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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.

Indigenous just transition(s) and visionary work: An interview with Heather Milton-Lightening

How can we build new worlds, and find the sweet spots for innovation? In this interview, we speak with consultant Heather Milton-Lightening about her organization, just transition work, and how innovation can help us create the futures we want even ‘when the sky is falling’. 

Portrait of Heather Milton-Lightening by Kira Simon-Kennedy
Portrait of Heather Milton-Lightening by Kira Simon-Kennedy (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Over the last three days, you have brought up the ‘just transition’ in several conversations. What does a ‘just transition’ mean to you?

On a personal level, when thinking about a ‘just transition’, I ask myself: How can I make a deep change to capitalism in the territory that I come from? We’ve had 150 years of residential school systems that have beaten capitalist ideals into our heads. We were told to sign pipeline deals, go after the coal, lease our lands. Resource extraction is seen as poverty alleviation. 

When people came to our territories, our understanding was that these people would live by our laws. And had they done that, maybe there would still be clean water. Right now, out of the whole territory, there are maybe two lakes you can actually drink from – it’s shameful that this is what happened in 150 years. So the impacts are deep, and undoing them is going to be challenging. 

That’s why I think we need to change the way capitalism functions nowadays, to get us off this idea of endless growth and market-based solutions. To me, ‘just transition’ is a way out of capitalism. The reason I keep talking about it is because I think that one of the roots of colonialism is capitalism. The striving for resources, land, and water is the origin of both. That’s why ‘just transition’ also means decolonization to me.

You are planning to work on a new organization. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

One of the projects I’m hoping to work on in the next six months is building a new organization in Canada called the Just Transition Institute. The point of the institute is to support communities to become self-determining, independent and sovereign from outside entities. 

For example, it is still difficult in Canada to get charitable status as an organization. With the Just Transition Institute, we hope to become a fiscal sponsor for communities. In the longer term, we hope that the institute creates a network and inventory of projects that fall under the idea of ‘just transition’. We want to start connecting people in communities so that they can replicate projects and learn from each other. In the very long term, the hope is to develop a funding pool so that we can fund projects directly rather than being an intermediary. 

I have these big dreams and I ask myself: Where are the places and what are the needs in our communities? What does not yet exist? How can we bring people together to build amazing things? This is also the reason why I’ve been so excited about this gathering. 

What exactly is it that makes you so excited? 

Often I exist in these climate justice spaces and they’re so heavy. The sky is falling, the world’s ending. And I’m saying to myself that we’ve been through so many cataclysmic events, and yet we are still here. So there must be a place where hope exists. To me, that’s where the idea of creative innovation comes in – innovation to get us out of capitalism and colonialism, and to survive what is ahead. 

At least from my perspective, we have spent more energy on taking things down; we haven’t given enough value to creative spaces. As much as we’re fighting and carrying out actions and shutting things down, we still have to create the world that we want to see in tandem, at the same time.

This is the real reason why I’ve been so excited about this gathering: to see innovation in the digital sphere in a way that’s just for our people, and that upholds traditional ecological knowledge. I’m not saying that we should go back a thousand years. I’m saying that we should look for the sweet spots of innovation, so that we can adapt in a real way. We need an approach that’s equitable, that’s just, and really does see our people lead in our own territories. I think that could be revolutionary.

Portrait of Heather Milton-Lightening by Kira Simon-Kennedy
Portrait of Heather Milton-Lightening by Kira Simon-Kennedy (CC BY-NC 4.0)
Portrait of Heather Milton-Lightening by Kira Simon-Kennedy
Portrait of Heather Milton-Lightening by Kira Simon-Kennedy (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Where is it possible to find this visionary space for people to create the world we want to see? 

I really appreciate work around futurism and the idea of science fiction meeting reality, because we should spend more time thinking about what the future looks like instead of the ‘we’re all gonna die’ narratives. 

Unfortunately, this has been challenging for our communities. Some are still in survival mode, some are ready to thrive, some not quite yet. And when you’re trying to survive, you don’t have a moment to actually sit back and imagine, right? You don’t have the time to have visions, to have dreams, to have the privilege of just being able to sit still and imagine. 

For me, that’s one of the biggest missing pieces in a lot of the work that we do. Just being able to provide that visionary space and really uphold the people who are doing visionary work. For me, a lot of these people are artists. They’re writers, they’re singers, they’re poets. They are the people who are actually, honestly, leading innovation in our communities right now. The people who are doing this visionary work are the ones who are building the world we want to see. That’s what makes me so excited about the future. 

Thank you so much, Heather.

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.

