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The Great Reset: The Final Assault on the Living Planet [It’s Not a Social Dilemma – It’s the Calculated Destruction of the Social, Part III]

The Great Reset: The Final Assault on the Living Planet [It’s Not a Social Dilemma – It’s the Calculated Destruction of the Social, Part III]

November 28, 2020

By Cory Morningstar

 

Part three. This is the final segment of a three-part investigative series. [Part 1] [Part 2]

 

Artificial intelligence, Automation – & Cyberwarfare

 

Announced at the Global Inclusive Growth Summit on October 21, 2019, the Imperative 21 RESET campaign was launched to the public on September 13, 2020. A front campaign of The Business Roundtable, the six founding coalition partners are The B Team, JUST Capital, B Lab, Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP), Inclusive Capitalism and Conscious Capitalism. [Further reading: The Business Roundtable/CURT a Systematic Destruction of Labor]

 

“It’s an unprecedented coalition of business networks that have come together to raise our ambition. Not just to help our individual CEOs succeed,  we’ll do that for sure. But to actually bring their voices together to help shift culture. So that the pushback on the BRT [Business Roundtable] from different business publications or other people within the business community lessens. So there’s less of a headwind culturally for this type of leadership.”

 

Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab and B Corporations [Source]

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is described as, “systems that combine sophisticated hardware and software with elaborate databases and knowledge-based processing models to demonstrate characteristics of effective human decision making.” [Source] The World Economic Forum recognizes AI as “the engine of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. [Source] AI as applied/ utilized by social media platforms is trained with an objective and exploitative function: target users with ads for maximum ad revenue, by highlighting the newsfeed ensuring users remain on the platform for as many hours, minutes and seconds as possible. This function is highlighted by The Social Dilemma, while, ultimately, the sole function of every corporation, that of increasing revenues and maximizing profits – ad infinitum, is kept opaque.

Any technology that has power can be corrupted. In this respect, AI is perhaps the most dangerous. Hacking (PC, mobiles, viruses) is accomplished by injecting code – code that can be then detected. Deep learning, referred to as artificial intelligence, is a giant array of numbers. The AI models are self-modifying on a continuous basis, thus, it is unknown how hacking AI can – or will – be aptly detected. [Source: October 5, 2018, The Artificial Intelligence Race and the New World, Order, Council on Foreign Relations – The Malcolm and Carolyn Wiener Lecture on Science and Technology]. “Imagine tens of millions of numbers in the deep learning algorithm that’s updating itself anyway, because it’s getting more data, retraining itself. Some bad people just tweak a few numbers and all of a sudden, it might be out of control.” [Source] Meaning, for example, a hacker may succeed in turning autonomous vehicles into autonomous weapons that kill people en masse. Imagine fully autonomous nuclear weapons or autonomous nuclear power plants, the hacking of which – or malfunction of – could result in the annihilation of an entire nation, or the entire planet.

Here again, it is more important what both The Social Dilemma and the Center for Humane Technology do not divulge, rather than what they do. The Fourth Industrial Revolution cannot come into fruition without the 5G infrastructure that will run the Internet of Things. “Smart” cities must be understood within the context of global policing and the military industrial complex. Cybersecurity will be the battle space of the 21st century.

“The potential for nuclear escalation in a conventional conflict with autonomous systems is compounded by the way that autonomous systems could enable adopters to fight faster than those operating non-autonomous systems do at present… A military force that is heavily invested in AI could essentially enable faster operations by autonomous systems relative to remotely-piloted or inhabited systems. Some Chinese scholars have hypothesized that this trend could result in a “battlefield singularity,” in which the pace of action on the battlefield eclipses the speed of human decision-making.” [Source]

Remarks to the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Convention, October 4, 2016, as Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, Washington, D.C.:

Q:  “You didn’t mention about autonomous systems. In light of the third off-set strategy, what is your thinking about letting in the future autonomous systems make lethality decisions without a human in the loop?”

 

A:  “I purposely didn’t talk a lot about the technology behind the third off-set because in a audience like this, you get that the most important thing is the operational concepts and the organizational constructs that employ that technology. But let me state this, state it this way.  There will be some instances where operations are happening at machine speeds and we will have to rely upon A.I. and autonomy to actually fight.” [Source]

Automation bias is when humans effectively surrender their judgment to machines:

“Of particular concern in the design of intelligent decision support systems is the human tendency toward automation bias, which occurs when a human decision maker disregards or does not search for contradictory information in light of a computer-generated solution which is accepted as correct. Operators are likely to turn over decision processes to automation as much as possible due to a cognitive conservation phenomenon and teams of people, as well as individuals, are susceptible to automation bias.” [Further reading: Automation Bias in Intelligent Time Critical Decision Support System, AIAA 1st Intelligent Systems Technical Conference, 20-22 September, 2004]

To fully comprehend this risk, a cognitive conservation phenomenon, one must contemplate the Stanislav Petrov incident.  In 1983, the satellite-based Soviet Oko nuclear early warning system detected that an intercontinental ballistic nuclear missile had been launched by the United States. The automated system reported, with the “highest” confidence, that a U.S. missile strike was underway. Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, on duty, was responsible for alerting his Soviet superiors of the attack. The siren sounded while a large screen instructed “launch” in bold red letters. The siren continued to sound as the computer identified a secondary, third, fourth and fifth missile launch, changing its instruction from “launch” to “missile strike.” Doubting the accuracy of the computer system, Petrov did not react with counter missiles, later explaining “I had a funny feeling in my gut”. He resisted falling victim to automation bias and reported a system malfunction to his superiors, rather than responding with a counter strike. Rather than launching a nuclear war. Rather than ceding his own judgment to a machine. If this had of been a fully autonomous system, as desired by global technocrats, the counter strike would have been automatic, likely unimpeded by human intervention.

[In his own words: Ex-Soviet officer Stanislav Petrov reported a possible 1983 US missile launch as a false alarm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7EmLf4Xlq0]

In 2003, U.S. army investigators found that automation bias was pervasive within the “Patriot community”, which espoused a culture of “trusting the system without question”. “Patriot operators” exhibited an “unwarranted and uncritical trust in automation. In essence, control responsibility [was] ceded to the machine.” [Source]

“The more a country fears that, in a world without using autonomous systems, its ability to retaliate to a nuclear strike would be at risk, the more attractive autonomous systems may appear.”

 

A Stable Nuclear Future? The Impact of Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence, December 2019

6G promises increased bio-cybernetic identity (identity critical service architecture, sensing based machine learning, distribution of trust) and cyber security. Now consider activity that is deemed criminal by larger society. Rather than obtaining physical keys and/or passwords to acquire access, one will require biometric access. That is, heads (face recognition), eyes (retina scanning), and/or hands.

The AI arms race between China and the US is already well underway (with China having launched its blockchain in April 2020, for global commercial use). The idea that regulation and safeguards cab be applied to AI, ensuring both privacy and data are protected, borders on the edge of a collective psychosis. Such are the lies we tell ourselves in order to sleep at night.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Its Impact on Occupational Health and Safety, Worker’s Compensation and Labor Conditions”, September, 2019:

“In FIR [fourth industrial revolution], nonstandard employment will be common. As a result, it is difficult to receive OHS services and compensation. Excessive trust in new technologies can lead to large-scale or new forms of accidents. Global business networks will cause destruction of workers’ biorhythms, some cancers, overwork, and task complexity. The social disconnection because of an independent work will be a risk for worker’s mental health. The union bonds will weaken, and it will be difficult to apply standardized OHS regulations to multinational enterprises.”

The Unfinished Network includes Ashoka, Aspen Institute, Ford Foundation, For Freedoms, Georgetown University, Imperative 21, the Max Steinbeck Charitable Trust, McCourt, Mil M2, PolicyLink, and The Shed.

Tristan Harris, co-founder, The Center for Humane Technology. ” By tapping into the power of communities, creative media and new technology, Unfinished connects thought leaders, culture shapers, policy makers and innovators to provoke ideas, elevate unheard voices and pursue collaborations for greater impact. Unfinished is headquartered in New York City and its network partners span the world.” [Source]

Rather than a collective demand from the citizenry to terminate the foray into unchartered territory, fully recognized as extremely dangerous and high-risk by those pushing the technologies forward, a discourse is manufactured. Fearing global opposition, the public is safely re-routed and encouraged to, “demand” a future that respects “humane technology”, with adherence to the precautionary principle, kept both out of sight and out of mind. In public relations, this is referred to as “crisis management”. That is, getting ahead of a crisis – monitoring, controlling and shaping public perception at all times. The wish for a “humane technology” is one that will not come true.

