Branch wins Ars Electronica Prize for Digital Humanity!

We’re so happy that Branch Magazine won the Ars Electronica Prize for Digital Humanity!

A big thank you to the team, Chris Adams, Laurence Bascle, Carrie Hou, Tom Jarrett, Jack Lenox and Hannah Smith for imaging a more sustainable internet with me and building a beautiful carbon-aware website.

And to the illustrators Hélène Baum and Gica Tam for the stunning cover illustrations!

And all the amazing authors, artists and activists who wrote for the first issue of the magazine:

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Bill Johnson, Brett Gaylor, Camila Nobrega, Chenai Chair, Christine Larivière, Eirini Maliaraki, Extinction Rebellion NYC, Fieke Jansen, Gabi Ivens, Janet Gunter, Jesper Hyldahl Fogh, Joana Moll, Kamal Kapadia, Laurent Devernay, Lu Ye, Maddie Stone, Melissa Hsiung, Michael Oghia, Taylor Rowe, Tom Greenwood, and Vandria Borari.

Coverage with Mozilla and Climate KIC and in the Ars Electronica catalog.

About Branch

Branch is an online magazine written by and for people who dream of a sustainable and just internet for all.  

The internet is the world’s largest fossil fuel-powered machine. If we continue business-as-usual, the IT sector will be responsible for 14% of the world’s carbon emissions by 2040. We believe that the internet must instead serve our collective liberation and ecological sustainability. That’s why we created Branch magazine.  

The magazine is a space for personal reflection, critical engagement with technology, and experimentation. This is our small attempt to uplift fresh thinking for how to green the web technically, aesthetically, and politically.  

The articles strive to connect sustainability to root causes and to inequalities experienced at different intersections—gender, race, class, ability, and so on. Creating change requires all kinds of practices, so our contributors include climate activists, open source technologists, indigenous leaders, artists, energy scientists, and degrowth experts.  

We hope to not only articulate what these desirable futures are, but also to embody them with specific tools and art. That’s why we made Branch a carbon-aware website. The site adapts to and reflects the physical infrastructure of the internet and the energy behind it. Utilizing data from a grid intensity API and the user’s location, Branch has four different interface designs shown depending on the current energy demand and fossil fuels on the grid where the user is: 

1. Lower grid demand, more renewables  

2. Medium grid demand, fewer renewables  

3. Higher grid demand, less renewables  

4. Grid data unavailable 

We collaborated with leading WordPress developers to produce the demand-responsive code and openly licensed it so others can make carbon-aware websites without needing to be a specialist developer. We intentionally worked in WordPress, the biggest open source blogging platform on the internet, so that more people could experiment with these kinds of carbon-aware digital tools on their own sites. The code is available on Github for anyone to use, repurpose, and contribute to:

Furthermore, the Branch site has been designed to be as low energy as possible. This includes using a limited number of fonts and utilizing system fonts, reducing image weight, and designing without a lot of Javascript. Another feature is that Branch is available offline, which caches the website so users can access it even without an internet connection. This often forgotten feature counters the idea of being constantly connected, and it could become increasingly necessary if the physical infrastructure of the internet becomes more unreliable due to environmental changes. 

Branch is a global project anchored in Europe where we live and finds resonance with the European Union’s “twin transition” towards a sustainable and digital society. We see the EU’s twin transition as an opportunity to advocate for a more sustainable society and use the internet to help dismantle the power structures that delay climate action.  

We want the internet itself to become a positive force for climate justice. For us that meant demonstrating how to create a website that can adapt to energy grid intensity and makes transparent how digital services are resourced. Going forward, we want to continue experimenting with sustainable, open websites and equipping technologists to better understand underlying structural issues of the climate crisis. Ultimately, we need to go beyond tech solutionism and towards intersectional climate justice. This is part of larger research and advocacy work to green the internet. 

The first issue in September 2020 featured work by 25 contributors, received 14,000 unique visitors, and was made possible by EIT Climate KIC, Mozilla Foundation, Climate Action Tech, and the Green Web Foundation. The second issue will be published in June 2021.  

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