Environment Variables
Sci-Fi Fantasies with Anne Currie and Jo-Lindsay Walton
September 21, 2023
Joining host Anne Currie, is Jo Lindsay Walton, a research fellow in Arts, Climate, and Technology at the University of Sussex. Together they will explore the dreams of a green future inspired by Science Fiction and the practicality of these as solutions to climate change. This adventure will cover interdisciplinary approaches to viewing and tackling climate change and green software from angles of technology, politics, and especially literature. The discussion will touch on the Digital Humanities Climate Coalition and it’s toolkit that can help researchers minimize their carbon footprint, and will revolve around the ASCEND programme as well as other opportunities and missions to attempt the clean and efficient use of data centers in environments like our moon, and the complexities of protecting and cooling the servers, and also the aspect of polluting the moon.
Joining host Anne Currie, is Jo Lindsay Walton, a research fellow in Arts, Climate, and Technology at the University of Sussex. Together they will explore the dreams of a green future inspired by Science Fiction and the practicality of these as solutions to climate change. This adventure will cover interdisciplinary approaches to viewing and tackling climate change and green software from angles of technology, politics, and especially literature. The discussion will touch on the Digital Humanities Climate Coalition and it’s toolkit that can help researchers minimize their carbon footprint, and will revolve around the ASCEND programme as well as other opportunities and missions to attempt the clean and efficient use of data centers in environments like our moon, and the complexities of protecting and cooling the servers, and also the aspect of polluting the moon

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Jo Lindsay Walton: Building data centers on the moon is very productive of fuzzies, but not utilons.

Anne Currie: Indeed. Yes, indeed.

Jo Lindsay Walton: And I also feel like any, any file I saved on the moon, I would also want to save somewhere else as well.

Anne Currie: I think that would be sensible. It's not exactly your ideal disaster recovery location.

Asim Hussain: Hello and welcome to Environment Variables, brought to you by the Green Software Foundation. In each episode, we discuss the latest news and events surrounding green software. On our show, you can expect candid conversations with top experts in their field, who have a passion for how to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of software.

Anne Currie: Hello and welcome to another episode of Environment Variables, where we bring you the latest from the world of sustainable software development. I'm your host, Anne [00:01:00] Currie. For those of you who are regulars to the show, you've probably heard me on the other side of the microphone, but in this episode, I'll be host, so this is goint to be an interesting episode, because we'll be talking about kind of science fiction approaches to climate change. What's going on and what's actually useful to us to be thinking about and what probably isn't useful for us to be thinking about what we, we might be distracted by? But it should hopefully be a very interesting episode that we have a guest today who is also massively interested in science fiction.

So I would like to introduce to you our guest, Jo Lindsay Walton. So hi, Jo. Welcome to the, uh, the podcast and please introduce yourself.

Jo Lindsay Walton: Hello, Anne. Hi, everybody. Yeah, I'm Jo Lindsay Walton. I'm a research fellow in arts, climate and technology at the Sussex Digital Humanities Lab and I'm really excited to be here. I'm a relatively new member of the Green Software Foundation and I've really come here via the Digital [00:02:00] Humanities Climate Coalition, the DHCC, which is a kind of community-led initiative, which I guess we'll be speaking about, around digital decarbonisation, around climate justice, and I also do some work on climate communication, how do we talk about climate, bringing in interdisciplinary angles there, games, arts, literature, including science fiction. So this overlaps with my interest in science fiction, including the sort of post cyberpunk fiction of writers like Cory Doctorow, who directly explore contemporary issues around tech, law, and climate as we encounter them today, as well as more classic works by people like Ursula Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany, that like to imagine life under better or just radically different social institutions. So I'm really happy to be here.

Anne Currie: Excellent. Thank you very much. Um, so, uh, just a little bit about me for, for people who perhaps aren't regulars. My name is Anne Currie. I am one of the co-chairs of the Green Software [00:03:00] Foundation Community Group. I'm also currently writing the O'Reilly, the new O'Reilly book about green software, co, um, a co-author of that. It's called Building Green Software. It's being published as we go on the O'Reilly website, and I'm doing that with my fellow GSF members, uh, Sara Hsu and Sara Bergmann. Uh, and, and my sci fi, the reason why I'm, I suspect why I'm hosting this episode today is that I'm also the author of a science fiction book series, the Panopticon series.