Smash the Smartphone

As of July 2020, there were over 290 million Facebook users in India. With 2.6 billion monthly active users, 98% of active Facebook users access the platform via mobile, with over 90% of Facebook’s ad revenues coming in via the device. [Source] Mobile advertising has become the lion’s share of Facebook’s total advertising revenue in recent years, growing from a mere 11% in 2012 to a whopping 92 percent in 2018. This translates to over 50 billion U.S. dollars in annual mobile ad revenues.” [Source]

Graph: Share of Facebook's mobile advertising revenue from 2012 to 2018, Source: Statista

Graph: Share of Facebook’s mobile advertising revenue from 2012 to 2018, Source: Statista

 

In the fiscal quarter ending March 31, 2020, 98% of Facebook’s revenue was generated through advertising. The social network’s global mobile sponsored stories account for approximately half of this advertising revenue – while approximately 50% of Apple’s revenue came from a single device, the iPhone. [Source] [Source]

Facebook revenues at a glance:

-Approximately 2.7 billion monthly active users

-98% of Facebook users access the platform via mobile

-Over 90% of ad revenues are earned via mobile

-98% of revenue was generated through advertising in 2020

-The network’s global mobile sponsored stories account for approximately half of the advertising revenue

Harris is quick to point out that, “The solution isn’t abstinence, the solution is connection.” [Thrive Global interview with Tristan Harris, April 9, 2017] Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The solution isn’t connection – via the mobile, the solution is abstinence.

More than just abstaining, the solution has to be for everyone who owns a smartphone to trash it – never looking back. It is fact that “the fourth industrial revolution [“Great Reset”] flows through a mobile”. [Source] The smartphone is the conduit. Although the smartphone is the key to unlocking future nightmares, it’s also very much a double-edged sword. In the same way it serves to uphold the Fourth Industrial Revolution architecture, unveiled to the public as the “Great Reset”, without the smartphone, this very foundation would collapse like a house of cards. The truth is, if no one purchased smartphones, they would give them away in cereal boxes.

But this window is closing.

In the 2030 6G era, “smart phones are likely to be replaced by pervasive XR experiences through lightweight glasses”. [“Virtual (VR)11, 12 augmented (AR)13, and mixed reality (MR) technologies are merging into XR, which encompasses wearable displays and interaction mechanisms that create and maintain perceptual illusions.”] [Source: 6G Research Visions 1, September 2019]

“In the most advanced countries, today’s digital consumers (using PCs and smartphones) will likely become tomorrow’s augmented customers, adopting emerging technologies such as AI (via smart speakers) and immersive reality.”

 

— The Mobile Economy 2019, GSMA Intelligence, [Source]

It is critical to note that a vast majority of internet users (91%) now use mobile devices exclusively to go online. [Source] This is significant for a couple of reasons. First of all, this sheds much light on the ever devolving critical thinking skills by those in the West most impacted and captured by the mobile phone. Detailed information, required for in-depth critical thinking, is largely impossible to decipher and analyze using a tiny mobile device.

One should know full well by now that the success of corporate products with names preceded by the word smart – are hinged on the hope that the “consumer”, or targeted demographic, is vacuous. Anything “smart” serves capital first and foremost. Humans have survived successfully for millennia without mobiles. All we require for our survival is healthy food, clean water, clean sanitation, and shelter. And as social animals, we seek physical community, companionship, joy, and love.

The Internet Society, The United Nations & The World Economic Forum

On September 25, 2018, the Internet Society (ISOC), situated in the US and Switzerland, partnered with Facebook to expand internet connectivity in Africa. [Source] Since then, IXP [internet exchange points] workshops have been held in Morocco, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Togo, Lesotho, Burundi, Mauritius, Guinea, Benin and Chad. [Source] Internet Society partners include Access Now (a tentacle of Avaaz) [1] and Center for Democracy & Technology. The Board of Directors, serving as the Center for Democracy & Technology’s governing body, includes Julie Brill,Corporate Vice President & Deputy General Counsel, Microsoft and Philippa Scarlett, Former Deputy Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, The White House. Advisory council members include affiliates of the Charles Koch Institute, RAND Corporation, Walmart, Facebook, Twentieth Century Fox, Amazon, MasterCard and Verizon. [Full list]

The Center was founded in 1992 by internet pioneers Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. Widely referred to the “Fathers of the Internet,” Cerf and Kahn co-designed the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet”, with both having held executive positions at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Cerf serves as Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google since October 2005 with a focus on the future of tech in areas such as artificial intelligence. Since 2010, Cerf has served as a Commissioner for the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development while Kahn serves as chairman, CEO and president of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives. Cerf also serves as member of the UN High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, and was present at the launch of the Panel’s first report, “The Age of Digital Interdependence” released on June 10, 2019. [Source]

The Internet Society “is leading and facilitating the multi-round meetings for the Stakeholders Dialogue to collect, compile, and submit the inputs of the worldwide professionals and experts for future governance of the Internet.”

“I used to think it was a funny joke to say [that] the thing I worry about is 100,000 refrigerators attacking [the] Bank of America. That’s not a joke anymore.”

 

— Vint Cerf, 2020

In January 2019, the UN High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation convened. Created at the behest of the UN Secretary-General the year prior, such a high-level panel is rare, with only around 20 having been convened in the UN’s 70-year history. The 20-strong panel is co-chaired by Jack Ma, founder of Aliba, member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum, Foundation Board of World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community, Member of the Board of Trustees, World Economic Forum, Global Board of Directors, The Nature Conservancy, co-founder and board of the Breakthrough Energy Ventures (with a focus on nuclear), and Melinda Gates:

“In his appeal to a UN panel of experts led by philanthropist Melinda Gates and Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Secretary-General António Guterres called on its members to reflect on the risks and benefits of our digital age – the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. ‘We need new thinking and innovative ideas to harness the benefits and manage the risks of this digital age,’ he said via video-link, while urging the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation to reflect on how technology could accelerate the 2030 Agenda on sustainable development.”

Handover of the Report of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation to Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

 

Serving the 20-throng panel is “His Excellency” Mohammad Al Gergawi, the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of Cabinet Affairs and The Future, Chairman of the UAE Council for the Fourth Industrial Revolution; Fadi Chehadé, partner at ABRY in Boston, a private equity firm, and advisory board member with the World Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution; Dr. Cathy Mulligan is a Visiting Research Fellow at Imperial College Centre for Cryptocurrency Research and Engineering, a Senior Research Associate at University College London in Blockchain and a Fellow and Expert Member of the World Economic Forum’s Blockchain Council; Marina Kolesnik, co-founder of internet ventures and Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum. [Full list]

“Growing opportunities created by the application of digital technologies are paralleled by stark abuses and unintended consequences. Digital dividends co-exist with digital divides. And, as technological change has accelerated, the mechanisms for cooperation and governance of this landscape have failed to keep pace.”

 

— June 10, 2019, “The Age of Digital Interdependence” — Report of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation

At this same time, the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace meeting took place where a more candid, somber and cautionary tone presided, with the UN’s Fabrizio Hochschild, Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination, remarking:

After years of unbridled optimism – justified optimism – surrounding the development of digital technologies of cyberspace, we now have come to the sober realization that those positive developments carry downsides.

 

We’re at the point of asking ourselves, will emerging technologies contribute to peace overall or will they undermine it? Will they generally further access to sustainable development or will they further inequality? Will they facilitate respect for human rights or will they provide new tools to those who wish to contain or violate the realization of human rights?

