Not-so-green Silicon Valley
Co-written with youth climate activist Allie Rougeot.
If fossil fuel executives are now losing in the court of public opinion, Big Tech executives are not doing much better in the hearts of climate justice activists.
Big Tech: The Other Extractive Industry — only with Charisma
Google and Facebook in Canada aren’t extracting resources from unceded indigenous land, but they are, on the other hand, champions of nonconsensual data extraction. As we witness Climate Justice actions worldwide in 2019, it is increasingly important to address the new monopolies that threaten our communities.
The relationship between Big Tech and the climate crisis may not be the most obvious. And that’s not a coincidence: Google’s code of conduct stipulated “Don’t be Evil” for years, before updating to “Do The Right Thing” in 2015. Their informal, liberated corporate culture also sent us signals they were a friendly breed of enterprise. Let’s face it, it also helps that their services are free to use!
Fast Tech is like Fast Food: Bad for our Health
Yet Big Tech’s free-minded development model is based on excess: excess screen consumption to sell more ads, algorithms that value excessive reactions in selecting which content to show, and excessive speed of change. Wasn’t “Move Fast and Break Things” Facebook’s initial motto? At a time when we must challenge the very idea of infinite growth, having large, profit-seeking companies unseemingly pushing for that model is distracting at best, dangerous at worst.
Just like uncontrolled climate change, unregulated and unbridled digital change leaves no room for adaptation. “Digital moderation” is the secret to a healthy digital diet, as opposed to “digital binging”.
Solutions to climate change indeed go way beyond plastic bans and recycling. At the core of climate justice lies community empowerment, trustworthy institutions and news sources, as well as efficient democracies. However, under Google and Facebook’s rule, fake news was allowed to spread exponentially. Free video games and apps designed to be highly addictive have generated, ironically, disconnection and more often than not, depression.
Many amongst the most digitally connected individuals have strayed from natural instincts and lost touch with family, community and their physical environment.
This slowly creeping, tech-enabled isolation has prevented them from feeling a sense of collective interest, and therefore, a need for collective mobilization in this time of crisis. For others, as climate anxiety rises, seeking comfortable refuge in the digital world has led to inaction in the real world.
Greenwashing Big Tech won’t Do, Respecting Citizen Rights will
Big Tech companies like Google have long leveraged Tech’s image as a clean solution to our cities’ problems. The so-called Toronto waterfront “Smart City” contracted out to Google-affiliated Sidewalk Labs puts forth great promise of an environmentally-friendly, tech-enabled urban development. This comes at the cost of major governance issues that have led to a strong citizen-led #BlockSidewalk movement and a series of resignations from the Waterfront Toronto governing body in 2018 & 2019.
Climate Justice, once again, demands more than “green tech ideas”, it demands respect for citizens and the public good.
To fully lift the secrecy veil on Big Tech’s impact on the Climate Crisis, let it be known all those “free” videos, photos and smileys consume 4% of world carbon emissions today (more than airline travel) with a trend towards 8% of global emissions in 2025 (1). Companies like Facebook and Google may present a friendly face, but unlike big corporations before them, they should be held accountable now, not after decades go by.