It's similar in some ways in terms of kind of time in which it's set and, uh, and ideas to, to Cory Doctorow, so it's post cyberpunk. Yeah, and it covers a lot of the stuff that we'll be talking about here.

Jo Lindsay Walton: Including the moon!

Anne Currie: Including the moon, including the whole book on the moon. Oh yeah, the moon is great. I love the moon.

Before this podcast, I listened to, just to get myself into the mood, I listened to the theme music to Space 1999, which is a, it was a really good show [00:04:00] about the moon. The science was a little bit dodgy, but it was in the 1970s it was a good show, and although I, and I, and it was repeated a lot on television in the UK through the, my entire childhood.

So, it's constantly watching this story about people living on a kind of renegade escaped moon. But anyway, before we start, because we can't get to, we're just going to get horribly sucked into talking about the moon and science fiction. But before we start, it's just a reminder that everything we talk about here will be linked today in the slow, in the show notes below the episode. As I said, before we get into the sci fi discussion, because that's gonna basically take up all our time, Jo, do you want to tell us a little bit about the Digital Humanities Climate Coalition? Just to give us all a little bit of a context.

Jo Lindsay Walton: Yeah, I'd love to. So, the Digital Humanities Association of UK and Ireland launched a few months ago, and the Digital Humanities Climate Coalition, the DHCC, is one of its community interest groups. But we have been doing things more informally since about the time of COP26, [00:05:00] and we began really out of that kind of sense that, as Margaret Atwood puts it, climate change is everything change.

So every field, every domain should be exploring climate impacts and climate actions. Everybody should get their own climate coalition, and this one is ours. So, what is the Digital Humanities? It's an eclectic mix. One of the things the Digital Humanities loves to do is talk about what the Digital Humanities actually is.

Um, you've definitely got some kind of brilliant research software engineers, some very technical people, and then you've got less technically proficient people, including me, I should say, um, who've maybe come in via a history angle or a literature angle from the kind of more traditional arts and humanities and come to the tech from that direction.

And I think that's really our niche, is that there are all these fabulous new tools and methods appearing all the time. And hopefully we can signpost those and maybe build some bridges for the less technical users. So the DHCC's mission is to help everybody, and [00:06:00] especially arts and humanities researchers, to understand and improve the climate impacts of our use of digital technologies.

And it's community-led. You mentioned the link will be in the show notes, and I'd really invite your listeners, especially if they have any interest in widening participation in sustainable digital tech, you know, creating those on-ramps for different levels of experience, I'd really invite them to get on the mailing list in the GitHub and get involved.

As well as that side of things, we're also really keen to equip users to reflect on the big picture of climate change. So the Arts and Humanities loves to think about politics, ethics, about the social and cultural. features of the decisions that we make and the perceptions that we have. And when you work in tech or use digital technologies, it's very easy to get excited about this or that solution or optimization and maybe lose track of the bigger picture of climate change and climate policy.

A key thing for me is that the planet has a finite [00:07:00] capacity to generate green energy and to absorb carbon, growing, but growing at a finite rate. So there are these hard trade-offs there about how we use resources up until 2030, up until 2050 and beyond. Yes, it's complicated by innovation, by actions that might stimulate demand and investment and so on, but those trade-offs are there, and a particular legal entity might be net zero or better, but if it's using green energy, if it's bagsied some of our carbon absorption budget, then that means that's not available for other things.

And part of what we like to think about in the DHCC, in the resources that we provide, are these climate justice angles. Can anybody seriously think that we shouldn't prioritize food security, healthcare, transport infrastructure, disaster management, sanitation, biodiversity, things like that, especially in the global south, where the needs are greater and where the responsibility for climate change is so much less?

So encouraging that kind of critical scrutiny is something that we're really keen to support as well.