 

Some 30 States have the capacity to defend themselves and those capacities are daily being built up. But where does that leave the other 163 countries that don’t have such a capacity, or the financial means, or political means to defend themselves?” [Source]

The high-level panel chaired by Gates and Ma has proposed three models: a Digital Commons Architecture (DCA), a Distributed Co-Governance Architecture (CoGov) (voluntary solutions rather than legal instruments), and a reformed Internet Governance Forum (IGF+) (enhances and extends the IGF established in 2005). The proposed “Digital Commons Architecture” would aim to synergise efforts by governments, civil society and businesses to ensure digital technologies promote the SDGs under the pretext of addressing risks of social harm, in addition to developing certification schemes for high-risk technologies such as “autonomous intelligent systems” operated by artificial intelligence (AI). [Source: The Age of Digital Interdependence Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, June 10, 2019] AI and cybersecurity certification schemes represent another lucrative emerging market, with billion dollar certification schemes having served to greenwash, thus secure, the continued plunder of the planet since the early 1990s. Such schemes can serve as a key apparatus in providing and/or maintaining the required social license to operate.  [The EU cybersecurity certification framework]

“Think of personal data as the digital record of “everything a person makes and does online and in the world.”

 

– Personal Data: The Emergence of a New Asset Class, World Economic Forum, January 2011

The panel also placed an emphasis on Blockchain. In 2017, the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) piloted the “Building Blocks” project in Sindh, Pakistan, employing the Ethereum Blockchain to distribute aid and test biometrics. This program falls under SDG #2, “zero hunger” (an emerging market in the poverty economy), and #17, partnerships. Following the test-run with 100 citizens, the second phase was then rolled out in Jordan at two refugee camps. This phase commenced with 10,000 refugees, then scaled to 100,000. The next phase is to increase the refugee participants to 500,000. Whereas in the Pakistan pilot, smartphones were used for the transactions, the Jordan project switched over to a private blockchain – with eye-scanning hardware to confirm the identity of those receiving aid. Refugees received a debit in the form of a “virtual wallet”  to be spent exclusively within the giant WFP-contracted supermarkets (“hypermarkets”). Checkout would be authorized via the IrisGuard “EyePay”.

 

“Syrian refugees receive foodstuff through the iris scan service launched by the World Food Program at Tazweed centre in the Al-Zaatari refugee camp, in Mafraq, Jordan, near the border with Syria, November 23, 2016.” Reuters/Muhammad Hamed [Source]

The first major testing ground, the Zaatari Refugee Camp, encloses 80,000 displaced citizens (150,000 in 2013) – with nearly 60%  of the displaced (55.8%, January 2020) under 17 years of age. Overseen by 44-45 organizations such as USAID, UKAID and NGOs including Oxfam, ACTED and IRD, Zaatari [2] is now referred to as one of the many growing permanent settlements: thousands of acres of land, holding tens of thousands of displaced people, enclosed within barbed wire fence perimeters, contained by police and military. Today, these open prisons, created by imperialist aggression against targeted sovereign states, are being redesigned and redefined as “liveable cities” and “smart cities. In 2014, it was reported that Zaatari costs approx. a half million dollars per day to run (with half a million pieces of bread and 4.2m litres of water distributed daily.) The second testing ground, the Azraq Camp (holds roughly 40,000 displaced peoples in 2020) would result in 100,000 blockchain transactions (totaling 1 million dollars) and retina scans. The WFP has a record of every transaction – with data as a new asset class. These transactions and iris scans will remain on the blockchains utilized (both public and private) – for eternity. In this video overview, the imperial destabilization and attempted annihilation of Syria is framed as a “civil war”, while the data harvesting itself is framed as privilege. Building Blocks is growing and set to expand.[Source][Source] [Source][Source] Jordan remains the second largest refugee host per capita worldwide with 650,000 – 750,000 displaced peoples. [Source]

The World Food Programme has three foundation partnerships: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Corporate supporters include PepsiCo, MasterCard, and Unilever. [Corporate Partners]

“Personal data is the new oil of the Internet and the new currency of the digital world.”

 

Meglena Kuneva, European Consumer Commissioner, March 2009, Personal Data

On June 11, 2020, UN Secretary-General Guterres announced the issuance of his report, Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, “on the impact of rapid technological change on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and targets”. High Level Speakers included: Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, Ajay Banga, Chief Executive Officer, MasterCard, Nick Read, Chief Executive Officer, Vodafone Group, Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utolkamanu, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), “Baroness” Joanna Shields OBE, Chief Executive Officer, BenevolentAI, and Andrew Sullivan, President and Chief Executive Officer, Internet Society. [Source]

June 11, 2020, The State of the Digital World Today / Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, Klaus Schwab:

“Since the onset of Corona Virus, internet usage has increased by 70%, the use of communication apps has increased by 300%, and virtual collaboration tools by 600 percent. And some video streaming services have grown twenty fold.”

Schwab goes on to point out that this increase is only true for those connected to the internet. And that 30 years after the invention of the world wide web (1989) by Timothy John Berners-Lee, global internet users comprise just 53% of the world population. To accelerate the goal of internet access and consumption by every human being on Earth, the World Economic Forum has developed a joint action plan with the ITU, the World Bank, GSMA and industry partners. The plan seeks immediate acceleration of private public partnerships in 170 countries with a focus on digital infrastructure, user expansion, digital identity and digital payment systems and currencies. Schwab: “This fast-track partnership is deeply encouraging. A number of our partners have highlighted that we have made more progress in the last four months than in the last ten years.” [June 10, 2020]

“It is clear so the COVID-19 crisis is a watershed moment for digital infrastructure and services. Digital is the fabric of our post-covid lives. We will continue to rely on technology more and more. Unless we rapidly tackle the challenge to bring high quality universal internet access to all we will not be able to build inclusive economies or achieve our system.”

 

World Economic Forum founder and CEO Klaus Schwab, June 10, 2020

Data Centers: A Hyperscale Tsunami of Renewable Energy Consumption is Underway

ANSHUN, CHINA – MARCH 13: Aerial view of Tencent’s biggest data center under construction in the mountainous area of the hinterland on March 13, 2018 in Anshun, Guizhou Province of China. As Tencent’s chairman Pony Ma Huateng referred in a media briefing in Beijing, his firm will continue to mine vast amounts of data to bolster a number of businesses including its own. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

“It has recently been discovered that data-intensive algorithms, such as at-scale machine learning training algorithms, are much more energy-intensive than was previously assumed.”

The Hyperconnected World of 2030–2040, 2019 [Source]

 

“The international data corporation estimates that 152,000 new devices will be connecting to the internet every minute by 2025.”

 

“This will become completely unsustainable by 2040.”

 

— Anders Andrae, Senior Expert of Energy Efficiency, Emission Reduction, Sustainability and Life Cycle Assessment, Huawei Technologies, Sweden

Disconnected from the natural world, Western academia, sciences et al., continue to assign names to technology belonging to the very things being lost or systematically destroyed: “walled garden” (“a closed ecosystem in which all the operations are controlled by the ecosystem operator” i.e. Facebook and Google), “walled gardens of things” (constraint), “spiderweb of things” (transformation), “asteroid belt of things” (collapse), islands of things (growth), data center server “farms”, the internet and digital “ecosystems”, “apple”, Amazon, the “cloud”, “pollinators”. The list is endless.

“Behind the peaceful image of a white cumulus is a less poetic reality, that of data centres composed of thousands of servers that not only need plenty of energy to run, back up and store your files, but also air conditioning, 24 hours a day.”

 

What Colour is the Cloud, June 21, 2019

The Social Dilemma, the Center for Humane Technology, and society at large, may speak of climate change, yet what is not addressed, in addition to militarism being a key driver of climate change, is the growing energy demand of information communications technology (ICT) which includes traditional data centers (server farms), network services, and hyperscale data centers. There is growing alarm over the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions belonging to the exponential growth of the ICT industry. Of particular concern are the hyperscale data centers which are owned and operated by corporations Microsoft, Google, and Apple, etc. [“Hyperscale refers to the capability of an IT [information technology] system or architecture to scale exponentially and rapidly to respond to demand that is increasingly heavily.”][Source] There are now over 8 million data centers littering the planet, with 541 hyper scale data centers worldwide. At present, there are currently 176 more hyper scale data centers in development.

In 2017, data superseded oil, becoming the world’s most valuable commodity.

Often described as the “cloud”  – successfully conjuring up a comforting perception that nothing exists beyond your device or laptop) – servers exist in real-world data centres. Information technology spending on data center systems worldwide in 2020 alone is estimated at USD 208 billion. [Source] On January, 15, 2020, Technavio released a report stating “hyperscalers” have invested approximately USD 200 billion in capacity expansion and opening of new data centers. For just a moment, contemplate the fact that those who promise an illusory “stakeholder capitalism” will spend billions to house data, while the subjugated and vulnerable remain homeless.

