GEXcel Gender Talks Series
"Mosaic methodologies to comprehend and combat digital environmental harms"
The proposed topic addresses questions of utmost urgency: what is the role of digital technologies in environmental sustainability and the climate crisis? To what extent is digitisation a key component of environmental sustainability, or a major hindrance? Within conversations about climate justice, the digital is rarely looked at as a source of environmental harms, despite a wealth of evidence (mining of rare metals for devices; e-waste; toxic and exploitative working conditions especially in the Global South; accelerated energy demands of internet connectivity, deep machine learning, AI and cryptocurrency; heat and carbon emissions of Data Farms, and more). This issue of digital environmental harms, I will argue, urgently needs interrogating, especially in the current post-pandemic moment in time, after the global society has experienced an unprecedented (and often, not fully evaluated) digital surge.
In this talk, I will draw on some observations of UK media coverage of digital technologies and climate change during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as a pilot systematic review of academic publications on the topic. My talk will explore the striking absence of intersections between discussions around pandemic digitisation and questions of climate change and environmental degradation. I will then propose a number of ways forward. I will argue that firstly, we must begin to think more openly and creatively about the terms used to build a body of emerging academic, activist and public conversations, in the absence of a clear and commonly agreed language to describe digital environmental impacts.
Secondly, I will argue that we should strive to create a unified language that would help bridge siloed conversations that happen separately in engineering and environmental science; media and social sciences; and other areas, to capture environmental impacts of digitisation. Given that different disciplines may use different terms, such as “footprint”, “harm”, “impact”, and difference conceptual frameworks, it is imperative to begin developing an approach that accounts for these different fragments, without necessarily privileging one over the other – a sort of “mosaic methodology” that is attentive to different aspects, components, actors, meanings, and impacts.
Adi Kuntsman is Reader in Digital Politics at the Department of History, Politics and Philosophy at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. Adi’s recent work focused on the politics of ‘opting out’ of digital communication; and on environmental impacts of digital technologies. Adi is the author of multiple books and edited collections, most recent including Paradoxes of Digital Disengagement: In Search of the Opt Out Button (with Esperanza Miyake, University of Westminster Press, 2022). and Digital Politics, Digital Histories, Digital Futures (with Liu Xin, Emerald 2023). Adi is currently setting up a new book series on digital technologies, sustainability and the environment, and working on a project exploring multiple methodologies and theoretical frameworks to articulate digital environmental harms
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