Anne Currie: That is very interesting. Yes, and of course, you've mentioned the [00:08:00] links to the DHCC toolkits in this notes before. That's all great. So I had a quick look at the DHCC stuff and it is really interesting stuff and an immediate thing that came to mind was something that, uh, I think is the is the key issue when you start to talk about climate and climate change and using sci-fi or, uh, literature to change people's minds and move people's, move people forward, which is that... Uh, and, and Joe, this, um, you're gonna know more, you, you probably know similarly, you probably think about this a lot, as I do, which is that fiction, and driving things forward, and getting people involved in things, is often about individuals, because there's no story without a protagonist, so literature tends to be about individual action. But, climate change, there's a big battle at the moment between individual action, which we know doesn't work, and we know, and I don't know if you've read Michael Mann's 'The New Climate War,' about, [00:09:00] it's not a sci-fi, it's, he's one of the, yeah, Michael Mann is one of the, the, I think it was the

Jo Lindsay Walton: I actually, I bought that book yesterday, coincidentally, but I haven't read it.

Anne Currie: Yeah, it's a good book, it's well worth reading. So Michael Mann was the inventor of the hockey stick on climate change and everything's going to go horribly wrong, we need to do something about it. And in his new book, in his latest book, which is well worth reading, The New Climate War, it's about disinformation and propaganda against climate change through, and not just climate change, but all change.

Big business propaganda tends to be about trying to steer people onto individual action, which doesn't really, for these kind of huge scale changes, doesn't really work. So it's a distraction. It keeps everybody's, "eh, don't drop any litter. Look over there." So yeah, it's litter dropping as a distraction to various things in the past that big business has not wanted us to be looking at. These days, you know, turning down your thermostat, we should all be turning down our [00:10:00] thermostats, but it's not in and of itself going to move the dial, ironically enough, on climate change. But, in fiction, you have to have a protagonist, you have to have a story, you have to have individual change, otherwise you don't have much interest.

I'm quite interested in your opinion on that, and also, I think somebody who tried to tackle that bit, with loads of issues in the book I would say, but nonetheless did attempt to tackle that, was Kim Stanley Robinson in Ministry for the Future. Um, I don't know if you want to talk about that at all.

Jo Lindsay Walton: So, yes, this is the book that comes up a lot, doesn't it? What Kim Stanley Robinson does in that book that's very interesting is throw everything at climate change, and then actually withholds judgement about what's been effective and what hasn't. He makes some judgements, but there isn't a kind of overall narrative that says, "these were the key drivers, these were the secondary drivers, and these particular measures [00:11:00] were ineffective."

It's a, it's a very interesting book. I would definitely recommend it. One of the things that interests me is that it does seem that, like, paramilitary action is a big part of the relatively hopeful future that he paints, but it all happens offstage. Yeah, I was so interested in that book, I wrote two reviews of it, two, for two completely separate, uh, venues.

But your, your, your really interesting point about this question of individual action and systemic action, um, or systemic change, i, I agree, I think 90 percent or 99%, maybe 100%. I might frame it slightly differently when that dilemma comes up. When we think, "is this about individual action or is this about system change?"

I tend to like to prioritize individual action, but I frame the individual action as saying, "you need to find your collectives. You need to find your alliances. You need to found your, your coalitions, [00:12:00] work within larger organizations, work within your employment context, within activist contexts, within NGOs."

So it is still your individual action, but you're, you're looking to drive that bigger systemic change. Because I also think that while individual action can be a distraction, so can complaining about the distraction. That itself can become a distraction. And just to bring it maybe a little bit to software.

I think software and design is a really interesting space for thinking about how individual agency meets that kind of systemic plane. So, I observe myself doing carbon intensive things on a daily basis. I now don't use a thesaurus, I just go over to my tab and ask chat GPT to give me a bunch of synonyms.

But these are design questions, they're not just questions of individual responsibility. There are ways of adjusting the structures and [00:13:00] incentives so that individual desires are manifested in different ways and perhaps in more sustainable ways.

