Environmental sustainability is a hugely worrisome topic for the Internet industry - and as a Community Builder for the RIPE community, I find it important to engage with the academics and activists who both share our concerns and can contribute in our governance processes. Here is a look back to the event Computing Within Limits.
This June, I attended a short and intense online event on Computing Within Limits. The event explored the role of computing in human societies with real-world limits - limits of extractive logics, limits to a biosphere's ability to recover, limits to our knowledge, or limits to technological "solutions”.
As an interdisciplinary group of researchers, practitioners, and scholars, seeking to reshape the computing research agenda, grounded by an awareness that contemporary computing research is intertwined with ecological limits in general and climate- and climate justice-related limits in particular, 2022 submissions move[d] us closer towards computing systems that support diverse human and non-human lifeforms within thriving biospheres.
The relevance of this workshop for the RIPE community is in the intersection of academic research and future-proof applications in the IT industry, addressing such important topics as: carbon footprint of streaming technologies, data centres efficiency, Open Source, IoT / smart cities, security / safety, governance of common resources, ethics in computing, life-cycle of networking equipment (manufacturing, disposal, re-use, etc)...
- For the academics: please join RIPE community by taking part in RACI
- For the activists: take part in the relevant Working Groups: e.g. the IoT-WG, measurements-WG or Cooperation-WG.
- For the engineers: let’s embrace the expertise and passion of these new generations of scholars, and learn together! Here are some upcoming events in adjacent communities.
The next big event for the RIPE community is in Belgrade from 24-28 October. Let's meet at RIPE 85!
My favourite papers
Please find the highlighted papers below, those that left the most impactful impressions on me; in format of screenshot plus description, my impressions and a link (full papers are available at: https://limits.pubpub.org).
Strategies for Degrowth Computing
This paper looks at the concept of resource reduction and scarcity in the economy - i.e. degrowth - as applied to the rendering of computing and information services. A number of challenges for degrowth were raised, particularly to do with hardware repurposing and sharing, software design and power requirements. The author also discusses suitable degrowth strategies for extending the life of computers, increasing their intensity of use, and for sharing them, the goal being that future increases in efficiency should no longer produce significant consumption of the world’s resources. Here was where I heard about the Jevons Paradox, which pops up again and again!
Calculating the Carbon Footprint of Streaming Media: Beyond the Myth of Efficiency
S. Makonin; L. Marks, A. Rodriguez-Silva, R. ElMallah, and R. Przedpelski
A controversial topic between engineers and researchers! The paper leads with the claim that "existing models are either too high-level or incomplete and partial". As an alternative, the authors propose "a holistic end-to-end model that balances the high-level and highly detailed". The author makes some surprising observations throughout, such as the fact that one hour of Netflix viewing "consumes between 0.8–1.0 kWh of energy consumption, which is equivalent to the average passenger vehicle driving 1.4–1.8 km, or about 0.2 kg of coal being burnt."
For me, the slides and the presentation were more important than the conclusion: comparing and combining existing models, and taking into consideration operational practices of data centres and content providers.
Conceptualising Resources-Aware Higher Education Digital Infrastructure
L. Angeli; Ãƒ. Okur; C. Corradini; M. Stolin; Y. Huang; F. Brazier; M. Marchese
Again, a topic dear to my heart - a critique of outsourcing infrastructure operations to "Big Five", and suggested strategies for FLOSS self-hosting:
[A] first quantification of a potential return to self-hosting, emphasising its effect in energy reduction and avoided e-waste; policy actions that could enable higher education institutions to re-take control over their digital infrastructure by building local services. This mode of operation reduces waste, and has the added benefit of increased resilience to scenarios of resource scarcity and collapse of external infrastructure; the architecture of a low-impact data centre made of upcycled hardware and resource-aware software... there is significant space to reduce digital infrastructure’s overall resource footprint.
The Richness of Designing for Eco-Social Change
L. Houston; A. Light; C. Thornton
I am very happy to see work on Hologram presented again -- since I have featured in my old article on RIPE Labs (Resilience & Economy of Care)! The paper suggests that we reframe the ways we think of "limits" in tension with ideas of abundance:
[A] fusion of care-infused ecological and social sensibilities to create existential change that would impact lifestyle and political choices (and technology use), turning to potentially abundant human resources of imagination, reflection and solidarity. We offer the example of The Hologram, a feminist economist healthcare art project situated online, to illustrate this potential.
Even More Interesting Papers
There was so much interesting content at this event, so I've combined the image above to illustrate some of these:
- "Solar Protocol: Exploring Energy-Centered Design" T. Brain; A. Nathanson; B. Piantella
- "Smart Enough or Too Smart? Territorial Platforms, Social Reproduction, and the Limits to Digital Circuits of Dispossession" by J. Boy
- "OmniFood - Exploring the possibilities of a consumer system with ubiquitous access to data about the food we eat" by B. Hedin
- "Photovoltaic Imagination: Solar Strategies for Community Integrated Research and Graduate Training" by R. Soden; M. Ratto; A. Verhoeven; B. Simon
Further Musings: Form in Service of Function
Although LIMITS has been going on since 2015, I got interested in this workshop only in 2018, and I devoured their previously published papers, used them to illustrate my arguments and prove my “gut feelings” about the environmental impact of IT industry. I finally planned to attend in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic interfered and shut down travel. So I was happy to finally be able to attend this time — on equal terms, with everyone — online.
This was a virtual and distributed workshop; some participants organised local gatherings or "LIMITS-hubs" that encourage community-building and sharing of infrastructure. For me, the time zone difference made this additionally stressful, since it was after full working days — and still, the programme was so interesting and interactive that I was energised instead of tired.
Time-structure of the event was very interesting, too: papers were published in advance, so the authors gave very short presentations; most time was spent in Break Out rooms, where we held "reverse panels" - authors have posted their questions, and the groups of participants were having discussions and giving their input in the documents we collaboratively edited.
I am looking forward to bringing topics of Environmental Sustainability to the RIPE community; in the meantime, I am documenting my personal interest in these topics on the TechInc wiki which you can join too.