‘Green ICT’ : More efficiently unsustainable?

My slides for the Digital 2020 GreenICT mini-conference:

There are quite extensive notes which can be read from slide 21 onwards.


In retrospect, I think these slides are pretty incoherent. I tried to make up for this by adding notes and references and figured that when I gave the presentation, I’d smooth all the joins. Alas, I didn’t really get time to do that, either.

During the presentation, the slides which seemed to have the most impact were 2 & 3, which introduce the Jevons Paradox of ‘efficiencies’ and then the actual increase in global energy use. I should also add that despite efficiencies and taking population increases into account, per capita energy use is still increasing globally. You can see how individual countries compare here: http://j.mp/51IIId

The slide (16) where I ask ‘Why be Green?’ and say ‘Resilience’ is meant to refer to Green being about dematerialisation, energy efficiency, and a zero or planned negative growth economy. Each of these ‘green factors’ could contribute to reduce the impacts of energy depletion and climate change and therefore contribute to resilience. I don’t think they would mitigate the impacts, but individuals and organisations that understand the principles of ‘being green’, would be better placed and more resilient against those impacts.

Bill Rees: The Vulnerability and Resilience of Cities

A week or so ago, I came across a podcast of a keynote that Bill Rees gave at the Resilient Cities conference in Vancouver last month.  Bill Rees is a significant figure in the world of ecology not least because he originated the term ‘ecological footprint’ and co-invented the method by which it’s calculated.

It’s not often that I hear a presentation, keynote or talk that I’d want to share with people as widely as possible, but in this case I do. I think it will appeal to anyone concerned about climate change or peak oil, but I think it will (should?!) interest those of us who have a particular interest in technology as a solution to a problem. The problem in this case is catastrophic climate change and how cities both reflect and encapsulate the unsustainable societies we have created.  He discusses the self-reinforcing myths about technology that we perpetuate and the parasitic nature of cities and by extension, the developed world.

After listening to the podcast, I contacted Prof. Rees to ask him for the slides of his presentation. I then created the ‘slidecast’ below by syncing the audio with the slides. He appreciated this and is happy for it to be publicly available.

Throughout his keynote, he’s blunt about the state we’re in, (assuming the science is generally correct – and it has been so far). There are a few points he makes which I want to repeat here, for discussion, if nothing else.

  1. Climate change is a global problem (i.e. ultimately it can’t be traded away to other nations without still affecting us) and requires us to reduce carbon emissions in absolute terms by at least 80% before 2050. The reduction must be absolute. “Growing more efficiently does not address the problem. It merely makes us more efficiently unsustainable… If your ‘solution’ does not result in an absolute reduction  in energy and material consumption and waste production, then it is part of the problem.” (slide six)
  2. Modern cities are unsustainable, incomplete ecosystems. They are parasitic on the environment around them. The example he gives is Tokyo, which has an ecological footprint 4.3x greater than Japan. (slide 22)
  3. To stabilise temperatures at +4c by 2100, “the majority of OECD nations must begin to make draconian emission reductions soon (within a decade)… this will require a planned economic recession. (slide 28)
  4. However, a +4c rise in global temperatures will be catastrophic for much of the world (see map on slide 29).
  5. “Sustainability means giving up material growth in rich countries… There will be lifestyle changes. Get used to it.” (slide 31)

The last 20 minutes of the slidecast is an interview with Bill Rees where he discusses some of these issues in more detail.

Bill Rees isn’t alone in this view of the next few decades. There was a recent conference at Oxford University on the implications of +4c global temperatures and the MET office recently published a +4c climate map. If you follow developments closely, it does look like +4c is fast becoming the new +2c.

My interest here, in my work, is what the implications of a zero growth economy which requires draconian reductions in energy consumption and consequent emissions, means for the modern university.  Along the same lines of the unsustainable city, is the university in its current form unsustainable, too? What would a sustainable university, in absolute terms, look like? I’ll be thinking about this more over the next few months and writing down my ideas here. I welcome your thoughts and comments.

ALT-C 2009 Demo: WordPress Multi-User: BuddyPress and Beyond

This is just a reminder that I’ll be giving a demonstration of WordPress Multi-User and BuddyPress at the ALT Conference at 10:50-11:50 on Wednesday, 9 September in room 1.219

Here’s the blurb I submitted.

