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Letter from the Editors

1. Hosting a garden party

Strong branches do not grow overnight. Much attention goes into seeding the work and caring for the saplings so they can be rooted firmly in the earth. The work reflected in this magazine is thanks to the tireless commitment of many people, some of whose names are known and others not. In it, we are thinking of those who care for our forests and waters, those who question anthropocentric narratives telling us to disregard the non-human world, and those who see that technology is as old as time itself, neither purely digital nor inherently extractive. We thank everyone who nourishes these networks, responds and adapts to changing social and ecological landscapes, and seeks out new pathways for connection and action.

It is therefore fitting that many of the pieces in this special edition on the intersection of climate justice and digital rights were catalyzed together amid the branching walkways of a botanical garden in Heredia, Costa Rica.

The botanical garden represents many tensions at once.

Originally a space designed to categorize and control nature, the garden’s inherent connection to colonial legacies reinforces the university and empire as the seat of power for knowledge creation. Yet while the predominant narrative of these institutions is that humans can control nature, we know this is not the case. Upon closer view, the garden is a rich explosion of life, with diverse, interdependent ecological relations in constant motion. Amidst the bureaucratic illusion of control is a wild space of growth, change, and the radical repurposing of human-made infrastructures.

2. Issue at a glance 

As a place of both resistance and rest, the walled garden provided our meeting with a space to breathe and think differently about the entrenched challenges we are facing as a planet, exacerbated by capitalist and extractive technologies. In this edition, you will find pieces born of those conversations, grouped into four sections. They represent different voices from the burgeoning community of researchers, practitioners, and funders whose work on technocapitalism, just transition, and sustainable and equitable infrastructures envisions tech in the service of equitable climate action. Special thanks to Maya Adams and Kira Simon-Kennedy for the beautiful visuals and photographs that accompany the pieces; and to La Bruja RISO for the cover design. We deliberately decided to make this a multilingual issue, including pieces in Spanish [ES], Portuguese [PT], and English [EN]. Please read the contributions with care and appreciation for all those who are exploring the deep and branching networks at this intersection.  

Countering false and misleading solutions to ecological crisis

Becky Kazansky and Nikita Kekana reflect on and challenge the reduction of natural elements to financial commodities [EN]. In the interview about her book ‘Tecnologías para un planeta en llamas’ [ES] Paz Peña names and critiques technocapitalism and offers equitable feminist technological approaches as a way forward. We end this section with Jessica Botelho, Lori Regattieri, and Eliana Quiroz on empowering community-driven alliances against social-environmental and climate disinformation [EN].

Towards a just and equitable transition 

Heather Milton-Lightening speaks to the tensions and contestation between colonialism, capitalism, and justice, and discusses ways of organizing through which we can create the world that we want to see [EN]. A conversation between Joana Varon and Alana Manchineri [EN|PT] brings to light Indigenous struggle in the Amazon, the physical and technical colonial relations enforced on them, and ways of organizing. The Kuirme Collective, consisting of Rub(én) Solís Mecalco, Aymara Llanque, and Camila Nobrega invert the dominant discourse on extraction and identify ways to build alliances across movements and issues [EN]. Michael Brennan and Hanan Elmasu end with a reflection on navigating the interstices as funders [EN].

‘The term “raw materials” itself should be questioned, as it contributes to the neo-extractivism narrative by preparing the ground for the appropriation and transformation of relations, territories and memories into “natural resources” or “materials”.’

Kuirme Collective

Imagining sustainable and equitable infrastructures

Paola Mosso and Janna Frenzel [EN] reflect on their workshop discussion envisioning digital infrastructures and share time capsules from the future. They emphasize that digital infrastructures are not just machines or processes, but the people who design, maintain and inhabit them. Juliana Guerra [ES] narrows in on who governs our internet infrastructures, who gets to decide how sustainability is defined, and who benefits from it. Jennifer Kamau [EN] shows us that as long as migrants from climate-vulnerable countries are trapped in racialized infrastructures and do not have an equal seat at the table, there can be neither equity nor sustainability. Remy Hellstern and Jen Liu argue that we need to learn from nature and create proactive response frameworks and technologies that are regenerative by design [EN]. 

‘Border walls will not stop the climate crisis; they just reinforce the injustice of carbon capitalism.’