Anne Currie: Yeah, it's, it's interesting you say that actually, cause I, one of the things that I noticed on the DHCC website was the quite correct point that should developers be developing in Python, which is a hundred times less efficient than C, for example, which is something that I used to talk about years and years ago, and it's certainly true because I used to be a C developer and Python's terrible compared to C, but I can see why people moved over to, to Python because C is just so much more difficult to write and it is certainly isn't low hanging fruit. You could bash your head against a brick wall there. But having said that, I used to rail against it myself. And now I rail against people who rail against it, as you say. But the Python development team have now produced tools that will compile Python to C, so you can write in C and get the performance characteristics of writing Python, nice easy language, [00:14:00] get the performance characteristics of C. Now. That's the perfect solution for this. That is a good foundational strategic solution, which means that you don't have to change what you're doing. You can still write your code in Python. You get the really great performance out of it. But would it have happened if we hadn't all been moaning about how unperformant Python was compared to C? So, so to a certain extent, individual action isn't effective, but moaning about it often is effective.

Jo Lindsay Walton: That's really interesting. Do you know, by the way, anything about the sustainability of this Mojo character that's just popped up?

Anne Currie: Mojo? No.

Jo Lindsay Walton: The new programming language apparently combines the usability of Python and the performance of C.

Anne Currie: I mean, it's entirely possible because, really, you, you're, what you write in and what actually runs are completely separate things. There is no difficulty at all, not that no difficulty, there's a lot of difficulty, but it is entirely possible to compile something which is [00:15:00] incredibly verbose, like Python, or presumably this Mojo language might be even more verbose, and compile it into something that's just assembly language, it just runs and doesn't, that is the purpose of a compiler. So you just need compilers that optimize for performance. But more and more compilers are doing that, which is really good. That's the solution we want. We don't want people to change their individual behaviors, we want compilers to get better. 

But what we should probably do is get back to the actual thing that we're supposed to be talking about today, which is the moon and, uh, data centers on the moon and also data centers in orbit. Now I have, as, as our usual host, Chris Adams would say, I have a lot of reckons on this subject, so both good and bad. So just to give you a bit of context on this, as a, as a listener, back in May, we published an episode of Environment Variables called 'Data Centers in Space,' which I was on, which discussed the possibility and the real, very real possibility of building a data center in [00:16:00] space to mitigate power consumption and pollution and various other things. And again, I've, I've done a lot more thinking about that in the intervening time. And we focused on the ASCEND program, which is basically a space cloud for Europe with an awful lot of finagling around acronyms to turn it into ASCEND. And basic, the idea is to move data centers into orbit. And today we've got a link in the show notes below, it's a blog post from Western Digital written by Ronni Shendar which discusses the idea of, just a very real possibility. Not necessarily a possibility for tomorrow, but a possibility for at some point for building a data center on the moon. So just to give you a rundown of the, of the blog post, it talks about a startup company in the U.S. Called Lone Star Data Holdings, which wants to revolutionize data storage by building uh moon based data centers uh by using the, uh, lava tubes on the moon where you've got some kind of effectively, although, [00:17:00] although there's going to be an awful lot of demand for these lava tubes, because every plan for the moon involves using the lava tubes, how, how many lava tubes are there? But anyway, lava tubes on the moon to give you a kind of built in warehouse with stable, relatively, which actually is mostly about shielding you from space rays, which are pretty horrendous outside of the earth's atmosphere. Not just the atmosphere, but the, but the magnetic shield around the earth. So everything's terrible out there. But the idea is you build data centers on the Moon. And Chris, our excellent editor for this. So you, you use the reader as a listener will never encounter it, or will seldom encounter it, but Chris is marvellous and he does all our prep for us for this, and he's asked us some questions that we should discuss about the idea of Data Centers on the Moon, and the first question that he's asked us to discuss is how much energy could this really save in, for example, cooling compared to earth based data centres? And what impact [00:18:00] might that have on reducing carbon emissions? And what would be the issues with polluting the moon? Uhm, Jo, if you have any thoughts on that. I have loads of thoughts.

Jo Lindsay Walton: Um, I'm glad. So I, I asked actually, um, yesterday, my friend and collaborator, Polina Levontin about this, because I read the article, I'm not qualified to comment on the science, and she is a scientific one, and she just gave the wonderfully poetic answer that, "have we not always already stored data on the moon?