I write quite a lot on this blog about the use of WordPress and WPMU. Here’s a list of posts that may interest you. Here’s the RSS feed for that search, so you can keep updated with anything I write on the subject.

I’ll be setting up an ALT-C BuddyPress site for anyone to play around with over the course of the conference. It will be available from the 6-17th September 2009. Expect to find it at: http://learninglab.lincoln.ac.uk/altc2009

Academic Commons: Learning from FLOSS

While preparing my ‘Thinking Aloud’ seminar on Academic Commons, I was pleased to see that the Wikipedia entry for Open Educational Resources notes:

What has still not become clear by now to most actors in the OER domain is that there are further links between the OER and the Free / Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) movements, beyond the principles of “FREE” and “OPEN”. The FLOSS model stands for more than this and, like e.g. Wikipedia, shows how users can become active “resource” creators and how those resources can be re-used and freely maintained. In OER on the other hand a focus is still on the traditional way of resource creation and role distributions. [my emphasis]

As it happens, this is a significant interest of mine and one I touch upon in a forthcoming book chapter I contributed to.  We conclude:

The idea of student as producer encourages the development of collaborative relations between student and academic for the production of knowledge. However, if this idea is to connect to the project of refashioning in fundamental ways the nature of the university, then further attention needs to be paid to the framework by which the student as producer contributes towards mass intellectuality. This requires academics and students to do more than simply redesign their curricula, but go further and redesign the organizing principle, (i.e. private property and wage labour), through which academic knowledge is currently being produced. An exemplar alternative organizing principle is already proliferating in universities in the form of open, networked collaborative initiatives which are not intrinsically anti-capital but, fundamentally, ensure the free and creative use of research materials. Initiatives such as Science Commons, Open Knowledge and Open Access, are attempts by academics and others to lever the Internet to ensure that research output is free to use, re-use and distribute without legal, social or technological restriction (www.opendefinition.org). Through these efforts, the organizing principle is being redressed creating a teaching, learning and research environment which promotes the values of openness and creativity, engenders equity among academics and students and thereby offers an opportunity to reconstruct the student as producer and academic as collaborator. In an environment where knowledge is free, the roles of the educator and the institution necessarily change. The educator is no longer a delivery vehicle and the institution becomes a landscape for the production and construction of a mass intellect in commons. ((Neary, M. with Winn, J. (2009) ‘Student as Producer: Reinventing the Undergraduate Curriculum‘ in M. Neary, H. Stevenson, and L. Bell, (eds) (2009) The Future of Higher Education: Policy, Pedagogy and the Student Experience, Continuum, London))

I’d be interested in discussing these ideas with anyone who has similar interests. I don’t doubt I have a lot to learn from others.

Having been part of the open source community for the last eight years, I am utterly convinced there’s a lot to learn from the collaborative and highly productive social and creative processes that allow software developers, documentation writers and application end-users to work together so effectively. Over decades, they have developed tools to aid this process (mailing lists, IRC, revision control, the GPL and other licenses, etc.). Isn’t it time that more of us worked and learned in this way? Creative Commons is our license to do so; the Internet is our means of connecting with others. The tools are mostly available to us and where they are inappropriate for our discpilines, we should modify them. In the FLOSS community, knowledge is free and the community is thriving.

As the Wikipedia OER article states, the transmission of knowledge from teacher to learner is slowly being freed, but the social processes of knowledge production remain largely the same. Students are still largely positioned as consumers of knowledge and the hierarchical relationship between teacher and learner is increasingly contractual rather than personal. There are exceptions, I know, but there are few genuine opportunities for teacher and learner to work together productively, especially on a group scale. Institutions, like my own, are making some efforts to change the ‘Learning Landscape’ but I don’t think it is necessarily an institutional responsiblility. It’s the responsiblity of individuals (especially in an environment so relatively loosely controlled as a university) to work out the social relations and processes of peer production for themselves, looking for support from others when they need it.

How can the model by which the FLOSS community works so productively and openly be translated to every academic discipline and change the way that knowledge is both produced and transmitted? Technology is at this core of this enterprise and I suspect many teachers and learners feel alientated and divided by it.

By the way, here’s my Thinking Aloud presentation.