Jennifer Kamau

Building bridges and ensuring tech serves equitable climate action

The video message ‘An open movement to support climate action’ [EN] by Michelle Cheripka for the Open Environmental Data Project reinforces that open is a tool to shift power, and that the open community is working to be in service of climate justice and equitable climate action. Luis Carrasco argues for the power of open data, but only if we can unlock its knowledge to the public [ES]. Maya Richman and Fieke Jansen reflect on their work to bring the climate justice and digital rights communities together [EN] and Nathaly Espitia Díaz offers an example of community organizing that centers self-care and collective care through ‘Postales sonoras’ or ‘Sound postcards’ [ES]. Oona Castro investigates the need for just socio-environmental infrastructures in the Amazonian Region [PT]. We close this special edition with an interview with Molly Mathews on organizing behind the scenes [EN].

While these thoughts began much earlier than June 2023, the conversations we had among the butterflies, beetles and birds sustained us and have given birth to new connections, alliances and dreams. We invite you to engage and grow more branches with us.

Agapanthus by Kira Simon-Kennedy (CC BY-NC 4.0)
Agapanthus by Kira Simon-Kennedy (CC BY-NC 4.0)

3. Crossing pathways

The interconnections between the co-editors are many, and long before the meeting in Heredia, Costa Rica, we met to discuss how to best share its conversations on climate justice and digital rights beyond our usual circles and networks. The idea for a special edition of Branch was born. The pieces contained here reflect a growing community of organizers, researchers, technologists and funders who want to interrupt extractive systems and build infrastructures that are just and sustainable for people and the planet.

Green Screen Coalition

The Green Screen Climate Justice and Digital Rights Coalition is a group of funders and practitioners looking to build bridges across the digital rights and climate justice movements. The coalition fundraised and co-designed the Costa Rica event, as well as this special edition of Branch, to help share essential perspectives on the intersection. The aim of the coalition is to be a catalyst in making visible the climate implications of technology by supporting emerging on-the-ground work, building networks, and embedding the issue as an area within philanthropy. Beginning in earnest in spring 2021, the coalition consists of Ariadne, Ford Foundation, Internet Society Foundation, Mozilla Foundation, Green Web Foundation, critical infrastructure lab, and Stiftung Mercator.

4. Green Screen Digital Rights and Climate Justice Edition

Over the last three years, Branch magazine has been sharing essential reflections and dreams of a sustainable and just internet for all. This special issue aims to showcase the work of a growing network with a plurality of approaches and perspectives at the intersection of climate justice and digital technology beyond the internet. It amplifies voices that approach the topics from feminist, decolonial and Indigenous perspectives, and which center care, respect, and non-extractive forms of exchange. With shorter pieces than previous event reports, we want to highlight a variety of perspectives. In this way, Branch magazine can cast a wider canopy and bring new allies and collaborators into the conversation. Our ultimate goal is to help document the multitude of approaches that currently challenge the status quo, and build transterritorial networks of solidarity and co-liberation. There were many hearts and hands who helped make this edition possible, you can find their names on the about page.

Katrin Fritsch researches, writes and consults at the intersection of climate justice, digital rights, and feminism. She advises organisations on data, justice, and emerging technologies. Currently, she is a senior program manager at Green Web Foundation, and the chair of epicenter.works. Previously, she co-founded and co-led MOTIF, a think tank working towards social justice in the digital age. Katrin is the co-initiator of Feminist Futures, and holds an MSc in Data & Society from London School of Economics and Political Science.

Katherine Waters is an editor and writer from London.

Maya Richman, co-lead of the Green Screen Coalition, is a jack-of-all trades who has spent the last ten years listening and learning about the plurality of struggles for technological justice across the world, and supporting activists and organizations to untangle technologies’ hold on our lives and reclaim its power to bring about social and political transformation.

Fieke Jansen is a co-principle investigator of the critical infrastructure lab and a postdoc researcher at the University of Amsterdam. Her research interests are to understand power and conflict around the environmental impact of expanding infrastructures. She is also the co-lead of the Green Screen Climate Justice and Digital Rights coalition. In her PhD at the Data Justice Lab at Cardiff University she looked at the institutional and societal implications of data-driven risk scoring and biometric recognition in Europe. Fieke is a former Mozilla and Green Web Foundation fellow where she explored ways to frame the climate crisis as a core digital rights issue. Prior to starting her PhD Fieke worked for Hivos, where she set up the Digital Defenders Partnership, and at Tactical Tech, where she led the politics of data program.

Embracing imperfect methodologies for cross-territorial collaboration 

The Green Screen Climate Justice and Digital Rights Coalition started in 2020 on a journey to explore how digital rights and climate justice intersect, and how we might most effectively integrate these issues into our work, as funders and practitioners. Here we offer a reflection of the things we, Maya and Fieke, have learned along the way. Seeing as the rest of the magazine dives deep into specific topics at the nexus, we wanted to use this piece to share insights into the process of seeding and supporting the network itself.

