Digitalization and energy consumption. Does ICT reduce energy demand?

This article investigates the effect of digitalization on energy consumption. Using an analytical model, we investigate four effects: (1) direct effects from the production, usage and disposal of information and communication technologies (ICT), (2) energy efficiency increases from digitalization, (3) economic growth from increases in labor and energy productivities and (4) sectoral change/tertiarization from the rise of ICT services. The analysis combines empirical and theoretical findings from debates on decoupling energy consumption from economic growth and from debates on green IT and ICT for sustainability. Our main results: Effects 1 and 3 tend to increase energy consumption. Effects 2 and 4 tend to decrease it. Furthermore, our analysis suggests that the two increasing effects prevail so that, overall, digitalization increases energy consumption. These results can be explained by four insights from ecological economics: (a) physical capital and energy are complements in the ICT sector, (b) increases in energy efficiency lead to rebound effects, (c) ICT cannot solve the difficulty of decoupling economic growth from exergy, (d) ICT services are relatively energy intensive and come on top of former production. In future, digitalization can only boost sustainability when it fosters effects 2 and 4 without promoting effects 1 and 3.

Ecological Economics, vol. 176, October 2020

Smart Green World? Making digitalization work for sustainability

In this book, Steffen Lange and Tilman Santarius investigate how digitalization influences environmental and social sustainability. The information revolution is currently changing the daily lives of billions of people worldwide. At the same time, the current economic model and consumerist lifestyle needs to be radically transformed if society is to overcome the challenges humanity is facing on a finite planet. Can the much-discussed disruption potential of digitalization be harnessed for this purpose?

Unlocking wise digital techno-futures: Contributions from the Degrowth community

Many of the benefits anticipated from technology in the 1960s remain unrealized today. Alongside the optimism that drives technological development, more sceptical views that regard the promises of technology with reflection, mistrust, and even hostility, have emerged within Western societies. One such group is the Degrowth community, a heterogenous group of researchers and activists who question technological advancements that contribute to environmentally and socially harmful economic growth. In this vein, the movement critically observes the current hype surrounding digital technology, which seems to reflect a mantra of “the more digital technology, the better”. This paper presents perspectives that emerged from a dialogue among members of the Degrowth community, who were asked to imagine wise and unwise futures of digitalisation in 2068. Key concerns of unwise futures include increasing disconnection of humans from the natural environment and from one another as individuals, the use of digital technology for optimising the allocation of scarce resources to the benefit of the wealthy few, and authoritarian governance of technologies and life itself. Wise technological futures, in turn, allow people to freely access digital technologies that are convivial, just, environmentally sustainable, and guided by democratic deliberation. It remains controversial how far digital technologies and the interests and skills surrounding them can facilitate the principles of Degrowth, and the extent to which the harmful effects of digital technologies are already shaping social, ecological and technological futures. However, the dialogue clearly emphasised the need to develop more detailed socio-technological imaginaries that provide practically feasible alternatives.

Futures, vol. 114, December 2019

Digitalisierung – Das Labor der Träume und Alpträume

Kapitel aus dem Buch “Auf Kosten Anderer? – Wie die imperiale Lebensweise ein gutes Leben für alle verhindert” vom I.L.A.Kollektiv.

Einführung: Wer kennt ihn nicht? Den Drang ›online zu gehen‹, um Teil der digitalen Welt zu werden und nichts von dem zu verpassen, was dort vor sich geht. Heute ist jeder vierte Mensch auf der Welt bei Facebook registriert. Jeden Tag werden über 150 Millionen Skype-Gespräche geführt, 800 Millionen Tweets abgesetzt und über 4 Milliarden Suchanfragen bei Google eingegeben.

Silicon Valley – Was aus dem mächtigsten Tal der Welt auf uns zukommt

Was mit der digitalen Revolution wirklich auf uns zukommt

Aus erster Hand berichtet Christoph Keese von den Innovationen im Silicon Valley und verbindet die vielen Facetten des digitalen Wandels zum großen Bild. Er traf Erfinder, Gründer, Wagniskapitalgeber und Professoren in Stanford und Berkeley – auf der Suche nach Erfolgsmustern und Treibern der boomenden Internetwirtschaft. Wie funktioniert dieses »Einfach tun, was sonst keiner wagt«? Warum fällt traditionellen Firmen die »disruptive Innovation« so schwer? Wächst uns Google über den Kopf? Was ist der Netzwerkeffekt? Schafft das Internet wirklich Geld, Banken, Einzelhandel, Zeitungen, Bücher und Verkehrsampeln ab? Was muss Deutschland unternehmen, um den Anschluss nicht zu verpassen?
(Beschreibung des Verlags)

ISBN: 978-3-8135-0556-6

Smarte grüne Welt?