Heather Milton-Lightening has over twenty years of organizing experience from local issues to international campaigns. She was a founding member of Native Youth Movement, and also built a national Native youth network that supported Native youth organizing across the US and Canada with the Indigenous Environmental Network. She was a former member of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Youth Advisory and has extensive experience in lobbying internationally through the United Nations and other international arenas on Indigenous Peoples’ issues. She was formerly the Director & Co-Director of the Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign, and is currently consulting different organizations doing training, facilitating and supporting work for Indigenous communities while working on finishing a Masters Degree at York University in Toronto, on Indigenous Just Transition. You can find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and her Blog.

Organizing behind the scenes: An interview with Molly Mathews

More than 60 participants from more than 20 countries, speaking more than 15 languages and building movements across digital rights and climate justice – the event in Heredia, Costa Rica was a success, but a lot of work went on behind the scenes. We spoke to Molly Mathews, Admin and Events Officer at Ariadne Network, about her insights and learnings organising the event. 

Molly, you really were at the heart of organising this event. Can you give us some insights into what your work looked like?

I joined the project in January 2023, though Maya Richman and Fieke Jansen had been developing the event’s concept for much longer. To give a bit of background, this is the second event I have worked on for the Green Screen Coalition. The first happened in Berlin in autumn 2022. In comparison to that one, the Costa Rica event definitely had more organisational challenges in terms of visas, transportation, and translation. For example, Costa Rica doesn’t have a lot of direct flights, which meant I had to spend a lot of time finding the right flight connections for participants. My main areas of work were to organise travel, stipends, communication with the hotel, and anything else needed during the event. Luckily I speak Spanish, which really helped a lot, especially when handling last minute requests.

Portrait of Molly Mathews by Kira Simon-Kennedy (CC BY-NC 4.0)
Portrait of Molly Mathews by Kira Simon-Kennedy (CC BY-NC 4.0)
Bougainvillea by Kira Simon-Kennedy (CC BY-NC 4.0)
Bougainvillea by Kira Simon-Kennedy (CC BY-NC 4.0)

What kind of challenges did you face? 

The first challenge was ensuring the hotel was able to accommodate our growing list of participants. Organizing transport was also a big challenge. We offered transport support for those who needed it. Booking all the flights and meeting all participants’ needs for different days, different times, different connections took a lot of time and needed extra awareness of small details. We also supported people who didn’t already have visas, which is definitely a learning for the next event. In the future, we have to be more mindful of visa processes, and offer more capacity and support for those who need them.

Imagine someone wants to run a similar event in Costa Rica. What would be your top two tips?

Tip number one: Don’t forget the complexity of interpretation in the breakout sessions! We offered live interpretation to Spanish, Portuguese and English in the main room throughout the event, and it worked really well. However, we did not pay so much attention to how interpretation would work in the breakout sessions. So the first tip is to really invest additional preparation time to ensure that breakout spaces have good interpretation, so that everyone can participate as they would like to. It worked out eventually, because we had an amazing team of interpreters who were able to adapt really fast. But that’s definitely a learning for the next time we run multilingual events with interpreters. 

Tip number two: Host your event at Hotel Bougainvillea in Heredia! The hotel staff were extremely supportive, welcoming, open and flexible – which was appreciated, especially because we had quite a lot of last minute requests. Hotel Bougainvillea also has this amazing botanical garden, where we hosted the event. I noticed that being outdoors completely transformed how people think and work. The gardens made people feel a lot more calm and willing to share, all because they were in a space where they felt comfortable, which definitely added to the event. We’ve been incredibly lucky from start to finish. 

Thank you so much for your great work and this interview, Molly.

Molly Mathews is Ariadne’s Administration and Events Officer. After completing her Bachelor’s degree in International Relations at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, she joined IFOAM Organics Europe as an Events and Membership Assistant. She has experience organizing physical, virtual and hybrid events, as well as developing membership engagement strategies. Her main interests lie within the fields of migrant rights, climate justice and youth engagement.

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.

Tecnologías para un planeta en llamas: Una entrevista con Paz Peña

 Paz Peña, autora, consultora y activista ha escrito un libro de reciente publicación titulado ‘Tecnologías para un planeta en llamas’. En esta entrevista, hablamos de su libro y de su vision de un futuro justo y feminista. 

World, clouds and universe artwork by Maya Adams
Untitled Artwork by Maya Adams (CC BY-NC 4.0)

En tu libro escribes sobre los peligros del tecnocapitalismo y la necesidad de una transición digital justa en la era de la crisis climática y ecológica. ¿Por qué elegiste esta mirada del capitalismo para tu análisis?

Quería trabajar en un libro sobre los impactos sociales y ambientales de la tecnología, pero no quería hacer un texto solamente contra la tecnología. Eso estaba fuera de cuestión. Entonces encontré el concepto del tecnocapitalismo que, en el fondo, en la lógica económica, es una idea que domina ciertos desarrollos de la tecnología. 