Red Pistil by Kira Simon-Kennedy (CC BY-NC 4.0)
Red Pistil by Kira Simon-Kennedy (CC BY-NC 4.0)
Crotton Plant by Kira Simon-Kennedy (CC BY-NC 4.0)
Crotton Plant by Kira Simon-Kennedy (CC BY-NC 4.0)

The NGO industrial complex has a tendency to claim issue areas like extractive industries claim territories. The desire to stake claims and say ‘we started on this topic first’ ultimately limits the impact of the work as it breeds territoriality and borders rather than interdependence, collectivity, and connections of trust. Slowly exploring how the internet and digital technologies have impacted the planet and the people on it reminds us of just how longstanding these conversations and contestations over land and water are.

As we grow this transnational network, it is important we do not reinforce the narrative that this is a new issue or belongs to a single entity or institution, but rather use the momentum and opportunity to honor and strengthen the ongoing struggle and hard work on the ground.

Doing this has required us, two people based in the global north with knowledge of the digital rights field and the funding ecosystem, to start by listening and learning in order to determine how best to position ourselves in the ecosystem. An initial landscape analysis and issue briefings undertaken by different actors in the network showed the work ahead of us to be intimidating in scope and scale. We had to embrace the uncomfortability of not knowing, and define what we meant by climate justice and digital rights in order to build alliances with others. Through this, we saw a role for ourselves as conveners and bridge builders, between climate justice and digital rights movements, and between grassroots and Indigenous organizers, civil society and funders. The intersection of different positionalities, languages and experiences produces rich complexity, but also (internal) conflict and we’ve found our power as a network lies in our collective ability to embrace these differences, find common grounds, and deal with conflicts as they arise. Our collaborators remind us that the care and commitment with which we navigate these relationships will determine how impactful this coalition can be.

In our capacity as conveners, we hosted two international climate justice and digital rights events, one in Germany in 2022 and one in Costa Rica in 2023. We (re)discovered that building trust and understanding across languages and movements takes time, but is essential when developing strategies against powerful actors and crossborder industries. Building transterritorial solidarity networks requires that we make intentional spaces in international gatherings so people on the frontlines can speak about their resistance and work, in their own language, on their own terms. Only then can we name things for what they are and plot out collective futures.

What struck us in Costa Rica was that we have grown so used to words like ‘extractivism’ and ‘extractive cultures’ to describe the industrial capture of land, resources and personal data, that it requires different perspectives, like those of Indigenous activists protecting the land, to boil it down to its essence: mining other people’s territories is just stealing.

Throughout, we have been refining our collaborative design methodology, inviting community members with complementary perspectives to build the agendas of our events alongside us. Together, we develop shared approaches, challenge assumptions, and bring clarity in mutually beneficial ways. Following feedback from the Berlin event, we added three more thematic areas for discussion: extractivism and mega projects, false and misleading climate solutions, and sustainable and equitable infrastructures. Framing and setting the agenda of our events with the community has allowed for distributed leadership and the creation of actionable shared agendas, as well as keeping us conscious of the need to remain reflexive and acknowledge our own biases. This yields tangible results: thanks to the initiative of the attendees of the Costa Rica meeting, we made space in the schedule for conversation on important topics that we had overlooked, including climate migration, how to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people, and power structures within funding.

There is no easy way out of the multiple crises we are living in today.

Often we fumble, and find that at times our actions contradict our commitments. However, we believe we can only find new pathways out of our concurrent overlapping crises if we actively center and promote different values, Indigenous, feminist, decolonial and community approaches, and commit to working differently. This is where the energy for change is. What we see is a blossoming community that needs support to continue to build together and to bring in the voices of those who haven’t been in the room. We plan to continue into the next year, by sharing the work of the community, surfacing opportunities for collective action, and directly funding projects that seek to intervene and build alternatives. 

For too long, the future has been determined by one worldview.

Moving forward we need to celebrate a plurality of approaches and ideas. Over the coming year we hope that the needle will shift from a market-based logic to one that centers people and planet. This means for those based in the global north that we have to start thinking and working towards societies that are based on limits, reduction, and the redistribution of our internet infrastructures and digital technologies. We also hope that we see a shift in the allocation of resources, where more is distributed to those at the frontlines protecting the land, to those whose territories are most impacted by the ecological crisis, and those who are experimenting with new approaches. 

Maya Richman, co-lead of the Green Screen Coalition, is a jack-of-all trades who has spent the last ten years listening and learning about the plurality of struggles for technological justice across the world, and supporting activists and organizations to untangle technologies’ hold on our lives and reclaim its power to bring about social and political transformation.