Digitalisierung zwischen Überwachung, Konsum und Nachhaltigkeit

»Alles wird sich ändern!« Dieser prophetische Ruf aus der IT-Branche ist inzwischen zur gängigen Einschätzung über die Tragweite der Digitalisierung geworden. Doch was bringt die Digitalisierung für Ökologie und Gerechtigkeit? Führt sie uns in eine smarte grüne Welt, in der alle vom technologischen Fortschritt profitieren und wir zugleich schonender mit der Umwelt umgehen? Oder steuern wir in einen digitalen Kapitalismus, in dem sich Geld und Macht auf wenige konzentrieren und die Wirtschaft noch weiter über die planetaren Grenzen hinauswächst?

Steffen Lange und Tilman Santarius analysieren, wie sich die Digitalisierung bisher auf Energie- und Ressourcenverbräuche, Arbeitsplätze und Einkommensverteilung ausgewirkt hat, und entwickeln Design-Prinzipien für eine nachhaltige Digitalisierung. Damit die Digitalisierung die Welt auch wirklich smarter macht.

The Digital DIY phenomenon: challenge or opportunity for degrowth?

Digital Do-It-Yourself (DiDIY) is a set of DIY activities and mindsets made possible by the availability of low cost software, digital communication networks and digital fabrication devices. Today, the most popular examples of DiDIY are 3D printing and the “Makers Movement”. DiDIY, however, is a much bigger phenomenon, with potentially huge effects on the economy and the environment.

So far, the interaction between advocates of degrowth and communities like the one of Makers has been very limited and not void of reciprocal suspicion, if not hostility.

Practitioners of DiDIY seem to propose even more consumption of resources, that is the opposite of degrowth; in fact, it is hard to deny that many current examples of DiDIY only solve “first world problems”, producing even more hardly recyclable waste. DiDIY also needs, by definition, products and infrastructures, from microelectronics components to the Internet itself, that have a very big environmental footprint.

In spite of this, DiDIY can, if not become an deliberate “ally” of degrowth, give a strong contribution to mitigate some phenomenons, from waste to overconsumption, that degrowth rightly sees as serious problems. We argue that this should happen, and that much more mutual knowledge and support between the two communities are needed.
In our talk we first summarize the characteristics of DiDIY, highlighting those that seem an obstacle to degrowth. Next we present some key issues on which the degrowth and DiDIY movements may cooperate to achieve a critical mass. Finally, we mention some actions that should be implemented, at the regulatory and advocacy levels, to reach that critical mass.

Additional links:

This media entry was a contribution to the special session „The Digital DIY phenomenon: challenge or opportunity for degrowth?“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.

Framing the Privacy Debate and Big Data Governmentality in Degrowth Theory

Data surveillance by private companies and public intelligence agencies is intricated, and research has shown how citizens have become willing participants in their own surveillance. This brings forth a new type of governmentality that is legitimised by hegemonic imaginaries on “Big Data” and innovation which are closely related to the imaginary of technological growth.

The Snowden disclosures made this a topic of public debate.

Yet a review of Degrowth literature shows that while there is a rich theoric framework allowing us to think critically about technology, little has been written about privacy, data protection and data surveillance.

As was shown in France during the COP21 conference, the extension of the notion of terrorism to some categories of activists is a threat for the Degrowth movement itself. Furthermore, Quantified Self, Big Data and algorithmic surveillance fit into technical, managerial and social trends that are the continuation of the bureaucratic process of rationalising societies to promote productivity.

This paper first reviews existing Degrowth literature on information technology to analyse the technocapitalist imaginary on Big Data. It then explores the case of a “concrete utopia”, Free Software, in a critical perspective to see whether and how it could help Degrowth philosophy to shape alternative imaginaries and practices. It concludes that not only does Degrowth provide the ability to frame the debate on Privacy and technology in a way that challenges technocapitalist imaginaries on “Big Data”, but also sketches the outline of future research into alternatives in line with the principles of a future, desirable convivial society.

This media entry was a contribution to the special session „Framing the Privacy Debate and Big Data Governmentality in Degrowth Theory“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.