A Conference for Digitalization and Sustainability? Reflections on "Bits & Bäume" (Bits and trees)


(jon r) #1

Best community,

I wish to direct your attention at a nice article that degrowth.info published a week ago. It comes with an extensive overview of approaches, overlaps and demands about the work for the common good done by civil society organisations and not-for-profit, needs-based economies.

My reading of the text boils down to this excerpt:

:page_facing_up: A Conference for Digitalization and Sustainability? Reflections on Bits & Bäume

Merely the name of the conference says a lot about the organizers’ intention to foster mutual debate and new alliances. The idea came from the observation that despite a widespread interest in both digitalisation and sustainability, there are very few occasions to discuss what these two concepts have to do with each other. The conference was an attempt to address this issue, by setting up a first gathering between communities which share many goals but are not yet working together on a regular basis.

Bits and trees – the tech community and the environmental scene – clearly have their differences. However, a broader understanding of sustainability including social justice and individual rights makes for a frame in which many questions are shared among the actors.

Such denials provide common grounds for the tech and sustainability communities to fight together.

In addition to showing the connections between the overarching goals and struggles, the conference also helped to identify cases where ecology and technology are already fruitfully combined. For example, environmentalists where happy to learn about open-source solutions to help communal decision makers with the transition to an efficient renewable-energy-mix. Techies were interested in the way environmentalists organized successful campaigns. Civil rights activists from both sides united in their struggles for digital sovereignty.

Towards a shared imaginary

The aim of the conference was not just to discuss the urgent problems raised by digitalisation and the social and environmental crisis, but also to share ideas about what an alternative, sustainable digitalisation could look like. This discussion will continue. It can build on the manifold existing movements that are pushing for a better society, such as the Degrowth or Free Software communities.

If you are interested in a deeper exploration of the intertwinement of both movements, please refer to a 2016 thought piece by @gandhiano published as :page_facing_up: Degrowth in Movements: The Free Software Movement.

At the same time, the event showed clearly that much more common ground needs to be built. One of the biggest challenges will be to find a language that engages both communities: since both have their particular topics and backgrounds, it was difficult at times for non-specialists to engage and become aware of ways in which they can contribute. This became apparent during discussions at the conference, leaving non-specialists overwhelmed with information and experts disappointed by the lack of depth.

Make sure to also check out the huge variety of talks and panel discussions, all of which can be accessed on CCC’s very own media platform. Note: a bunch of the videos had simultaneous translation into English (those on the big stage), so don’t be discouraged by German titles! The English voice-over can be accessed directly in the video player.

There is a lively panel discussion with Andrea Vetter (convivial technologies), Silke Helfrich (commoning & pattern languages), Timm Wille (Open Source Ecology) and Frank Karlitschek (Nextcloud) that explores :movie_camera: Digitisation and Degrowth. Ways to a grandchild-friendly economy.

The preparation itself was an experience in its own right, providing the parties involved with different backgrounds a lot of learnings about differences in culture and common grounds. This process was indeed intended as a collaboration that would set an example for more organisations to connect and work together.

The conference was an excellent starting point for the exchange of and collaboration between the different movements. However, creating political pressure will demand a lot more. That means that a lot of work remains to be done.