Fieke Jansen is a co-principle investigator of the critical infrastructure lab and a postdoc researcher at the University of Amsterdam. Her research interests are to understand power and conflict around the environmental impact of expanding infrastructures. She is also the co-lead of the Green Screen Climate Justice and Digital Rights coalition. In her PhD at the Data Justice Lab at Cardiff University she looked at the institutional and societal implications of data-driven risk scoring and biometric recognition in Europe. Fieke is a former Mozilla and Green Web Foundation fellow where she explored ways to frame the climate crisis as a core digital rights issue. Prior to starting her PhD Fieke worked for Hivos, where she set up the Digital Defenders Partnership, and at Tactical Tech, where she led the politics of data program.

New Research on Climate Justice and Digital Rights

In 2021 Ford, Mozilla and Ariadne launched a research project to better understand what responsible grantmaking on the intersection between digital rights and climate/environmental justice could look like. In July 2022, we proudly presented 8 new pieces of research on this theme.

The Engine Room created a landscape analysis as the key research partner in this project. We also published seven issue briefs by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), BSR, and the Open Environmental Data Project and Open Climate.

In this article I offer a preview of what you can expect from these different pieces of research. With the links below, you can jump to a specific report summary:

Landscape mapping – The Engine Room

Gaps for joint actions between environmental and digital rights movement – APC

Interplay between internet and environmental governance – APC

Extractivism, mining and technology in the global South – APC

The impact of disinformation on environmental movements – APC

Climate justice and the knowledge commons – Open Environmental Data Project and Open Climate

Where environmental justice, climate justice and digital rights meet – Open Environmental Data Project and Open Climate

Climate misinformation – BSR

Landscape Mapping

The Engine Room report At the confluence of digital rights and climate & environmental justice: A landscape review provides an overview of how an extremely diverse set of communities and movements work across the intersection of climate justice and digital rights. Why should you read it?

A recurring theme in discussions I have had on climate and tech is that people feel they do not know where to start. This report is a great place to start as it offers an accessible and thoughtful overview into different climate and environmental justice issues that emerge from technological innovation. The Engine Room specifically outlines five issue areas;

  • the environmental toll of digital infrastructures;
  • access to information and climate disinformation;
  • climate monitoring;
  • increased surveillance of environmental activists and land defenders;
  • migration justice.

Next to these five issue areas the report offers insight into cross-cutting themes and challenges. Take for example the reports section on the need for a shared worldview between communities, movements and sectors. Here the Engine Room acknowledges that the climate justice and digital rights movement have different languages, histories and entry points into issue on climate and tech, but connect working towards an intersectional lexicon to more fundamental ideological differences. They found that within and between the movements there are different ideas on how to define and address injustices, and the movements have distinct and conflicting views on the role of the state and market in addressing harms and fostering solutions.

Issue briefs

1. Mapping the gaps between digital rights and environmental justice actors in the global South

APC issue brief dives into the gaps between the digital rights and environmental justice movement. They argue that digital rights involvement in climate issues to this day has been ad-hoc and focused on isolated issues rather than as a core strategic concern. They identify four important gaps that limit joint action:

  • Awareness of each other’s advocacy terrains.
  • Different relationships to power.
  • A general absence of cross-over advocacy concerns as core strategic agendas
  • Gaps in capacity building: Evidence of low-hanging fruits

All four gaps are worth elaborating on, but my Aha moment when reading this issue brief was on the different relationships to power. Here APC refers specifically to the relationship with the private sector. Environmental groups have adversarial and contested relationships to agribusiness, energy and other extractive sectors, while some digital rights organizations collaborate with Big Tech or Big Tech on digital rights. Any meaningful action on the intersection on climate and tech thus requires a clear articulation of the relationship with the market.

The issue brief ends with avenues where the relationship between digital rights and environmental justice actors in the Global South could be strengthened.

2. Environmental and digital rights: Exploring the potential for interplay and mutual reinforcement for better governance

This issue brief by APC explores what those working in the internet governance sphere can learn from governance debates on environmental issues. The deep dive highlights the commonalities between the governance issues: global in scope, the need for action of market, state and citizens in management and protection, cross-cutting policy areas, and exercising key rights. They translate these commonalities into governance questions that still need to be addressed. 

What allowed me to ground their argument was the example of applying environmental law to regulate the environmental harms of the internet infrastructure. In this blog post I write about the impact of data centres beyond carbon and how these infrastructures are increasingly becoming a focal point for conflict over land, water and energy.

APC asks if would it be possible, using the Aarhus Convention, to demand more information on the massive natural resource dependency of data centres, the environmental cost of using and manipulating data, and the projections of greenhouse gas emissions from our use of technology?