“We are using an immense amount of energy to drive this data revolution. It has real implications for our climate.”

 

— Jane Kearns, environment and technology expert, MaRS Discovery District, Toronto

The sheer magnitude and size of hyperscale data centers place enormous power demands upon global energy resources. Cisco estimates that by 2021, traffic within hyperscale data centers will have quadrupled, with hyperscale data centers accounting for approx. 55% of all data center traffic. [Source] At the local level, hyperscale data centres embody colossal electricity demand loads, adding pressure to electricity grids which are often already operating under duress. This is especially true for smaller or impoverished countries. Ireland is forecasting that 30% of their entire national grid will be earmarked for data center power consumption by 2028. One only needs to reflect upon the sheer enormity of these facilities proliferating the globe, to recognize the dire ecological impacts and consequences that lie ahead – upon an already plundered and decimated landscape and biosphere.

To ignore the ecological impact behind the exponential growth of ICT (information and communications technology), infrastructure, paramount for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to materialize, is in itself, a deliberate sleight of hand. A hypocritical genre of climate denialism practised and perfected by self-identifying liberals and progressives. At a moment’s notice, this faux left can be assembled on cue by those that preside over the non-profit industrial complex.

2017: Construction on the USD 1 billion 970,000-square-foot hyperscale Facebook data center. The 328-acre site became operational in 2019. At present, Facebook has 12 hyperscale data centers, nine in the U.S. and three in international markets amounting to nearly 15 million square feet of data center space completed or under construction, with several million more feet in the planning stages. [Source]

ICT (Information and Communications Technology)

Today the ICT industry represents the largest growing consumer of energy on the planet, with greenhouse gas emissions on par, or, more likely, far in excess of aviation. Depending on scope, in 2020 ICT accounts for up to 8% of the total global electricity. [Source] At the current rate of growth, approximately 9% each year (2018), the total electricity consumption of ICTs is projected to require 20% of the world’s electricity by 2025, and 30% all energy produced by 2030. [Source]

As concerns over data center energy consumption mount, obtaining the required data in order to ascertain the level of ecological damage resulting from the data centers becomes even more difficult. As criticisms of the industry grow, the global energy demands by data centers are being deliberately skewed downwards. Downward estimates are able to withstand scrutiny, due to the simple fact that there are no nationally reported statistics for data centers – and no global records. In a global corporatocracy, where hyper centers are privately owned by Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, et al., it is of little surprise that the tremendous energy consumed within these vast infrastructures is kept deliberately obscure. [3]

In 2010 there was a broad consensus that worldwide, data centers consumed approximately 194 TWh (terawatt-hours of electricity) of energy, representing about 1% of total demand. This is on par with the entire energy consumption of Iran that same year. [Source] In 2017, the EIA repeated this number for the year 2014: “Data centres worldwide consumed around 194 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity in 2014, or about 1% of total demand. Although data centre workload is forecast to triple by 2020, related energy demand is expected to grow by only 3% thanks to continued efficiency gains.” In 2018, the figure for global energy consumption by data centers was said to have increased to 205 TWh. [“A 6% rise in power use with data-center computing growing by 550%”] [Source]

Today we can reflect on the past decade. Data centers have undergone “a ten-fold increase in traffic with a 25-fold jump in worldwide storage.” [Source] Yet, in 2020, data center consumption continues to be largely cited as approximately 200 TWh per year – (1% of global electricity consumption).

In 2011 Emerson Network Power stated that there were 509,147 data centers worldwide, taking up 285.8 million square feet of space – the equivalent of 5,955 football fields.

Again, reflect upon the annual cited consumption of data centers over the ten year time frame: 194 TWh in 2010, and ten years later, in 2020, 200 TWh. The estimate of 1% global energy consumption is referred to for both 2010 and 2020 – despite adding, roughly, 7.5 million data centres.

The 200 TWh of energy consumption per year claim (that remains flat) claim is further challenged by the European Union’s own research that concluded European data centers consumed 130 TWh in 2017, a 25% increase from 2014 (104 TWh), while Greenpeace reported China’s data industry to amount to 160 TWh in 2018. Together, these two figures alone suggest an annual total of 290 TWh. [Source] Further, consider that the consumption does not remain flat in the EU, despite having the newest, therefore most efficient, data centers.

In 2015, Siemens reported the global power demand for data centers as 416.2 TWh (far exceeding the UK’s total consumption, approximately 300 TWh).

Adding an additional 100 TWh to the 290 TWh cited above (the EU and China), in 2016, a Berkeley laboratory report for the US government estimated that the country’s data centres could require over 100 TWh of electricity a year by 2020, the rough equivalent of 10 large nuclear power stations. [Source] In 2017, data centers in the US alone used more than 90 TWh, the rough equivalent of 34 coal-powered plants generating 500 megawatts of power each. [Source]

2015 graphic, Siemens

In 2017, Hewlett Packard cites the energy consumption by data centers worldwide at 400 TWh:

2017 Hewlett Packard Presentation [Source]

While in 2018, “Nature”, Bloomberg, IEA, etc., continued to promote 200 TWh.

2018 Nature graphic

2018 Nature graphic

 

 

On January 6, 2020, the Uptime Institute assessed the global consumption of data centers as high as 500 TWh per annum. [Bashroush & Lawrence, 2020]. For some added perspective, 500 TWh is the equivalent of 50 large nuclear power stations:

“It seems likely that the annual consumption of energy by data centers is somewhere between 400 terawatt-hours (TWh) and 500 TWh, depending on what is counted as a data center. To put things in perspective in terms of demand, research by Uptime Institute Intelligence shows that every time an image is posted on Instagram by the Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo (who at the time of writing has the highest number of followers on the platform), his more than 195 million followers consume nearly 30 megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy to view it.”

 

Beyond PUE: Tackling IT’s wasted terawatts, Uptime Institute Intelligence report, Jan 6, 2020

The most dire assessments on the growing magnitude of energy consumed by communications technology and data centers comes from Anders Andrae, senior researcher at Huawei Technologies in Sweden. At the October 2017 Nordic Digital Business Summit Andrae forecast that communications technology may account for more than 20 percent of global energy consumption (20.7%) by 2025, accounting for 5.5% of the world’s total carbon emissions. These numbers represented the expected case scenario taking into account future energy efficiencies.

In respect to growing the exponential growth of data centers, Andrae cautions that data center energy consumption could increase a staggering 15-fold by 2030, amounting to roughly 11% of the global demand.

"The share of ICT of global electricity usage: 2015 to 2025 with and without high global energy efficiency gains" [p. 18, Andrae, Anders, 2017/10/05, Total Consumer Power Consumption Forecast]

“The share of ICT of global electricity usage: 2015 to 2025 with and without high global energy efficiency gains” [p. 18, Andrae, Anders, 2017/10/05, Total Consumer Power Consumption Forecast]

[p. 18, Andrae, Anders, 2017/10/05, Total Consumer Power Consumption Forecast]

In Andrae’s worst-case scenario, it is suggested that communication technologies could use as much as 51% of global electricity in 2030. In this scenario, “CT [communication technologies] electricity usage could contribute up to 23% of the globally released greenhouse gas emissions in 2030”.

[Annual electricity efficiency (EE) improvements were calculated at 15% (best), 10% (expected), and 5% (worst). From 2022, for EE only, 5% is assumed possible for all scenarios as the authors expect it will become more difficult to improve the electricity efficiency via Moore’s Law.] [p. 28, Andrae, A.S.G.; Edler, T. On Global Electricity Usage of Communication Technology: Trends to 2030. Challenges 2015, 6, 117-157.]

“The results shown in Figure 9c imply that the data centers and FAN [Fixed Access Networks] could drive a staggering 66% of the global CT electricity use in 2030, with fixed access Wi-Fi 15% and data centers 26%.” [p. 24, Andrae, A.S.G.; Edler, T. On Global Electricity Usage of Communication Technology: Trends to 2030. Challenges 2015, 6, 117-157.]

Figure 8. "Share of communication technology of global electricity usage 2010–2030 As shown in Figure 8 [], the share of CT Sectors, depending on scenario, in 2010 is 8%–14%, in 2020 6%–21% and in 2030 8%–51%, respectively.' [p. 22, Andrae, A.S.G.; Edler, T. On Global Electricity Usage of Communication Technology: Trends to 2030. Challenges 2015, 6, 117-157.]

