By Hannah Miller
Environmentalism as a field has progressed over the decades by expanding analysis of new areas of our society, from mining policy to manufacturing to agriculture. Areas of human life that were once considered outside the purview of environmentalism are now central to our thinking about how to create a saner, more sustainable and just culture: legalizing backyard beekeeping or banning BPA in plastics, topics that weren’t even on the radar a few years ago.
In order for environmentalism to continue to progress, we must include a new plank as central to our work: an Internet that is sustainable, democratic, and that is structurally adapted to facilitate and speed up the world-wide transition from fossil fuel to renewables.
Our world, and the future of our movement, is dependent on a green Internet, for both the communications and political work we must do, and the coming economic transitions.
So what is the Green Internet? Well, when you talk about the Internet, at first you think of the physical infrastructure: billions of computers networked together and sharing files (including thousands in the “server farms” operated by the giants: Apple, Google, Amazon, etc.).
Then there are the phone and cable networks, wireless towers, and handsets and laptops where we all join this network. So far, environmentalism has addressed the impact of this physical infrastructure, mostly as a critique of energy consumption. But the Internet is so much more than wires and computers – to reduce it to this is like saying our power system is just a grid that transmits electricity, without discussing mountaintop removal at one end or catastrophic weather events the other. What passes through both sets of wires has dramatic consequences, on both ends of the cable. What content is allowed to pass through the Internet – what corporations are allowed to buy or sell, and what information voters and consumers receive – is the most important matter.
When environmentalists or sustainability pioneers do “media work” now, we are usually trying to activate the public through existing channels; we need to go further, and shape those channels itself as seriously as we are re-working streets to be more bike-friendly.
As a massively powerful and hopeful communications technology, the Internet is still new, so it is still being formed right now. Historically, media technologies from the telegraph to radio have followed a similar pattern: they are invented as non-commercial forms, used by a niche, but when they become popular are co-opted by established business interests.
The Internet has already started going this way, and in fact, this is perilously close to happening: the Federal Communications Commission is currently proposing to change the Internet drastically to bias it in favor of corporate power, incentivizing Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon to feature and promote the Shells, Walmarts, and FOX News of the world. If we want the Internet to remain the viable organizing and educational resource needed for the vast challenges ahead in transitioning to a renewable society and a life-based economy, then we have to ensure that it remain free, open, and accessible to all. Click to continue reading »
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