"If a lion could talk, we would not understand him" (Wittgensteins Philosophical Investigations, II, xi, p. 223)ubiquitous media,rare earthsthe environmentalfootprint of digitalmedia and what todo about itSean CubittPervasive Media Lab, University of the West of Enlgand22 Sept 2009 http://ozonewatch.gsfc.nasa.gov/ozone_maps/movies/OZONE_D1979-12%25P1Y_G%5E720X486.LSH.mpg
Every living being is connected intimately, and from thisintimacy follows the capacity of identification and as itsnatural consequences, practice of non-violence .. Nowis the time to share with all life on our maltreatedearth through the deepening identification with lifeforms and the greater units, the ecosystems, and Gaia,the fabulous, old planet of ours. (Arne Naess) http://www.arnenaess.com/“The non-alignment of media with message seems terribly ironicat a time when there is such an intense awareness of environ-mental responsibility and all things “green. Businesses in NorthAmerica spend $65+ billion per year on print media advertising.The average office worker generates 2 pounds of paper waste perday. Paper and printing related expenditures typically represent 15to 30 percent of every corporate dollar spent, exclusive of labor,according to the Institute for Sustainable Communication. Addingwebsites, email blasts, direct mail and events to the mix and thesize of this communication activity is significant. However, few en-terprises today can tell you the footprint of their marketing com-munication, print or digital. That is about to change.”Lisa Wellman, CEO SustainCommWorld. http://www.businessof-greenmedia.com/
The problem (1) Extracting materials some basic digital materials: gallium arsenic germanium sapphire copper aluminum lead gold zinc nickel tin silver .... lanthanidesSebastiao Salgado, Serra Pelada gold mine, Brazil, 1986
Coltan, short for columbite tantalite, is the principal source of tantalum,a rare and valuable metal in huge demand in todays high technologyindustries.Tantalum is an extremely hard, dense element that is highly resistant tocorrosion. It has a very high melting point and is a good conductor ofheat and electricity. Demand for tantalum has been growing since 1992,mainly due to the increase in applications for tantalum capacitors usedin personal computers and mobile phones.The electronics industry is by far the biggest consumer of tantalum butthere was a massive shorfall in 2000 and early 2001 as a result of themarket demand for capacitors. This has put pressure on the mining ofcoltan in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and illegal exploi-tation soon became a serious problem during the second war, whichbroke out in 1998.The costs and technology involved in sourcing coltan are low – it isfound by digging in the soil and it is easily sold. Eighty percent of theworld’s coltan reserves are located in Africa, and 80% of the depositsare found in the eastern part of the DRC.2Coltan is mainly extracted from forests. Mining activities are carried outby workers, many of who were once farmers, often working under thesupervision of soldiers. The setting up of mining camps and the con-struction of routes to reach and take away coltan can be a threat to theforest and its wildlife.Coltan stocks are obtained in places such as the Okapi Wildlife Reserve,home to the okapi (Okapia johnstoni), and the Kahuzi Biega NationalPark, home of the endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringeiberingei ). In 2004, it is estimated that over 10,000 people moved intothe Kahuzi-Biega National Park to work in the mining industry.As the pristine forest is denuded for mining, gorillas are being killedand their meat is sold as bushmeat to the miners and rebel armies thatcontrol the area.In 2004 alone, 4,000 people are reported to have migrated to the east-ern DRC’s Okapi Wildlife Reserve to mine coltan. The reserve is theonly protected area in the world for the okapi.http://www.panda.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/congo_basin_forests/problems/mining/coltan_mining/ http://openanthropology.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/kenneth-anderson-imperial-clash-on-the-congo-resource-front/