Figure 8. “Share of communication technology of global electricity usage 2010–2030 As shown in Figure 8 [], the share of CT Sectors, depending on scenario, in 2010 is 8%–14%, in 2020 6%–21% and in 2030 8%–51%, respectively.’ [p. 22, Andrae, A.S.G.; Edler, T. On Global Electricity Usage of Communication Technology: Trends to 2030. Challenges 2015, 6, 117-157.]

[p. 21, The share of different sections of ICT of global electricity use in 2015 and 2025, Andrae, Anders, 2017/10/05, Total Consumer Power Consumption Forecast]

[p. 21, The share of different sections of ICT of global electricity use in 2015 and 2025, Andrae, Anders, 2017/10/05, Total Consumer Power Consumption Forecast]

[Andrae, Anders, 2017/10/05, Total Consumer Power Consumption Forecast]

In regard to the Internet of Things, Andrae suggests that billions of internet-connected devices alone could produce 3.5% of global emissions within a ten year timeline, growing to 14% of global emissions by 2040. [Source]

And as bleak as these scenarios are (with even the best case scenarios projecting substantial increases in emissions) – the overall situation is much worse for one simple reason: the authors’ reliance on renewable energies as a means of mitigating overall impact (damage):

“However, until 2030, globally-generated renewable electricity is likely to exceed the electricity demand of all networks and data centers.” [Abstract, On Global Electricity Usage of Communication Technology: Trends to 2030]

 

“We believe that CT driven optimization of the electricity systems is a strong trend and a prerequisite for renewable power sources.” [p. 17, On Global Electricity Usage of Communication Technology: Trends to 2030]

 

“However, the trend of using renewable power is strong [157,158] and likely many data centers can be run GHG efficient, even if they do not find ways to reduce the absolute electricity usage.” [p. 17, On Global Electricity Usage of Communication Technology: Trends to 2030]

 

“To mitigate the worst-case scenario for climate change related to CT, the challenges related to introducing renewable electricity need to be overcome.” [p. 27, On Global Electricity Usage of Communication Technology: Trends to 2030]

 

“It seems though that planned power saving measures and innovation will be able to keep the electricity consumption of ICT and the World under control.” [p. 25, 2017, Total Consumer Power Consumption Forecast]

 

“Despite evident risks, it seems though that planned power saving measures and innovation will be able to keep the electricity consumption of ICT and the World under some kind of control.” [p. 2, 2019, Projecting the chiaroscuro of the electricity use of communication and computing from 2018 to 2030]

Yet, when one acknowledges the reality that industrial scale renewable energy is not sustainable – a key premise in modelling the ecological impacts of data centers (minimizing impact) – all such assumptions go straight out the window.

Here we can add that Andrae predicted that data centers on their own could produce 1.9Gt (or 3.2% of the global total) of carbon emissions by 2025. [Source] The DXC Technology white paper published in November, 2016 [Data centers play key role in Reducing GHG emissions] estimated that while consuming approx. 3 percent of global electricity, data centers worldwide already accounted for approximately 2% of total GHG emissions:

“Worldwide, it is estimated that data centers consume about 3 percent of the global electric supply and account for about 2 percent of total GHG emissions. That’s about the same as the entire airline industry. Producing electricity consumed by data centers will result in the release of 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 2020, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.” [Source]

What becomes lost in discussion, amidst a declared planetary emergency, is the fact that we are adding exponentially to our energy consumption, cancelling out any real emission reductions. The massive growth of data centers that began in the US is now standard in Europe, with hyperscale data centers now expanding into South Asia where average year round temperatures for the humid region hover around 27 degrees Celsius. All while according to studies, approx. 40 percent of the total energy that data centers consume is due to the sensitive cooling [4] requirements of IT technologies. July 9, 2019: “With a projected compound annual growth rate of 13 percent, APAC [Asia Pacific] could eventually surpass the United States and European market.” [Source] In South Asia, a region of deep poverty where 20% of the world’s population reside, 2017 research suggests “that by the end of this century climate change could lead to summer heat waves with levels of heat and humidity that exceed what humans can survive without protection.” [Source]

At the May 2018 Around the World Conference in Canada, Andrae reiterated that ICT infrastructure cannot slow its overall electricity use by 2025, even with most optimistic improvements in data center and network technology. In 2019, Andrae increased his projection: “ICT infrastructure cannot slow its overall electricity use until 2030 and it will use several times more TWh than today. [p. 3, Projecting the chiaroscuro of the electricity use of communication and computing from 2018 to 2030, February, 2019]

Based on the aforementioned information (in addition to that which follows), it is safe to suggest that the energy consumed by data centers worldwide today is an extremely conservative  400-600 TWh – in line with 3-4% of all electricity produced on the planet – and far exceeding the greenhouse gas emissions produced by aviation.

In February 2019, Andrae published an update of his calculations and forecasts presented in 2015. In this study Andrae suggests we may see an increase in the energy demand of data centers worldwide to 1,929 TWh by 2030. For this calculation, Andrae calculated the global energy consumption of data centres in 2018 at 211 TWh. [Andrae, Anders, 2019/02/28, Predictions on the way to 2030 of internet’s electricity use]

On January 2020, CBC News reported that Andrae now expects that the world’s data centers alone will account for a colossal 651 TWh of electricity in the next year:

“Anders Andrae, a researcher at Huawei Technologies Sweden whose estimates are often cited, told CBC News in an email he expects the world’s data centres alone will devour up to 651 terawatt-hours of electricity in the next year. That’s nearly as much electricity as Canada’s entire energy sector produces. And it’s just the beginning.”

 

[Jan 2, 2020, ‘Completely unsustainable’: How streaming and other data demands take a toll on the environment] [International Journal of Green Technology, 2019, Comparison of Several Simplistic High-Level Approaches for Estimating the Global Energy and Electricity Use of ICT Networks and Data Centers, Anders S.G. Andrae]

In 2018, the total amount of electricity generated from the wind industry was 1 263 TWh, with the total from solar industry constituting 562 TWh. [5]

Corporate Damage Control – Hyperscale Greenwash

“We’ll also need vigorous development and deployment of emerging technologies — such as energy storage, advanced nuclear, and carbon capture and storage — that boost the availability of carbonfree energy around the clock.”

 

— Google: Moving toward 24×7 Carbon-Free Energy at Google Data Centers: Progress and Insights, Oct 2018

“Hyperscalers” such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft gloss over the growing concerns over their massive energy consumption by securing renewable-power purchase agreements. With unlimited budgets for public relations campaigns communication strategies, branding, and marketing, the corporate entities heavily publicize commitments to large-scale renewable energy initiatives. “net zero”, and “carbon negative” storytelling. Corporate press releases boast of commitments toward 100 percent renewable energy, as well as the promotion of investments in “*carbon free” energy sources. On September 19 2019, Google, which identifies itself as the “largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the world”, announced they had made “the biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history”. These investments enable Google to declare it matches 100% of its global annual electricity consumption (for all global operations including data centers), through direct purchases of renewable energy. In layman’s terms – this is called offsetting – without mention of the word itself. It is nothing new and not nearly as exciting as Google would have you believe. Referred to as “CO2 colonialism” by indigenous peoples, offsetting is the means to privatize the skies and Earth’s forests while continuing to expand emissions.

[“Each Google facility is connected to its regional power grid just like any other electricity consumer; the power mix in each region usually includes some carbon-free resources (e.g. wind, solar, hydro, nuclear), but also carbon-based resources like coal, natural gas, and oil. * We define carbon-free energy as any type of electricity generation that does not directly emit carbon dioxide. This includes renewable like solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, and biomass. Nuclear power is also carbon free. In the future, our framework can be extended to other technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, that are yet to be deployed at scale but could enable carbon-free power generation from additional sources.] [Source: Google: Moving toward 24×7 Carbon-Free Energy at Google Data Centers: Progress and Insights, October 2018]

Apple announced in 2018 that all of its facilities worldwide including its data centers are now powered by renewable energy. By saturating the public relations spin with never-ending references to wind and solar, this greenwash is made palatable to the liberal class – the non-profit industrial complex having successfully framed these two technologies as “clean”. The “carbon free” energy sources that do not make the headlines are those most sought by the corporate sector: biomass, nuclear, and capture carbon and storage (CCS).