3. Extractivism, mining and technology in the global South: Towards a common agenda for action

This third APC issue brief clearly explains the challenges and conflicts around the mining of natural resources needed tech hardware, what they refer to as extractivism. It offers clear examples of the harms in the DRC, in Mexico and Brazil, and in the Lithium Triangle in Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.

They deliberately use a broad definition of extraction to include both rare metals and minerals needed for digital devices and the consumption of another natural resource, such as water in both the mining and the data process. This framing is important as it will allow digital rights actors to connect the environmental tool so the internet to the broader profit-driven extractivist approach of the technology sector.

“Extractivism” in the context of this brief refers to the formal and informal mining of minerals used in the production of technology in the global South.


4. Addressing the impact of disinformation on environmental movements through collaboration

The fourth and final issue brief presented by APC engages with how the operations of disinformation/hate speech and the data economy impact the discourse on climate information and the safety and security of the environmental researchers, NGOs and activists.

The issue brief highlight how a paid speech by the fossil fuel industry is a problem. Not only do social media companies continue to receive ad revenue from disseminating climate disinformation, but the study conducted by InfluenceMap also shows how these post spread. The influence map found that in the United States, 25,147 Facebook ads with misleading “greenwashing” messages from just 25 oil and gas organisations were seen over 431 million times.

Check out the “influence map” report here

5. Climate Justice & the Knowledge Commons: Opportunities for the digital rights space

When looking at the intersection of climate and tech there is a tendency to look for answers by looking towards the future or at the work, other movements are doing. In this deep dive into the knowledge commons the Open Environmental Data Project and Open Climate argue that we also need to look at our own histories and the values that have shaped the digital rights movement to find avenues of cooperation.

The digital knowledge commons will be a critical space for facilitating communication about, and collaboration around, climate action. Resources are needed, however, to ensure these spaces remain accessible and inclusive, and that they don’t perpetuate existing social injustices.

Evelin Heidel, Shannon Dosemagen and Katie Hoeberling

Drawing from their own experiences working at the intersection of the climate and open movements they highlight five areas where digital rights groups can collaborate with climate justice activists:

  • Addressing misinformation around climate change on social media platforms, especially in
    languages other than English, and in countries other than the U.S. and Europe.
  • Understanding how intellectual property might act as a barrier to knowledge about the
    climate crisis or for the deployment of climate solutions.
  • Building a linguistically, geographically, and socially diverse knowledge commons with open
    tools that can address important knowledge gaps on climate change information, including
    climate crisis responses.
  • Exploring new future narratives to build a common path towards a better Internet: more just,
    inclusive, and equitable.
  • Using a climate lens to analyze digital rights issues, such as privacy, surveillance or artificial
    intelligence, and understanding how climate change might impact digital rights

6. Environmental Justice, Climate Justice, and the Space of Digital Rights

In this issue brief the Open Environmental Data Project and Open Climate explore the different histories of the climate justice and environmental justice movement (from US vantage point). This deep dive came about after the authors noted that we (the initiators of the broader research project) used the terms climate and environmental justice interchangeably. They argued that in order to be responsible grantmakers, we need to be aware of the distinct histories and struggles that shaped these two movements.

This issue brief is an important read for those who want to learn more about the differences and commonalities of the climate justice and environmental justice movements and where digital rights issues may intersect. They specifically identify three areas:

  • The relationship between the surveillance state, environmental activists, and the right to privacy
  • Climate migration and the right to migrant privacy and protection
  • The ability to use, collect and understand environmental data

What I enjoyed reading were the examples the authors used to illustrate that not all people affected by climate crisis are affected equally, and how not all environmental issues should be collapsed under climate justice, even if climate justice is intimately connected to environmental justice.

7. Building a High-Quality Climate Science Information Environment: The Role of Social Media

BSR argues that a healthy information environment is crucial in fighting the climate crisis, and offers a deep dive into the issues around climate misinformation. If you are interested in learning more about climate misinformation and why social media platform responses have been lacking, this is the issue brief for you. It starts by unpacking climate misinformation and the different ways it manifests on social media and changes over time. The report then offers a good analysis of how social media platforms ‘traditionally’ deal with misleading or harmful content on their platforms, and why their responses to the climate misinformation have been lacking. They conclude with recommendations for social media platforms, civil society, and digital rights funders.

None of the major social media platforms include climate change in their misinformation policies, implying that they do not view climate misinformation as something that is likely to lead to physical harm, especially imminent physical harm. As a result, platforms currently do not remove climate misinformation from their platforms.