The problem (2): manufacturing The number of toxic materials needed to make the 220 billion silicon chips manufactured annually is staggering: highly corrosive hydrochloric acid; metals such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead; volatile solvents like methyl chloro- form, benzene, acetone, and trichloroethylene (TCE); and a number of super toxic gases. “The materials are just part of the problem,” pointed out JoLani Hironaka, director of the San Jose, California-based Santa Clara Center for Occupational Health (SCCOSH), which works on behalf of computer chip industry work- ers in Santa Clara County, where Silicon Valley is located. “There has been a tremendous growth in the number of industries manufacturing chemicals and other materials used at computer chip plants and in the amount of waste generated in the production process.” According to Graydon Laraby of Texas Instruments, the manufacture of just one batch of chips requires on average 27 pounds of chemicals, 29 cubic feet of hazardous gases,"Under NAFTA, maquiladora employment increased by 54% in Ciudad Juárez, nine pounds of hazardous waste, and 3,787 gallons of wa-spurring significant population growth.Yet Juárez still has no waste treatment ter, which requires extensive chemical treatment.facility to treat sewage produced by the 1.3 million people who now livethere." http://www.towardfreedom.com/home/content/(NAFTA at 5, Global Trade Watch) view/154/57/
The problem (3) consumptionAggregate electricity use for servers doubled over the period2000 to 2005 both in the U.S. and worldwide. Almost all of thisgrowth was the result of growth in the number of the least expen-sive servers, with only a small part of that growth being attribut-able to growth in the power use per unit.Total power used by servers represented about 0.6% of total U.S.electricity consumption in 2005. When cooling and auxiliary in-frastructure are included, that number grows to 1.2%, an amountcomparable to that for color televisions. The total power demandin 2005 (including associated infrastructure) is equivalent (in capac-ity terms) to about five 1000 MW power plants for the U.S. and14 such plants for the world. The total electricity bill for operat-ing those servers and associated infrastructure in 2005 was about$2.7 B and $7.2 B for the U.S. and the world, respectively.(Koomey,Jonathan G. (2007), Estimating Power Consumption by Servers inthe US and the World, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory,Stanford University, Stanford, February. )We found that total direct power use by office and networkequipment is about 74 TWh per year, which is about 2% of totalelectricity use in the U.S. When electricity used by telecommuni-cations equipment and electronics manufacturing is included, thatfigure rises to 3% of all electricity use (Koomey 2000). More than70% of the 74 TWh/year is dedicated to office equipment forcommercial use. (Kawamoto, Kaoru,et al (2001), Electricity Usedby Office Equipment and Network Equipment in the U.S LawrenceBerkeley National Laboratory, University of California Berkeley,February
According to the US Department of Energy, Data centers used 61 billion kWh of electricity in 2006, representing 1.5% of all U.S. electricity consumption anddouble the amount consumed in 2000. Based on current trends, energy consumed by data centers will continue to grow by 12% per year. IT manufacture anduse is responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions – the same amount as the airline industry – and is heading for 3% by 2020http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/How_IT_can_cut_carbon_emissions_2221
The problem (4) recycling In Lagos, while there is a legitimate robust market and ability to repair and refurbish old electronic equipment including comput- ers, monitors, TVs and cell phones, the local experts complain that of the estimated 500 40-foot containers shipped to Lagos each month, as much as 75% of the imports are “junk” and are not economically repairable or marketable. Consequently, this e-waste, which is legally a hazardous waste is being discarded and routinely burned in what the environmentalists call yet “another“cyber-age nightmare now landing on the shores of developing countries.” The Digital Dump: Exporting Re-Use and Abuse to Africa, Basel Action net- work, 2005 http://www.ban.org/BANreports/10-24-05/ The phosphors and other potentially toxic dusts must be removed from the CRT cullet and managed responsibly in developed coun- tries, and The ‘competent authority’ of the importing country must formally consent to accept the cleaned cullet as a non-waste because ithttp://it.truveo.com/The-Digital-Dump-Exporting-HighTech-ReUse-and/id/2654447730 essentially meets specifications to be used as a direct replace- ment feedstock in a primary manufacturing process to create new consumer products without further processing, other than qual- ity control – that is, it is not going to a recycling destination and no further cleaning or processing is needed prior to entering into primary manufacturing.(Basel Convention) – Recently, the Malaysian government decided to no longer accept any CRT glass from the United States, as of December 31, 2008.