“Amazon committed to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2040, which means it would need to offset any remaining emissions from its operations through investments in carbon removal projects… Amazon is following in the footsteps of another Seattle-area tech behemoth. Earlier this year, Microsoft announced it would spend $1 billion on “carbon reduction, capture, and removal technologies,” as part of an effort to offset the software company’s emissions across its entire history.”

 

June 23, 2020, Amazon creates a $2 billion climate fund, as it struggles to cut its own emissions

And despite the fact that “renewable energy” is neither “clean”, nor “green”, nor “emissions free”, as marketed, on September 18 2019, Fortune reported “only 12 percent of Amazon’s Loudoun County data centers and 4.0 percent of Google’s are powered by renewable energy, despite their promise to shift to 100 percent renewable energy”.

Amazon owns nearly half of the cloud market. In July, 2019, it was reported that the annual revenues of Amazon Web Services, had grown to $15.5 billion in the global cloud infrastructure market with revenues of $32.4 billion. Data center industry leaders recognize Amazon Web Services (AWS) as “the invisible foundation of much of the internet.” Microsoft sits at second place, with 15% of the market share. [Source] This same week, Amazon launched a network of new data centers situated in Bahrain, increasing what Amazon cites as “availability zones” to 69 zones across 22 geographic regions, with plans to build nine new zones in Indonesia, Italy and South Africa. Today, Amazon Web Services spans “77 availability zones within 24 geographic regions around the world, and has announced plans for 15 more Availability Zones and 5 more AWS Regions in India, Indonesia, Japan, Spain, and Switzerland.” [Source] Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, is a co-founder of Breakthrough Energy, launched in 2015 (alongside Mission Innovation at COP21 in Paris), with a keen focus on both nuclear and carbon capture and storage technology now being marketed to the public (a key aspect of expanding data center energy consumption). Between March and October, 2020, during the said pandemic, US billionaires saw their “net worth” rise by almost $1 trillion with Bezos on top with a net worth of approx. 200 billion USD. Here we can infer, that the person whose corporation now leads in mass global land degradation, resource use, energy consumption and subsequent greenhouse gas emissions, is also the wealthiest. All while Amazon continues to exploit its workers. All while those in the Global South face literal starvation. This is your new “stakeholder capitalism” as touted by World Economic Forum et al.

On September 14, 2020, Google released its most asinine statement to date: “As of today, we have eliminated Google’s entire carbon legacy (covering all our operational emissions before we became carbon neutral in 2007) through the purchase of high-quality carbon offsets. This means that Google’s lifetime net carbon footprint is now zero. We’re pleased to be the first major company to get this done, today.”

Here we must note that “net zero” has nothing to do with zero emissions, that carbon offsets, an instrument of imperialism and colonialism, do nothing to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions – and that Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, are all co-founders of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (launched in 2015), which houses a $1 billion energy venture fund. Other co-founders of the coalition include aforementioned Jack Ma, and Marc Benioff. Breakthrough’s Mission Innovation, with its focus on nuclear, has partnered with 24 member states in addition to the EU.

“The [Google] white paper also highlights other technologies that could help bridge the gap between renewable power’s inherent intermittency and the consistent needs of its facilities, including “advanced nuclear, enhanced geothermal, low-impact hydro, long-duration storagegreen hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage.” These are the same list of technologies that utilities, states and countries with zero-carbon commitments are planning to rely on to reach their goals.”

 

Sept 14, 2020, Google Pledges 24/7 Carbon-Free Energy by 2030 [Emphasis added]

More to the point – even if renewable energies at scale were in fact a solution (which they are not), effectively replacing fossil fuel energies and lowering greenhouse gas emissions – this newly produced energy is effectively being devoured by the ICT sector. Here we witness the Jevons paradox; the easier it is to consume the product, the greater the increase in consumption. In 2019, coal was the world’s largest source of electricity, representing 35.18% of the total (despite a 3% year-on-year fall), followed by natural gas (23.52%), hydro (16.54%), nuclear (10.52%), wind (5.44%), other fossil fuels (3.47%).  Solar accounted for 2.71%, biomass and waste accounted for 2.24%, with “other renewable” coming in at 0.4%. [Source]

Damage Control by the Non-Profit Industrial Complex

Academia, propped up by media – financed and owned by the ruling class – reacts swiftly in such instances. They are aided by those that worship at the altar of capital. [6] A broad consensus is formed that the growing trepidation surrounding exponential energy use and greenhouse gas emissions – corresponding with an exponential growth of data centers – is unfounded. To counter the concerns they cite rapid efficiency gains, and growth in renewable energies at scale (being built into the assumptions). The more the information generates concern, the greater the response by the gatekeepers. In this particular instance the issue is quickly reframed, utilizing the argument that the massive uptake in energy consumption will result in future efficiencies, or, that the growth is countered by rapid increased efficiencies, adding that cloud providers (such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Salesforce, etc.) are rapidly moving to zero emissions sources. A 2008 report produced by the World Wildlife Fund is an example of one such paper cited as a response to Andrae’s bleak assessment: ” A report [May 2008] from the World Wildlife Fund estimated that by 2030 efficiencies from smart devices and systems can potentially reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 8 gigatons, a figure approaching one quarter of total global emissions in 2018.” Here it can be noted that the World Wildlife Fund, which bears responsibility for the displacement and torture of Indigenous and tribal peoples (see the work of Survival International), is leading the charge to financialize nature in partnership with the World Economic Forum and other conservation NGOs.

“One has to search very hard to find a truthful statement from WWF. Lies have become their stock in trade.”

 

conservation ecologist Dr. Mordecai Ogada

 

“The drivers for more energy use are simply too great to be offset by efficiency gains.”

 

Jan 2020, Data center energy use goes up and up and up

The “decoupling” of growth and greenhouse gas emissions has become the preferred method of storytelling by global institutions such as UN-WEF et al., reverberated by those serving capital.

Another prime example is the public relations effort at Ericson: “Ericson, ICT and the climate – Have you ever worried how your online activities impact the climate? According to this report, the true impact may be a lot smaller than you think. [Source] The ICT sector’s carbon footprint could be reduced by over 80 percent if all electricity consumed came from renewable energy sources. [p. 3] 50 years – For the carbon emissions of a person making a transatlantic return flight, a smartphone could be used for over 50 years.” [p. 5] [A quick guide to your digital carbon footprint Deconstructing Information and Communication Technology’s carbon emissions, February 2020] In theory, that a smartphone (of obsolete design) could be used for over 50 years, is perhaps true – yet in reality, Westerners with money (and more importantly, access to debt), replace their smartphones with a new one every two years on average.

In addition to the magic trick of 7.5 million data centers coming online – with little to no added impact to global energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions, is the complete omission of embodied energies and vast “natural resources” (biological communities) extracted (plundered) for the infrastructure. The stunning growth of the data center industry and its increasing demand for energy presents a stark ecological cost to our natural world – with ecosystems already collapsing due to the effects of industrial civilization, driven by the capitalist economic system. It is a tragic irony that this acceleration commences alongside alarm over climate change and protection of biodiversity feigned by the ruling class and industry.

[Source of graphic: Estimating a Data Center’s Electrical Carbon Footprint, White Paper 66, 2010. Note the 10-year life cycle of the data center itself.]

Woke Imperialism

If one considers that the production phase of a smartphone represents 90% of the direct energy consumption – we can safely assume the production required for hyperscale data center technologies, and subsequent impacts of such, are gargantuan.

The “green economy” can only flourish on the foundation of imperialism. Electronic devices are made from rare metals and rare earth elements which can only be extracted and refined using vast amounts of energy. More often than not, these are water-intensive processes. In the process of resource theft, it is those most vulnerable and impoverished who mine the required metals – in countries kept deliberately, and permanently, destabilized by foreign corporate interests and colonial states. Such destabilization and foreign interference will persist until the targeted state becomes depleted of the resource. In addition, land, forests and water become barren toxic wastelands, poisoning all life and the biosphere itself. The “great reset” of the global economy is the rebooting of imperialism and colonization of the Global South.

 

 

Add to this the fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution architecture, built upon, dependent upon, 5G and 6G communication internet technologies, may very well require more metals than the Earth can provide. As a result, industry has already begun its pursuit of yet another emerging market –  seabed mining, at scale.