Our dreams, our forebodings, our utopian desires." So maybe that kind of speaks to the point about polluting the moon. Maybe it's the idea of this pristine wilderness that we don't want to spoil. In a very unscientific way, off the top of my head, and you know more about this than I do, the pros are that it is cool, both figuratively and literally cool,

and you've got plenty of sunlight, and then maybe some kind of co-benefits of a permanent lunar presence, [00:19:00] a staging post for Mars missions, an opportunity to do science on the moon. The cons would include lag time. The moon is over a light second away. Obviously, lifting a lot of mass and the energy and embodied carbon implied in that.

I don't know if they're, are they planning 3D printing and stuff in situ? If not, or even if so, there's a big carbon cost to putting stuff on the moon in the first place. And then remote maintenance. I would like to see you do this in Antarctica, under the sea first. A lack of legal framework as well. And then just broadly, the con of uncertainty.

Does a data center in low gravity in a vacuum with just a soupçon of atmosphere, no magnetic shielding, does, is the data going to behave differently over the years? So basically, I think it is completely bananas. I think they should absolutely go for it, but I'm definitely, I'm one of the haters that they need to prove wrong.

Put, put, put a data center on the moon. I think, uh, it's maybe slightly more probable, but [00:20:00] only slightly more probable than putting a data center in Narnia. Um, the White Witch's Curse of Eternal Winter also creates very favorable conditions for, for data center cooling.

Anne Currie: Yeah, oddly enough, my views on it are really very similar to yours, and I

have done a reasonable amount of research and it's, yeah, it's that I really want to see a moon base, I want to

Jo Lindsay Walton: What? Yeah.

Anne Currie: I, I, uh, so, um, Jeff Bezos, oddly enough, has some quite good thoughts himself on this, which is, in answer to the second question of, uh, won't it pollute the moon? Bezos's, uh, position, and I tend to think he's probably right, is "yes, good." Because actually you want to move the pollution that goes alongside industry from the earth to the moon. It's, uh, that is the purpose of industrializing the moon is that you get the pollution happening up there rather than down here, and we love the idea and the hopes and dreams and that sunny, [00:21:00] and I love to wave at the smiley face of the moon, full moon. But we know that in 1000 years time, that's going to be completely built over. If we survive, that's going to be completely built over and the ideal would be that the earth is better and the moon is a bit of a, a rubbish tip for Earth and that's not a bad thing. That is a, that is better than, than stuff polluting the biome. But you, you're totally right. And we said this in the last podcast. For climate change, it's, it's of no use to climate change whatsoever. The, the timescales are way too long. And you can get all of the benefits that you would get from a moon, a moon data center, much as I love the idea, and I really wanted to have them at some point, through, Greenland and Antarctica eventually will have constant 24/7 power through water, hydroelectric power runoffs from melting glaciers. We've got limitless power there if we were willing to use it. If we were willing to be bothered to put a data center on Greenland, [00:22:00] which has, has issues. But much, much fewer issues than building a data center on the moon. And we, and we, uh, even Microsoft are already building data centers for under the sea, which they find actually is very good for cooling. And if you don't poke around with them because there aren't people around, then they last longer. So you get better on, you get better use out of your embodied carbon and things like that.

Yeah, I totally agree. Climate change wise, it's a crazily stupid idea. It's a distraction. Although I love the idea and I really want this to happen.

Jo Lindsay Walton: Yeah, it's an interesting paradox, isn't it? That, that, that we do love the idea, even though we, we know it's a terrible idea.

Anne Currie: Yeah, we love the idea. We've got to have a Moonbase. We've got to have a Moonbase.

Jo Lindsay Walton: I think, I think it's quite a common thing, isn't it, that amongst sustainability leaders, amongst environmentalists, you get this understandable, and I have a lot of empathy with it, animosity sometimes [00:23:00] towards space travel and space exploration. And I can see where it comes from. It comes from these completely unscientific imaginaries where we can mess up this planet and simply escape to another one and it comes from, uh, you know, for example, within degrowth discourse, which is a very big conversation, but which I think captures some important aspects of the climate crisis that are not well articulated elsewhere. Within degrowth discourse, I think there's an association between space travel, space exploration, and the sense that there will be an infinite plentitude of resources for us to continue to keep expanding into if we just find the technological solutions. So I can see where that animosity comes from, but at the same time, earlier in the episode, I gave that kind of big list of things that I would like to see prioritized when we use our carbon budget.

