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Letter from the Editors

The internet—essential to modern life and also the world’s largest coal-powered machine. 

Like the shipping industry, packets zigzag across the globe and connect billions of people through a colossal distributed infrastructure we rarely see until it chokes, like a container ship stuck in the Suez Canal or Facebook going down. 

Ships run on bunker fuel, some of the dirtiest sludge on the planet. Much of the internet burns on coal, the historically the cheapest, most convenient fuel available. And while the IPCC is calling “a code red for humanity,” the tech sector and shipping each emit 1-3% of the world’s carbon a year with projections rising. 

The internet is becoming a brittle and polluting monoculture. Seven Big Tech companies predominantly control the internet and its infrastructure, and they are among the wealthiest in the world. 

As the climate crisis intensifies, with more frequent and severe weather events, and more wealth is consolidated in the tech sector even during a pandemic, we’re seeing how this destructive default doesn’t serve humanity or the planet.

What’s more, when we do see chances to change the rules for a fairer, more sustainable, more just set of defaults, to steer us away from the cliff, we see these same firms lobbying to kill this progress in the name of short-term profits.

A Dissonance 

Like many tech workers who grew up loving the possibilities of the internet to connect and empower people, learning about its destructive power causes us to experience a dissonance. How can this tool, with so much potential, speed up fire and floods and human suffering? What are we going to do about it? 

Tech is built and maintained by people. What tech workers do each day can either accelerate the climate crisis or slow it down. As tech ownership and profits become concentrated to the hands of a few, how can workers advocate for their rights and more equitable futures? More than transitioning energy, we must shift power. 

Divest from Big Tech

Today, we’re seeing tech workers unite across geography and pay grade to link arms with climate activists to demand better. 

Big Tech sells itself as a solution to the crisis. But it’s part of the problem, too. The tech sector is rife with lucrative contracts with fossil fuel companies. Brilliant software engineering—optimizing this, improving a model for that—ends up accelerating the extraction of oil and gas, which when burned, pollutes the air, heats the planet and cuts short the lives of millions of plants, animals and people.

Big Tech must end its business with fossil fuels companies. And we, the people who dream of a sustainable, just and diverse internet, need to divest from Big Tech.  

A Fossil Free Internet by 2030

That why we want to focus our efforts on achieving a fossil-free internet. And we want to make that happen by 2030. 

The urgency and scale of the climate crisis demands action. With a big push, the internet could be decarbonized in a few years. And in that transition, we could reform the internet and turn it into a positive force for climate justice. 

To get there, we need new narratives that shift what is desirable and possible. We need to transform our practices and make strategic partnerships with allied causes. And we need open infrastructure—data, code, poetry and repeatable pilots—to model how we can build bridges across social movements and achieve a fossil-free internet by 2030.

This issue of Branch uplifts the people and projects who are making that vision a reality. We want to situate these issues in larger movements for sustainable and just societies. We want to think at a network-level and in open partnership to gain momentum. We want to challenge colonial solutions on how to get to a fossil-free internet through further extraction of the Global South. 

The next few years will be critical for the future of the planet and the internet. We need to expand the coalition of people working towards this shift. We hope you find some inspiration for action here.