And as oligarchs forge ahead with their plans to mine the planet’s oceans as the next terrain for industrial plunder, global tech giants have yet another vision of what the full colonization of oceans may entail. On September 14, 2020 Microsoft announced “underwater data centers are a go” after its researchers retrieved the prototype  sealed capsule of a data center, off the shores of Orkney Islands, Scotland, where it had been submerged in the spring of 2018. [Source] The experiment, Project Natick was the second carried out by Microsoft. The first capsule was submerged off the California coast in 2014.

Energy intensive recycling, on almost every level, has proven to be a spectacular failure – and yet it has morphed into another trillion dollar industry. For this reason, storytelling, to convince the citizenry to believe that recycling will be a key component of mitigating environmental impacts and destruction going forward, will persist.

Added to the aforementioned issues, to which we are collectively blind, or perhaps oblivious to, is the obsolescence by design. In most cases, the life span of a data center is typically 10 years at best. Hyperscale data centers are expected to last between 15 and 20 years. These short life spans are still out of sync with the far faster pace of the internet technologies (IT) that comprise the centers with a vast amount of the components being replaced at a 2-5 year refresh cycle: “Hyperscalers use IT equipment for only a few initial years of its much longer useful life, and for them that’s it. It’s onto the next best CPU, or the next best storage technology.”[Source]

In addition to this accelerating nightmare, coolants for data centers require toxic/hazardous chemicals, while large diesel generators are required for power shortages and outages. Consider that the Apple data center which was planned for Athenry, Co. Galway, Ireland, but scrapped in 2018 would have required 144 large diesel generators as back-up for when there was no wind, or insufficient renewable energy production, to support the power demands. [Source] In addition to diesel generators, battery (lead acid) back-ups are required for power shortages. This leads to another nightmare, now unfolding.

Lithium.

Here we must take into account, the escalating global tensions as power shifts to China. Rare earth metals and minerals are coveted by the world’s most powerful states. Access to these geographical regions, where the metals and minerals are found in abundance, is today a non-negotiable imperative for imperial governments and the transnational corporations they serve.

“A 2018 Bloomberg New Energy Finance report forecasted that Li-ion technology will comprise 40 percent of all data centre backup batteries by 2025, and that in the hyperscale sector, Li-ion will become the predominant battery technology, accounting for 55 percent of UPS [Uninterruptible Power Supply] batteries.” [October 23, 2019]

January 11. 2020: “The uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is the cornerstone of the modern data centre, and is one of the primary culprits of inefficient usage of hardware. Traditional lead-based batteries are becoming increasingly redundant… Huawei’s SmartLi UPS solution answers the call by leveraging the company’s cutting-edge Li-ion battery technology and delivering a ‘reinvention’ of the power supply system for the next generation of data centres… Reliability is further enshrined within the product with its 10-year, 5,000 cycle lifetime.” [Source: The importance of the lithium-ion battery for future data centers]

No further do we need to look, to see the “green energy transition”, as imperialism, quantified, than the November 11, 2019 coup in Bolivia, a country holding vast reserves of Earth’s lithium. (The single largest lithium deposit in the Salar de Uyuni, a salt pan, is so massive, it can be seen from space.)

 

Musk on Twitter, July 25, 2020: ""We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it."

Musk on Twitter, July 25, 2020: “”We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”

 

On July, 25, 2020, billionaire and SpaceX founder Elon Musk responded to a comment directed toward him on Twitter. The comment read: “You know what wasn’t in the best interest of people? The U.S. government organizing a coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia so you could obtain the lithium there.” Musk responded with “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.” Evo Morales, the first Indigenous president of Bolivia, overthrown in a coup, responded to Musk, drawing attention to the massacres that resulted from the coup, with a reminder of the Bolivian peoples’ sovereignty and self-determination: “We will always defend our resources!” That Musk is a grotesque human being, yet celebrated in our rapidly devolving Western culture, as a person to be both worshipped and emulated, speaks to our declining ability to even recognize the world’s problems, much less solve them. The Western worldview, which Musk et al. espouse, is founded on white supremacist ideology, an ideology shared by a large component of those that identify as liberal or progressive. Subjected to centuries of conditioning, generation after generation, this racist ideology hums beneath the global, capitalist economic system. A conditioned populace no longer recognizes it.

Further, the global race toward blockchain technology, dependent on the colossal expansion of militarized 5G networks, has already begun. On April 25, 2020, China launched the world’s largest Blockchain network (BSN) as the country rapidly transitions to digital central bank currency, digital wallets, digital identifications, automation, IoT, AI and biometrics at scale. On August 10, 2020, China rolled out its international website with Google and Amazon Web Services listed as cloud service providers. This vast lead in central bank digital currency (CBDC), digitalization and 4IR technologies, is recognized as a major security threat to the US. [Source]

Data centers are the heat engines of the internet. Eight million running 24/7 in order to meet the global demand. A demand now set to expand exponentially under Fourth Industrial Revolution digitalization. The more data produced – the more the storage infrastructures must expand. This growth will be unprecedented.

Here we can momentarily contemplate the World Economic Forum’s stakeholder capitalism storytelling, best described as a public relations rebranding exercise. Data centers are proliferating, while approximately 1 billion people, after 270 years of industrial revolutions, still have no access to electricity.

5G as Catalyst for Voracious Energy Consumption

The IEA forecasts that data and digital services will result in global internet traffic doubling by 2022. Internet of Things (IoT) connections (“a prevalent system in which people, processes, data, and things connect to the Internet and each other”, Cisco), will triple from 9.1 billion in 2018 to 25 billion in 2025, while global IoT revenue will quadruple to $1.1 trillion (a fourfold increase from 2018). The exponential growth of these devices is driven by “intentional obsolescence”. Mobile subscribers are projected to approach 6 billion by 2025. A projected 79% of all internet users will use smartphones exclusively to access content (up from 60% in 2018). [“In the most advanced countries, today’s digital consumers (using PCs and smartphones) will likely become tomorrow’s augmented customers, adopting emerging technologies such as AI (via smart speakers) and immersive reality.”] [Source: The Mobile Economy 2019, GSMA Intelligence] The exponential growth of digitalization [7], coupled with rapid growth of smartphone and social media users in Asia Pacific, followed by Africa, will drive unprecedented exponential growth in data center and network services.

According to Cisco, 60% of the world’s population will be online by 2022. But that was predicted in 2018 – prior to the COVID-19 “great reset”. By June 11, 2020, online access had reached 53% (Klaus Schwab), and in July 2020 the number of global internet users worldwide was reported as having reached 59% (Statista). That’s a full two years ahead of schedule.

“ICT systems give a non-negligible contribution to world electricity consumption and carbon dioxide (CO 2) footprint. This contribution will sustain since the increased demand for user’ s connectivity and an explosion of traffic volumes necessitate continuous expansion of current ICTs services and deployment of new infrastructures and technologies.”

 

November 8, 2019, Greener, Energy-Efficient and Sustainable Networks: State-Of-The-Art and New Trends

Of particular concern is the rapid growth of streaming video and gaming. By 2022 traffic from internet video is projected to have doubled from 2019, with online gaming projected to quadruple – amounting to 87% of consumer internet traffic by 2022. [Source] In addition to this dismal reality, emerging fourth industrial revolution technologies (5G, blockchain, virtual reality) will place further demands on our energy consumption, our natural world, and our collective well-being. While reading and contemplating these analyses and resulting data, it is important to bear in mind that these were compiled prior to “COVID-19, The Great Reset“. Recall Schwab, on June 11, 2020, proudly sharing the fact that some video streaming services have already grown twenty fold during this “watershed moment”.

“As blockchain applications become more widespread, understanding and managing their energy-use implications may become increasingly important for energy analysts and policy makers.”

 

— Data Centres and Data Transmission Networks, On track, International Energy Agency, June 1, 2020

Graph: “A recent IDC study claims that by 2025, worldwide data traffic will have grown by 61 percent to 175 zettabytes, with roughly 75 percent of the population having at least one data interaction every 18 seconds.” [Source]

The energy intensive 5G cellular networks serve as the very foundation of the new global architecture, as designed and sought by the ruling class. ICT experts suggest that “thanks to a combination of massive MIMO antennas, legacy networks in multiple bands and the massive proliferation of small cells”, 5G networks will consume three and half times more electricity as present 4G networks. [Source, October 30, 2019] A more recent report by ABI Research forecasts 5G energy consumption to increase by a magnitude of 61 times by the end of this decade:

“By 2028, 5G is expected to overtake LTE [Long-Term Evolution]. By this stage, both 5G NR Radio Access Network (RAN) and SA core network will be fully commercialized. As such, 5G energy consumption is expected to increase by 61x from 2020 to 2030.”