Basic things like food security, transport infrastructure, [00:24:00] social connectivity, disaster management, etc. I would put space science in there as well. I think this is something that is exciting, inspiring, worth doing one of the, kind of, something that you wouldn't regret doing, something you wouldn't regret spending resources on.

So I'm interested in knowing if there are ways of separating that positive vision and association of space and space exploration, of separating that from the environmentally catastrophic set of discourses that it's been meshed with. What do you think?

Anne Currie: Yeah, it would, it's, it is a shame that the, the degrowth movement is never going to sell anyone because it's a bit hopeless. It's, it smacks of regressing to a, to a world where, it's, we talked, we talked about the Kim Stanley Robinson book, The Ministry for the Future. And, uh, one of the things in there was, it was talking about, oh, well, no, there are no mass holidays anymore, but there are still these lovely [00:25:00] holidays in which people go to amazing places on, on, hotter in hot air balloons and airships.

And the thing is, those are really crazily expensive. I can see why people resist the climate movement, because it really played to that thing of there won't be holidays for everyone, but there still will be holidays for an elite group of people, men, that's, you're not in it. We've got to keep technology that gives something good to everyone and doesn't just mean that there's, like, super stuff for a tiny number of people and terrible stuff for the majority of people and they can't go on holidays and that.

We have to come up with a solution that is in some way inspiring. If we get rid of all inspiring stuff, we're never going to sell anyone to get started. Although, having said that, I know we, we, we slag off progress against, on climate change, but we've made a lot of progress.

Jo Lindsay Walton: Huge amounts of progress. Yeah. And there's a, there, there are a number of perception gaps in terms of the kind of progress that has been made, [00:26:00] and the risks that, that we face. The IPCC science is not well understood, uhm, not broadly understood.

At the same time, there are also a huge number of kind of scientific uncertainties that are not well understood. Perfectly normal scientific uncertainties, a perfectly normal kind of part of scientific practice, all good science produces uncertainty. But these are not well reflected in contemporary climate policy.

And particularly, I think, in some of the more techno solutionist visions of the future. I think you're right that degrowth has a branding problem, and I'm interested in seeing some of those same ideas appearing under different rubrics, under different titles. I think often it's the way that the most kind of interesting, fascinating, and hopeful ideas somehow appear, with the absolutely worst possible labels attached to them.

But definitely, if [00:27:00] you drill down into a lot of degrowth discourse, you'll find a variety of opinions, but you'll certainly find ideas reflecting what you're saying about a climate transition being, needing to be just, and needing to be inspiring, something that has something for, for everybody, and realizes co-benefits in, in, in everybody's lives, and is not just about an, an elite enjoying a legacy of luxuries while the rest of the world kind of wanders around in hair shirts self flagellating.

Anne Currie: Yeah, because it struck me, say, in the Kim Stanley Robinson book, that was, he'd obviously made some effort to not write that, and yet he'd still written it. It's really hard for degrowthers to think about how they're going to pitch the message, I think. And I think it's a totally pitchable message, but it's also very difficult for them.

Even things like the 15 minute city, you'd think. Who would possibly object to the idea that you'd be able to,

like, get to the shops [00:28:00] with, with in 15 minutes walk, or a quick cycle, or a bus, and then we're regularly by... who could object to that? And yet, it's become a horrendous political hot potato. But we, we can't really, as Michael Mann put, points out in, in his book. "Don't underestimate how much money the other side have to put into convincing everybody to keep with the status quo." It's, you have to be a fantastic communicator to communicate change when there is an almost limitless amount of money arrayed to make whatever you say sound bad.

Jo Lindsay Walton: That's very interesting. The 15 minute city thing was astonishing, wasn't it? It got, as I understand it, mixed up in all these kind of conspiracy theories, where people thought they were going to be contained in these like urban oubliettes where they couldn't travel any great distance. Yeah, really astonishing, and the point about disinformation, about misinformation, about greenwashing is really interesting.