. . . the division between nature and politics, humans and non-humans, has had detrimental effects upon not only how we seeourselves in relation to nature, but also on democratic politicsand contemporary green political thought and practice. I arguethat political theory needs to put aside the distinction betweenhumans and the nonhuman world and build a democratic poli-tics based on a new ontology that incorporates the messy hy-brid entities of human and nonhuman, natural and social.Michael Nordquist, The End of Nature and Society: Bruno Latour and the Nonhuman in PoliticsPrepared for presentation at Western Political Science Association Annual Meeting March 16-18, 2006 Albuquerque
Why must political ecology let go of nature? Be-cause nature is not a particular sphere of realitybut the result of a political division, of a Constitu-tion* that separates what is objective and indisput-able from what is subjective and disputable. To dopolitical ecology, then, we must first of all comeout of the Cave, by distinguishing Science from thepractical work of the sciences. This distinction al-lows us to make another one, between the officialphilosophy of ecologism on the one hand and itsburgeoning practice on the other. Whereas ecologyis assimilated to questions concerning nature, inpractice it focuses on imbroglios involving sciences,moralities, law, and politics. As a result, ecologismbears not on crises of nature but on crises of ob-jectivity (p. 00). If nature is a particular way of total-izing the members who share the same commonworld instead of and in place of politics, we under-stand easily why ecologism marks the end of naturein politics and why we cannot accept the traditionalterm “nature,” which was invented in order toreduce public life to a rump parliament. To be sure,the idea that the Western notion of nature is a his- http://www.bruno-latour.fr/virtual/index.html#torically situated social representation* has become they are unacquainted with it. Thanks to the sociology of the sci-a commonplace. But we cannot settle for it without maintaining ences, to the practice of ecologism, to anthropology, we can thusthe politics of the Cave, since doing so would amount to distanc- understand that nature is only one of the two houses of a collec-ing ourselves still further from the reality of things themselves left tive* instituted to paralyze democracy. The key question of politicalintact in the hands of Science. To give political ecology its place, ecology can now be formulated: can we find a successor to thewe must then avoid the shoals of representations of nature) and collective with two houses: nature and society?accept the risk of metaphysics. Fortunately, for this task we canprofit from the fragile aid of comparative anthropology. Indeed, no Summary of the argument (for readers in a hurry . . .) (extract) from Bruno Latour, Politics of Nature, Harvard UP, 2004 (translation Catherine Porter)culture except that of the West has used nature to organize its po- http://www.bruno-latour.fr/livres/ix_chap5.htmllitical life. Traditional societies do not live in harmony with nature;
Within the romantic imagination the global we need to look somewhere between the ancientlyis told as something very, very large, as interred traces of microbial promiscuity and the all-something very, very complex, but also as too-recent flourishing of electronic miscegenation. Itsomething that may be grasped and held as is in the city – at the hubs of human movement anda whole. Left to its own devices, romantic habitation – that we find a long but still relativelycomplexity leads to the holism of grand nar- accessible history of socially accelerated flows andrative. But there is an alternative: one can in- fusions, here that we might uncover a successionstead go looking for the global as something of culturally mediated human encounters with thethat is broken, poorly formed, and comes in aliens within and without. Before the Internet couldpatches; as something that is very small, and be constituted as a luxuriating ecology of life-likepretty elusive. entities, I would suggest, it was first necessary to the construe the city as a mesh of heterogeneous ele-John Law (2002) And if the Global Were Small and Non-Coherent? Method, Complexity and the Baroque ments, to experience the variegated life secreted inhttp://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/sociology/research/resalph.htm les passages and le paysage des grandes villes; if not literally, then at least metaphorically. To a far greater degree than during its recent enmeshing with new electronic media, the human body in the metropolis has been open to diverse flows, has entertained new forms, has participated in a ‘baroque sociability’ with all its invited and uninvited guests. Clark, Nigel (2000), ‘”Botanizing the Asphalt”? The Complex Life of Cosmopolitan Bodies’, Body & Society 6(3/4), 12-33.
Problems of this scale require not one but many toolsfor their resolution. Consumers may be persuaded toease their use of media-rich files, or to amend theirhabits in terms of power usage, just as many havelearned to use anti-viral software on a regular basis.Governments may take the message of Kyoto and ap-ply it to the information and communications infra-structure. Civil society bodies may be able to persuademanufacturers, service providers and governments tosynchronise their activities on this front. But it is clearthat the solutions are not exclusively about these fa-miliar sectors of the political economy. What digitalmedia have demonstrated is that a different type ofeconomy is possible, one grounded in collaboration(Scholz 2008) and peer-to-peer systems (Bauwens2005), most familiar in the examples of the Linux soft-ware environment and Wikipedia. Equally it is clearthat proprietary solutions will benefit only sectors ofa global network, not the whole system. For that, werequire social as well as economic reactions to theemerging energy crisis of information.