Es un concepto rico, justamente, para desviarme de la premisa de que la tecnología es mala o no nos va a ayudar en el camino de mitigar la crisis. Primero, fue una elección para dejar de pensar en estas ideas apocalípticas de la tecnología. Segundo, porque efectivamente hoy día, la evidencia muestra claramente que la infraestructura física que necesita el tecnocapitalismo, está abocada a crecer y crecer.

Es la idea del crecimiento como progreso, y esto tiene unas consecuencias sociales muy evidentes: que la digitalización se plantea también como una solución o una mitigación a la crisis climática. Significa que va a seguir creciendo en el tiempo porque va a ser un ingrediente fundamental para la mitigación de la crisis climática.

Eso va a traer consecuencias en términos de uso de recursos, en términos de afectación a comunidades, etcétera. Hoy me parecía que eso era algo que no estamos considerando. El libro trata de ser una introducción al público común. Es un ensayo, pero está pensado para que el público común empiece a mirar críticamente a la digitalización y el tecnocapitalismo como supuesta salida a la crisis climática.

¿Escribiendo el libro, has encontrado algunas tecnologías que de verdad prometen un mundo mejor? ¿O que podemos usar contra la crisis climática en que vivimos hoy? 

Sí, definitivamente. Una parte importante al final del libro muestra tecnologías digitales que nos pueden apoyar en las distintas salidas o mitigaciones a la crisis climática.

Por supuesto, nunca pensando que es la única solución, sino que puede apoyar a comunidades territoriales en la mitigación. Por ejemplo, encontré en esta investigación un montón de proyectos en América Latina, independientes, feministas, de comunidades indígenas, que desde hace mucho tiempo están pensando en otras formas de hacer tecnología. Que vienen desde el territorio, pensando en la biodiversidad como un valor en los desarrollos tecnológicos. Que miran a la tecnodiversidad, y no al desarrollo singular de tecnologías. 

¿Cómo fue escribir este libro? ¿Cuáles fueron tus aprendizajes?

Fue un proceso súper duro pero muy satisfactorio. Fue duro porque conté con poco tiempo. Según yo, tenía el libro en la cabeza, pero fue una mentira, una fantasía mía. La verdad era que necesitaba mucha lectura mientras iba trabajando para profundizar en los conceptos y cerrar las ideas. Tuve seis meses para escribir el libro. Los primeros cuatro estuve leyendo y los últimos dos meses estuve escribiendo. Una locura máxima, pero de todas formas disfruté mucho escribirlo. Mi recomendación ahora es: no confíes en el libro que tienes en la cabeza. Mi otra recomendación es que está bien ponerle una fecha, porque hay un momento en que tienes que estar listo, en que el libro tiene que salir. 

Mirando al futuro… ¿Cómo seria un futuro tecnológico feminista y justo para ti? 

Pienso que el mundo occidental ve al futuro tecnológico como algo singular y de avanzada. El futuro tecnológico está en la lógica tecnocapitalista, queriendo ser el próximo unicornio de Silicon Valley, o el próximo millonario. Pero podemos ver al futuro de forma diferente, más allá del supuesto de que toda tecnología tiene que chupar datos personales, e ir siempre al crecimiento.

Una lección de América Latina es que hay muchos futuros, que existen en muchos tiempos. Hoy puedes ver que las realidades, los pasados, los futuros, los presentes conviven en un nivel profundo. Hay una palabra un poco complicada en español, pero que me gusta, que es abigarrado. Sugiere que a veces los tiempos están superpuestos.

Los futuros feministas y justos existen, están ocurriendo, los podemos encontrar. Y lo que deberíamos hacer ahora es tratar de trabajar para que esos distintos futuros tecnológicos que ya existen puedan tener una posibilidad económica, porque me parece que lo que está ocurriendo hoy es que esos proyectos, que son muy ricos, mueren en el camino básicamente porque no tienen ningún apoyo. 

Tenemos una tecnodiversidad muy fuerte en el caso latinoamericano y no me cabe duda que también en otros continentes. Lo que deberíamos hacer es, como política pública, impulsar una agenda que ponga en relieve futuros que están ocurriendo actualmente. Creo que es muy posible construir futuros tecnológicos justos y feministas. 

Muchísimas gracias.

Paz Peña Ochoa es una investigadora independiente enfocada en la intersección entre tecnologías digitales, feminismo y justicia social. Los últimos años ha estado especialmente concentrada en comprender los impactos socioambientales de la digitalización, su relación con las energías verdes y el papel que tiene Ámerica Latina en este escenario. Como consultora, trabaja en proyectos de investigación y en políticas públicas para distintas organizaciones de la sociedad civil, academia y organismos internacionales. Vive en Santiago de Chile.

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.