I think we're entering a time of [00:29:00] great epistemological uncertainty. I even wonder if the framing of greenwashing is adequate to cover all the sorts of instabilities of meaning and information that we're likely to be encountering. I wrote this kind of musical glossary of terms called, I think it was a greenwashing glossary or something like that, and coming up with other terms like greenwishing, for example, where you are doing something good, it is improving the sustainability of your practices, but you're also indulging in wishful thinking and you're not duly weighing the actual sustainability impact of what it is you're doing, and a bunch of other kind of terms like that.

Anne Currie: Yeah, it reminds me of the effective altruism movement, which is the kind of utilitarian charitable movement around 'you put your money where it's going to have the most effect rather than where you feel good about it.' Totally, that's had, a big proponent of that was the guy behind FTX. The [00:30:00] cryptocurrency collapsing thing.

So fundamentally, EA has been completely blasted away by, by the behavior of FTX, but they had a very good description of how you might think about doing the right thing and the wrong thing. And it was 'get your fuzzies and your utilons separately.' It's about what makes you feel good, you know, it might make you feel good to do certain charitable actions, but they might not actually be very effective.

In fact, there might be actively bad whereas there are other things you could do that you'd get no real potential, you get no internal strokes from, that would be very effective. And, but yes, you'll get your young, your fuzzies, which are about feeling good about yourself and your utilons, which is actually about having effective change and making effective change


Jo Lindsay Walton: So,

Anne Currie: separate ways. Yeah, I, and

Jo Lindsay Walton: for you and me at least, building data centers on the moon is very productive of fuzzies, but not utilons.

Anne Currie: [00:31:00] Indeed, yes, indeed. Actually,

Jo Lindsay Walton: And I also feel like any file I saved on the moon, I would also want to save somewhere else as well.

Anne Currie: I think that would be sensible. It's not exactly your ideal disaster recovery location. And in

Jo Lindsay Walton: Maybe I would save it on the sun.

Anne Currie: all, all the disaster happens on the moon and the Earth's fine. Another thing where if you, if you're going to do DR, you really need to stop in both places. But so we better get onto this to the second bit.

Otherwise we'll just chat about this forever. Uh, and, and the second bit I think is even more of an interesting link than the first. This is about computing in orbit which is about doing more, having data centers, orbiting data centers. And there's a very good, interesting blog post about how we should all move into, move more data into orbits and you can analyze all the data. And it's a charming blog post about if you could process data that you are seeing in faster real time in orbits, you could monitor what whales are doing in even faster real time, [00:32:00] but it's, what it clearly is, it's a giant advert for Lockheed Martin and other American military companies, because it is the thing that you are doing, if you want to be processing data that you want to be looking at the ocean, processing data real time about what's going on there, that's entirely for military stuff, which I don't have any particular reckons whether that's good or bad, but there'll be a load of money going into it because China will be start doing it, America will start doing it, eventually India will start doing it, Russia will start doing it.

It is, uh, an arms race, I would say. Not a gre, this is greenwashing. You want a new greenwashing term for this one.

Jo Lindsay Walton: Yeah, I mean, I feel like, um, let's assume it does work. Let's say that the technology is solid.

Anne Currie: It'll work.

Jo Lindsay Walton: And under that highly hypothetical circumstance, right? My question is still, how does this fit into the big picture? This is something that we're interested in the DHCC. How does it fit into the big picture? Are these orbital data storage facilities, are they going to outcompete the [00:33:00] earthbound data centers that are using the dirty energy? Who actually holds the big picture of global strategy here, of addressing the urgent issue of climate change? Is it the conference of parties? Kind of, but they're mired in all these geopolitical rivalries. Is it the scientists?

The IPC? Yes, but they're constrained by the remit of political neutrality and face challenges around communication. Is it the finance, the markets, they're waking up to something, they're trying to incorporate climate into these risk management methodologies that they don't really play all that nicely with?

Is it science fiction? Yes, we're drawing in a really interdisciplinary way. We've talked about Kim Stanley Robinson throwing everything at climate change, but it is ultimately a story. I'm not really sure who does hold the big picture and if I was to try and summarize it in a crude way, it seems that we're hoping to adjust the rules of the game.

