an impact.

Congrats Ecosia on your success and thank you for what you’re doing for the world 🙏🎉🎊

Ecosia.org 🌍 give it a go 😊

World Wide Views on Climate and Energy

world wide views

Public Participation

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I found myself in Brussels in a beautiful Palace. I was at a conference about public participation, and went to a presentation of a very interesting project called World Wide Views on Climate Change and Energy.

The project as the name suggests involved a kind of world wide survey, involving 10 000 people and covering a large portion of the globe. It involved 97 day long debates spread over 76 countries, just to give you an idea, and the incredible thing is that they all happened on the same day. Not only that, but the results were uploaded live, and so could all be seen as they happened, a bit like the Eurovision Song Contest but without Terry Wogan.

The conference was not really about the results of the project, but the methodology and how it was actually conducted. The system has been used twice before, and was designed by the Danish Board of Technology and a host of other National and International organizations. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change were one of the initiators, so as you can see it was a large project.

The Results

The results are aimed at providing policy-makers with world views. The participants were selected in order to represent the make up of each individual country and gathered for a day long experience. They were all shown the same videos, presented with the same written materials and asked the same questions.

Democratic debate and deliberation are central to the project, and it looks like an interesting use of the web to me. Obviously you can pick holes in the methodology if you wish, how representative can 10 000 people be? But I don’t think that was the point of the exercise. It is a large scale global survey of how people feel about climate change and energy transition, and the fact that countries and areas can be compared, as well as other groups taken across the globe, is a really interesting development.

The results are all posted on the website, find them here, there are also user friendly analysis tools for anyone to use.

In the report however an analysis has been done of some of the findings. As a brief outline, we can say that citizens want their governments to act, that action should be on the basis of the individual county’s emissions and wealth, and the private sector should participate.

Citizens are also expected to take part in decision-making and to participate in the process of lowering emissions.

This is an interesting project, and if you have time I highly recommend a look at the website and a play with the figures.