Photo by Andreas Gücklhorn

Green computing

Climate change, pollution, inequality... Wat does that have to do with our work, and with mindfulness?

As software developers we are aware of the dependencies that exist in our code. This package is dependent on those packages. This class is dependent on other classes. The software is dependent on the hardware it runs on, etc. etc. When there is something wrong in terms of dependencies, the software won’t run, or won’t behave well. The feedback is often immediate.

In real life we are dependent on so many factors, most of which we don’t consider on a day to day basis. And when we fail to take into account the dependencies that exist, feedback will come, but often very late, after many years for instance.

This is what we are experiencing now with the effects of global warming. We, as human beings, have neglected our dependency on the environment and planet Earth. We all know it, yet somehow we feel powerless in the face of such huge consequences. And so we keep doing what we have always done, and quickly push away our negative feelings.

This week Greenpeace released a guide to greener electronics and I was shocked to see that a large company like Amazon scored so poorly on use of renewable energy, sustainable design and use of recycled materials and elimination of hazardous chemicals.

As someone who is dependent on the large tech companies, like Amazon, for doing my job, I felt really bad about this. I need their hardware, and I need their services in order to do my job. Looking deeper however, I can see that these companies are also dependent on me. They need me to buy their products. And in the end we are all dependent on the ones buying and using our software. There is a whole web of interdependency. If the players in this economic system don’t value the environment and the earth in an active way, and are willing to pay a realistic price for the resources needed to run their business, they end op creating outcomes nobody wants.

On the one hand I can get angry that we are collectively destroying our environment in so many ways. On the other hand, I too contribute to the problem and I know how insignificant we can feel when faced with such large issues.

How does this relate to mindfulness? The practice of mindfulness encourages us to stop and see, look and feel what is going on in this moment, in our inner world and in our outer world. Mindfulness brings us back to the here and now, and stops us from running away from uncomfortable feelings. And these large issues definitely cause uncomfortable feelings! So instead of ignoring a problem that is too large to handle, we could first calm down and connect with our breathing and our willingness to look deeply at what is happening. And also open up to the future that wants to emerge here. We could suspend all our judgements and previous knowledge for just a while and see if there will be new ideas that will help us forward. Ideas that will break through our limitations and powerlessness.

When we are in touch with our good intentions, we can feel an increased willingness to become aware of our responsibilities and our own part in these issues. So many things we are directly involved in, have consequences that are hidden from our eyes. We could ask ourselves some questions. For instance, what happens to the hardware used in the data centers we use, once it has reached its end of life? Will it end up as toxic e-waste in developing countries? Are we aware that the consequences of climate change, that we contribute to when we don’t choose green energy to run our data centers, are already being felt and experienced by the poor countries? Is our global interdependency on our mind when we buy or dump our laptops and phones?

What I’m observing is that sustainability is not (yet) a hot topic in the tech community. It is not something I hear a lot of tech talks about on conferences. I would like to see discussions about how we can make our products more sustainable. Discussions also about how we can make sustainability easier to contribute to. How we can help each other feel less powerless, so that we feel able to take our responsibility? How we can make the topic of sustainability and responsibility the coolest thing ever? Something that people feel super good about contributing to. I’m waiting for the first green cloud providers to appear. Or truly green services at the existing providers. So that customers can choose sustainable products.

I’m wondering which open source projects contribute to sustainability. Can we put them into the spotlights, to inspire other initiatives? I’m looking for meetups that bring people together that want to lead the way in sustainability in tech. Shouldn’t there be more hackathons dedicated to sustainability to spark creativity? Can we collaborate with tech people from developing countries who will probably have very interesting perspectives? These are just a few questions and ideas that came up for me.

We cannot do this alone, but we can make a difference together. Let’s no longer run away from uncomfortable feelings about climate change, pollution and poverty, but combine our creative talents to address them.

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