“It’s not about your footprint, it’s about your point of leverage” says Simon Sharpe. It’s been clear for a while that carbon footprint isn’t a good frame for how individuals can contribute to a climate transition. In his article Sharpe reiterates that idea, and suggests that its better to think about one’s leverage points instead.
Sharpe talks about leverage at a few different levels : the individual, the organisational, and the national, and, in another article, discusses leverage points at the sectoral level:
In any individual sector, we can identify leverage points: actions that are relatively low cost or low difficulty but that have a high impact in accelerating the transition.
He also talks about super-leverage points:
In the whole system, we can identify super-leverage points: we define these as actions that are high leverage in the sectors where they are taken, and that influence transitions in other sectors in a way that is positive in direction, high in impact, and reasonably high in probability.
Leverage points are a key part of systems thinking.
how do we change the structure of systems to produce more of what we want and less of that which is undesirable?
What are the leverage points in ICT? What are the super-leverage points? How do we change the structure of ICT to produce more of what we want and less of that which is undesirable?
From an ecosocialist standpoint, we want more digital ecosocialism and less digital capitalism. We want to identify actions in ICT which can have a positive, impactful, and highly probable influence on agency, social equity and planetary stability. I started to review work on this in Reclaiming the stacks: how ICT workers can contribute to a transition to ecosocialism. Some sources of inspiration:
- Digital Ecosocialism: Breaking the power of Big Tech
- Platform Socialism
- Internet for the People
- Governable Stacks against Digital Colonialism
- Digitalization and the Anthropocene
- Leveraging Digital Disruptions for a Climate-Safe and Equitable World: The D2S Agenda
Together, these contain quite a number of actions and initiatives and possible leverage points1. There’s a few common themes that stick out – things like deprivatisation/(re)socialisation of infrastructure and platforms; knowledge commons, tech cooperatives and public-commons partnerships; libre and open software, data and access. And the notion of resist, regulate, recode as a triumvarate of types of leverage. But it’s not clear which of these, if any, are key leverage points, or even super-leverage points.
A systemic analysis of how they all connect together could help. I recently came across “A leverage points analysis of a qualitative system dynamics model for climate change adaptation in agriculture“, which has an interesting methodology for surfacing leverage points within a sector. It would be interesting to see how the same could be applied to ICT. It all starts off with a qualitative system dynamics model, so that will be where to look next. The references above each contain their own informal, qualitative model of ICT, so a starting point will be to look through them again with that lens.
Some problems from digital capitalism recently in the news. To help map them out, I’m tagging them with some of the criteria I defined in my OU research.
- ChatGPT Will Command More Than 30,000 Nvidia GPUs: Report. AI is driving the manufacture of a shit-ton of hardware. And the negative environmental impact associated with that. (A problem of AI, growthism and overconsumption, counter to planetary stability, at the hardware layer of the stack).
- The Generative AI Race Has a Dirty Secret. Not really a secret – LLMs use a vast amount of energy. And this is set to increase as they get integrated into search engines. (A problem of AI, data centres and unnecessary technology, counter to planetary stability, at the software layer of the stack).
- Meta report shows the company causes far more emissions than it can cover with renewable energy. Similarly to Microsoft (Microsoft’s dirty supply chain is holding back its climate ambitions), Meta has huge emissions, most of which are scope 3 emissions from its ecosystem and supply chain, and apparently it doesn’t know what to do about them. Here’s a couple of ideas: (a) consider degrowth; (b) use your considerable clout on your supply chain, rather than pretending that you are helpless to do anything about it. (A problem of carbon emissions, supply chains and scope 3 emissions, counter to planetary stability, at the software and hardware layers of the stack).
Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.
– Karl Marx
Some latest news on concrete actions that are part of an ecosocialist ICT movement.
- Extreme heat prompts first-ever Amazon delivery driver strike. (A strike action, supporting social equity and agency, to resist worker exploitation).
- Big win for right to repair with new EU rules for batteries – but legislators must get the implementation right. Good right to repair news – progress on battery removability and availability. Though still lacking on the affordability of repair. (Regulation on the right to repair, supporting planetary stability and agency, to resist growthism and overconsumption).
Finally, a few other things I’ve been reading, listening to, and watching that are adjacent to the topics of ecosocialism and ICT.
- How an eccentric English tech guru helped guide Allende’s socialist Chile (h/t Panda)
- ICT: A top horizontal priority in sustainable product policy
- A report on the need for horizontal measures for the regulation of various hardware products in the ICT sector to make them last longer.
- ‘A certain danger lurks there’: how the inventor of the first chatbot turned against AI
- “Perhaps his most fundamental heresy was the belief that the computer revolution, which Weizenbaum not only lived through but centrally participated in, was actually a counter-revolution. It strengthened repressive power structures instead of upending them.”
- Class Politics in a Warming World with Keir Milburn
- I like Keir Milburn. This interview is about the intersection of class politics and environmental politics, and ranges across lots of interesting topics related to that, including Milburn’s personal history in both of those movements.
- Microdose: Californian Capitalism.
- Interview with Malcolm Harris on his book Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World. Includes some interesting takes on The Californian Ideology and the left and technology.