Projects/Sustainability/Research

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How Digital Rights and Climate Justice Intersect

A collaboration among the Ford Foundation, Ariadne and Mozilla to explore grantmaking strategies at the intersection of digital rights and climate justice.

Purpose

We are living in a climate crisis. The science is clear. We need to rapidly change to a more just and sustainable society. This includes investing in a more sustainable internet and transitioning it off of fossil fuels, as we acknowledge that the internet is the world’s largest coal-powered machine. Alongside transitioning the internet to run on renewable energy, we are seeking to better understand how the internet can contribute to and at times undermines the movement for climate and environmental justice.

Often considered separately, the environment and the internet share much in common; both are global in scope, linked to exercising key human rights, and require cooperation and coordination across the planet. From water rights disputes between data centres and local residents, to rampant greenwashing misinformation by fossil fuel companies, the ecological consequences of the internet are just one of the many complex problems at the intersection of climate justice and technology.

Our long-term goal for this partnership is to co-create a long-term funding strategy on the intersection of technology and climate justice that should enable funders to responsibly engage in this new area of work and offer structural support to communities, technologists and advocates towards more sustainable and just futures.

Convening Funders

  • Mozilla (Michelle Thorne, Sustainable Internet Lead): “The internet is the world’s largest fossil-fuel powered machine, and as funders in the digital rights field, it’s our responsibility to assess and mitigate the internet’s harms not just to human rights, but also to the environment. Examples of harms that come to mind are carbon emissions, extractive industries, and environments and communities impacted with a lack of accountability.”
  • Ford (Michael Brennan, Senior Program Officer): “We believe that digital rights and environmental justice networks are often siloed from each other, despite being inextricably linked. And so we need to set a grantmaking agenda that connects these issues today, rather than retrofitting the field years from now. That starts with understanding how we, as digital rights funders, can better approach climate and environmental justice.”
  • Ariadne (Julie Broome, Director): “This research will sit within a larger convening effort among funders and practitioners to develop shared understanding and strategies to grow our movements’ understanding of these issues, to invest more impactfully and take more effective action together.”
  • with support from Fieke Jansen and Maya Richman.

Phase 1: Research

In October 2021, Mozilla, the Ford Foundation and Ariadne kicked off a new research project exploring how digital rights and climate justice intersect. The research seeks to better equip digital rights funders to craft grantmaking strategies that maximize impact on both issues. This effort sprang from a session at Mozfest 2021.

Landscape Analysis and Issue Briefs

Download the full reports. We invite you to share them with your colleagues and anyone else who is interested in this work.

Research Partners

The research is a bundle of eight research pieces produced by four different organisations each with their own networks and perspectives. Below is the full list of all the research organised by the researcher or organisation that produced the work:

  • Climate Justice & the Knowledge Commons: Opportunities for the digital rights space
    • Open Environmental Data Project (OEDP) and Open Climate formed as a collaboration between colleagues from the open technology, data & knowledge movements who felt the pressing need to address the missing opportunities for collaboration in climate action through building a space to understand and instigate links between the planetary and the digital commons.

Reflections and Responses

Sharon Lungo and Heather Milton-Lightening are longtime organizers for climate justice. They were invited to reflect on the above research and share their expertise and recommendations for the field.

Social Media Assets

(launching July 11)

Propeller Series

Sign up for The Engine Room’s Propeller series based on their research findings: (launching July 11)

The Propeller breaks down the report into six short, digestible emails, sent at one-week intervals from the time of signing up. It’s perfect for learning in small doses over your morning coffee.

Further Suggested Reading

Phase 2: Convene and Commission

Building on the momentum from Phase 1, we now seek to:

  • Continue the conversation and exploration as a coalition this year. Stay dedicated to “learning in the open” and inviting other funders, practitioners and allies to learn alongside us. Co-create a funder proposition on what we believe will make an impact considering the breadth and scope of the topic and based on our learnings so far. Publish findings and process.
  • Commission further research and promising pilots that put the recommendations into action. Document interesting developments and build a pipeline of potential projects to support as well as identify gaps. Iterate on findings and continue testing.
  • Convene partners and practitioners to strengthen links across movements and craft effective narratives. Work with aligned funders who want to learn from and contribute to this effort. Gather practitioners thinking through the analysis and solutions. Host one small convening per quarter, a session at Mozfest and other key network events, and work towards a bigger convening end of the year as a showcase or “groundswell” event.