We haven't even adjusted them yet, but we're hoping to adjust the rules of the game so that goods and services and enterprises and value chains and industries and sectors and whole communities and regions that are incompatible with a, with a broadly livable planet are going to be [00:34:00] destroyed in the Schumpeterian whirlwind of, of creative destruction will, will crash and burn.

And I think there's a lot of emphasis on the creation side of that, building data centers on the moon or in orbit, but not enough imaginative, creative, realistic thinking about the destruction side of it. There's this expectation that enterprises are going to snitch on themselves. "Oh, we've tested for impairment, we're reporting against this particular standard, all our assets are stranded, we're just going to shut up shop, goodbye."

So I think I would be interested in more science fictional thinking about the potential pain of switching from carbon intensive activities to the sustainable ones. Not just the focus on the kind of shiny new possibilities, but also the focus on what it's like to shut up shop. 

Anne Currie: Yeah, which, you should read my books.

Jo Lindsay Walton: will.

Anne Currie: Yes, yes, I completely agree. All the stuff we've talked about today, about sci-fi is marvellous, it's [00:35:00] lovely, it's fuzzies, but it's not green at all, and it will be no part of the climate solution, or very little part of the climate change solution. There's nothing here that is being suggested that couldn't be done vastly better on Earth. Now, I'm not saying that none of this stuff should be done, but it's not part of climate change, and it is being washed as if it is, and it's not. So, we, we, we have chatted for too long, and we have overrun all our, all our times today. We're now just having to, uh, zip through and do our, um, closing questions. Jo, if you had a data center in space, which fictional sci-fi franchise would you reckon would be best at running it? It's a good question.

Jo Lindsay Walton: Because we've been saying the word data so much, I can't get Star Trek Next Generation out of my mind. So, Data, Picard, Bev, Deanna, that lot. I think it would be hilarious in general because the captains always ride roughshod over the metrics that officers present them with. "Your download will complete in one hour" and they're like, "give it to me in 30 minutes."[00:36:00] 

"Aye aye, captain."

Anne Currie: Yeah, I think the only, yeah, I

agree that Data would be excellent running a data center, but I think it would have to be Data on his own. I don't think anybody,

Jo Lindsay Walton: Aww. 

Anne Currie: But you wouldn't need anybody else, would

you? You really wouldn't need anybody. But actually, I think the best people would be from the same franchise, the Borg.

I would just

Jo Lindsay Walton: Oh my gosh,

they are already a big data center, aren't they?

Anne Currie: They are a big data center, terrible customer support, but I think there are some major folk who be better at customer support than the Borg. And I will, I won't mention their names, but we all know who they are. Thank you very much indeed. We've come to the end of our podcast and all that's left for me to say is thank you so much, Jo, that was really great. Thanks for your contribution. And it was, and for our listeners, where can they find out more about you?

Jo Lindsay Walton: Thank you, yes, it's been really interesting. I wish we could talk longer. So, I think many of your listeners might be interested in the DHCC toolkit. Um, you don't have to think of yourself as a digital humanities person, [00:37:00] I hope some might be tempted to get involved and contribute. If you're interested in science fiction, I'd encourage you to check out the British Science Fiction Association, again, you don't need to be UK based, um, and our journal Vector, which I've been editing with Polina Levontin for the past few years.

If you're interested in climate communication and maybe some of the broader issues around the political economy of climate change, you can check out our Climate Risk Communication Toolkit, which is a publication of the UK University's Climate Network. And yeah, I think that's, I think that's plenty to be getting on with.

Anne Currie: Thank you again. So that's all for this episode of Environment Variables. All the resources for this episode are in the show description below, and you can visit podcast.greensoftware.Foundation to listen to more episodes of Environment Variables. See you all in the next episode. Bye for now.

Asim Hussain: Hey everyone, thanks for listening. Just a reminder to follow Environment Variables on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google [00:38:00] Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. And please, do leave a rating and review if you like what we're doing. It helps other people discover the show and of course we want more listeners. To find out more about the Green Software Foundation, please visit greensoftware.foundation. Thanks again and see you in the next episode.