The climate crisis and the internet

This post is part of a collection of writing about the climate crisis and the internet’s role in it. Topics will include recommended reading, meaningful action, personal reflections, a maintenance mindset, and the creative potential of a carbon neutral internet.


Rare has it been in my life that I have felt truly unmoored. But last year certainly shook my sense of self and the world.

I gave birth, saw my mother die, got sidelined at work, witnessed my neighborhood battle for its soul, observed political upheaval and environmental destruction around the world, and in general felt like what the hell is happening.

I was grateful for the little creative space granted during my self-hosted residency in motherhood. Fueled by this perceived turmoil, I wanted to revisit my understanding of myself and the world and to think about “small utopias.” I wanted to reimagine what was possible and desirable, and what my role in all of that might be.

As some sort of “new normal” established itself in the year since, I decided to continue this self-learning project and share insights that might resonate with others. I’ve been documenting the raw bits of it in a learning log on Github. Writing here now helps get to some clarity on what those learnings actually are.

The main topic that seems worthy of talking about is the climate crisis. And the internet.

There are some quick, factual things to know. And then there are some slower, deeper questions I have and would love to learn with others about what’s going on and what would be meaningful to do.

A final caveat: I hesitate to suggest that my analysis is thorough. Or that my proposals for action are the most effective. So much of what I’m coming to learn is we are all so limited in what we can really know.

The internet’s climate crimes

So for what it’s worth, here’s snapshot of what I’ve learned about the internet and the climate so far:

A worldwide empathy network

Now, despite all of that, I still hold on to the belief that when humans can genuinely connect with one another, we can tap into an empathy and creative potential that transcends language, nationality, ethnicity, class, and whatever other barrier we’ve erected between us. My friend Renata Avila called it digital internationalism. Yochai Benkler described it as commons-based peer production.

I’d like to suggest that these days we’d benefit from focusing less on production and usefulness and more on some sort of commons-based peer understanding.

This worldwide empathy network is at the kernel of why I still care about the future of the internet. I think we should be doing more to look inwardly and locally. But this work is situated on a planet with many living beings all intertwined with one another. You won’t fight for what you don’t love. And it’s hard to love someone or something you don’t know or feel alienated from. And in this weird way, and kinda despite what it is right now, I love the internet because it helps us expand our circle of care.

We need some sort of caring mentality for the internet itself, not because of what it is today, but what it could be: a true exchange among people for our own understanding and preservation.

Images: William Sharp’s Chromolithographs of The Great Water Lily (1854) via The Public Domain Review

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