Lille (April 2022)

This convening gathered over 35 participants from digital rights funds to:

  • Jointly explore the intersection of climate justice and digital rights
  • Discuss the recent research findings from The Engine Room and issue briefs
  • Identify opportunities to collaborate and move this work forward

As funders in the digital rights field, we envisioned this meeting as a catalyst for exploring and strengthening grantmaking strategies and for nurturing a funder community grounded in advancing people’s rights online and learning to respond to the climate emergency. The event built upon on three initial (remote) funder conversations in 2021 where we shared interim findings and learned about other organizations’ efforts. It was co-located with Ariadne’s annual meeting and the Open Source Infrastructure Funders Meeting.

Read our full event documentation, including Michelle Throne’s opening remarks and Fieke Jansen reflection.

Virtual convening (May 2022)

Following up from Lille and expanding the conversation to participants who were not able to attend, we hosted a virtual convening in May 2022. We set out to continue advancing the goals from our previous meeting, articulate areas of actions, and keep up the momentum.

We began to refine topics for “deep dives” as a funder collective and determine where and how we wanted to take the research recommendations forward.

RightsCon (June 2022)

The research was presented at RightsCon in a session on Digital Rights and Environmental Justice hosted by The Engine Room’s Becky Kazansky and co-presented by BSR, APC, OEDP and Maya Richman.

Upcoming events

We are interested in sharing our findings and connecting with other funders and practitioners working at this intersection. Below are events we plan on attending in some form. If you would like to invite us or recommend other opportunities, please get in touch!

  • EuroDIG 2022 (June 21, 2022): “From commitments to action: Assessing the effectiveness of pan-European policies and regulations for the green digital transformation” with Alexandra Lutz (Parliamentary Assistant for MEP David Cormand, Greens/EFA), Almut Nagel (Green Digital Transformation - Policy Officer, DG-Connect, European Commission) and Michelle Thorne, (Sustainable Internet Lead, Mozilla Foundation)
  • bits&bäume (Sept 30 - Oct 2, 2022): The Conference for Digitalisation and Sustainability in Berlin, Germany. Submitted a panel to present research.
  • COP27: Still scoping what this could look like. Potentially collaborating with the Innovation Pavilion.

Deep Dives

Based on the research and convenings, we are holding space for our networks to take “deep dive” on key strategic areas.

Those currently are:

  • Policy
  • Advocacy and Governance
  • Tech standards and Climate
  • Climate Misinformation
  • Open Practices & Knowledge Commons
  • Fiscal Hosts & Climate Lens

Get Involved

Learn Together

Phase 1 was just the beginning of the learning process. As part of our exploratory partnership, we are dedicated to “learning in the open”and inviting other funders, practitioners and allies to learn alongside us. You can always find up-to-date links to our reflections and the work we’ve commissioned here on the wiki.

We see this work complementing Mozilla’s existing Sustainability Program and build out Mozilla’s capacity to explore emerging issues. It also reflects the priorities of the Technology and Society team at Ford Foundation to understand and address social justice issues at the intersection of tech, climate and the environment.

Join the Coalition

Interested in contributing resources into this exploratory partnership and helping steer the ship? We are looking for other funders interested in investing in research, project and other collaborations at this intersection. Please get in touch.

Contact

If we ever hope to interrupt the cycle of global environmental extraction and degradation, we need to tackle this crisis together. Whether you are interested in discussing the research, other related initiatives, or you would like to join the coalition of funders working at this intersection, please reach out to: maya.richman [at] ariadne-network [dot] eu, fieke [at] riseup [dot] net, and michelle [at] mozillafoundation [dot] org

Archive

Background

In October 2021, Mozilla, the Ford Foundation and Ariadne kicked off a new research project exploring how digital rights and climate justice intersect. The research will better equip digital rights funders to craft grantmaking strategies that maximize impact on both issues. This effort sprang from a session at Mozfest 2021. Following a funder’s convening centered on the research and possible collaborations, Internet Society Foundation joined the organising team.

Original Research Scope

Specifically, the scope will consist of:

  • a landscape analysis of major existing research at the intersection of digital rights and environmental justice issues
  • a network mapping of civic actors, public interest technologists, and individuals working on this intersection
  • a set of needs and capacities of civic actors within the ecosystem in order to amplify and accelerate work at this intersection
  • an initial analysis of the most impactful/strategic interventions in the short- and medium-term defined by the different stakeholders
  • and a set of recommendations for funders, particularly for those focused on digital rights, that supports civic actors working at this intersection.

Community Calls: Hosted by the Engine Room

The Engine Room kicked off their research with two community calls in November and December, which aimed to discuss preliminary research findings, hear from practitioners working on environmental justice and digital rights issues, discuss challenges, and try to identify opportunities for greater collaboration.