 

— September, 2020, ABI Research, Environmentally Sustainable 5G Deployment: Energy Consumption Analysis and Best Practices

As a tool for deployment of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the World Economic Forum seeks social license by leveraging the biodiversity crisis (caused by these very people, entities and institutions) as a means to obtaining social licence. That feigned concern for the ecology of the planet, and health of all life, quickly reveals itself when one becomes aware of the environmental threats that come with 5G, as well as the associated health risks, to all life forms. Although 403 scientists and doctors (as of September 23, 2020) across the European Union have signed a declaration calling for all 5G roll-out plans to be stopped, such appeals to the EU, and the World Health Organization, have been met with silence. “Listen to the science” and “unite behind the science”, but only when the science serves capital. The 2018 emerging risks report, from the European Commission’s SCHEER (Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks) committee calls attention to the potential effects on wildlife due to increases of electromagnetic radiation.

Worse, but par for the course, those tasked with protecting capital, in servitude to the hand that feeds, have deliberately framed very real 5G concerns as “conspiracy theory“, in a calculated effort to roll out 5G with as little dissent as possible.

“The overall energy and emission impacts of 5G are still uncertain.”

 

— Data Centres and Data Transmission Networks, On track, International Energy Agency, June 1, 2020

 

“The data streamed by an autonomous car would completely fill an average laptop’s 240GB hard drive in less than a minute.” [Source]

 

“5G will prompt Energy Consumption to Grow by staggering 160% in 10 years” [Source]

 

Automation at scale, artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning, 3D printing, blockchain, crypto currencies, autonomous vehicles, virtual and augmented reality, Internet of Things (IoT), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), precision agriculture, gene editing, robotics, “smart” cities: the list is endless and ever expanding as the world’s most powerful technocrats lead the transition from bricks to mortar, to an online, digitalized fourth industrial revolution education for our children, fourth industrial revolution healthcare (ehealth, digital medicine) and an automated global workforce. With this digitalization, comes the merger of human with machine: augmentation and neuro-technological brain enhancements. Cybersecurity will be the battle space of the 21st century. Emerging technologies that drive militarism, including Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), drone targeting, and hypersonic weapons are predicted to become the norm, further dividing and destroying.

“Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said on Tuesday that electricity consumption will double if the world’s car fleets are electrified, increasing the need to expand nuclear, solar, geothermal and wind energy generating sources.” — Reuters  [8]

A permissioned blockchain ‘ecosystem’ “is the key infrastructure-of-infrastructures that allows the vertical integration of cloud computing, 5G communications, industrial IOT, AI and big data, with fintech and other application-level services overlayed on the stack”. [Source] 5G broadband is the instrumental network that transports the data – with data centers as the heat engines. Together, they create a digital technosphere, purposely eroding our physical biosphere, coupled with a coming ecological nightmare which will be unprecedented in scale. All under the guise of climate mitigation and the protection of biodiversity.

The following is an excerpt from the article “The World in 2030. Hyper-connected and Hyper-fragmented”, authored by Mark Leonard, Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and past Chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Geo-economics:

“Connectivity can cause conflict… Rather than creating a harmonious global village, we increasingly recognise that the very same forces that have brought people together and broken down boundaries between peoples and nations are leading to nationalism, protectionism, and a desire for control. The world of 2030 will therefore likely be more closely bound together than at any time in history, but also one where political fragmentation is at an all-time high. It will be a world in which connections between people and countries become instrumentalised and weaponised… The Digital Revolution has brought people together in a single connected web and is going to lead to further fragmentation of societies…

 

Migration and the movement of people will be weaponised and will also be the defining topic for politics, even more so than already now and both in countries which are scared for their existence due to demographic changes and countries that are experiencing migration influxes. Moreover, international law and institutions will grow increasingly weaponised: the idea of lawfare, using the norms and processes of these institutions to damage the opponent, is going to be a very well-known concept. We thought of law and institutions as a constraint on competition and a way of regulating our relations in the past. They will now become a core means and field for competition at the same time.” [Source]

To further demonstrate the illusory concern over the biodiversity crisis, being leveraged with COVID-19, by the World Economic Forum et al., as a means of ushering in the “great reset” as rapidly as possible, satellites are already being launched into space that will support the 5G and 6G networks, connecting  trillions of devices. On November 11, 2019 SpaceX’s Starlink broadband network, owned by Elon Musk, rocketed 60 satellites into orbit. This followed a launch of 60 SpaceX satellites launched in May 2019. By February 2020, SpaceX had launched five batches of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit – with a long-term goal of 30,000.

But Musk is far from alone in his quest to dominate the sky. There are 57,000 satellites planned through 2029. “When there are 50,000 satellites in the sky, ‘you’ll see the sky crawling,’ says Tony Tyson, a University of California Davis astronomer and physicist. ‘Every square degree will have something crawling in it.'” In addition, unregulated rocket launch emissions will further impact the global atmosphere while adding enormous quantities of space debris. [Source] While “corona” serves to distract a global populace, a virus Klaus Schwab describes as “mild” in his book COVID-19 The Great Reset, one thing is clear – billionaires are the most dangerous virus of all.

“Soon, Earth may be blanketed by tens of thousands of satellites, and they’ll greatly outnumber the approximately 9,000 stars that are visible to an unaided human eye.”

 

January 29, 2020, The night sky is increasingly dystopian

The absolute lack of regard for the subsequent harm that this will inflict upon nocturnal sentient animals and fauna is beyond pathological. The arrogance is blatant, astounding, and unequivocal. In addition to physiological harm, this new and unprecedented form of light pollution will disrupt navigation and migration patterns that have evolved within animals, birds, and insects, over millennia.”The rhythm of life is orchestrated by the natural diurnal patterns of light and dark, so disruption to these patterns impacts the ecological dynamics.” [The Hague]

The Dire Ecological Impacts & Consequences that Lie Ahead

Here it is imperative to note the consolidation of power happening in real time. World Economic Forum founder and CEO Klaus Schwab refers to this consolidation as a new global architecture; the new global governance. The following dates of are of paramount significance. On May 18, 2018, the World Bank partners with the United Nations. On June 13, 2019, the World Economic Forum partners with the United Nations. On March 11, 2020, the World Economic Forum partners with the World Health Organization (a UN body) launching the COVID Action Platform, a coalition of 200 of the world’s most powerful corporations. This number would quickly swell to over 700. On this same day, March 11, 2020, the WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic. The UN-WEF partnership firmly positions Word Economic Forum at the helm of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, also referred to as the Global Goals), which they are frothing at the mouth to implement. This is not because they care about poverty, biodiversity, the climate, or world hunger. Marketed with holistic language, dressed with beautiful images of brown smiling children, SDGs represent the new poverty economy (impact investing/social impact bonds) and emerging markets. Children as human capital data to be commodified on blockchain linking behaviour to benefits. Coercion has been repackaged as empowerment. The human population to be controlled via digital identity systems tied to cashless benefit payments within the context of a militarized 5G, IoT, and an augmented reality environment. A world where every function of nature is monetized, to be bought, sold and traded on Wall Street.

"Around $6 trillion a year will need to be invested to deliver the SDGs, most of it in emerging markets."

“Around $6 trillion a year will need to be invested to deliver the SDGs, most of it in emerging markets.”

 

Fourth revolution technologies, in particular 5G and the ICT, fall under the SDG #9: “Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”; 9c: “significantly increase access to ICT and strive to provide universal and affordable access to Internet in the LDCs (least-developed countries) by 2020”. These are central to the goals of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). A critical component toward the full implementation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (“Industry 4.0”) is digitalization. In the EU, 4.0 digitalization is being rolled out under the EU Green Deal in service to Klaus Schwab.

“Around $6 trillion a year will need to be invested to deliver the SDGs, most of it in emerging markets.”

 

At Last… Climate Consensus on the Magic Mountain, February 3, 2020, SYSTEMIQ

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a term largely accredited to Schwab. He describes it as being “characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.” The World Economic Forum website adds that it will impact “all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.” [Source] One may question why collectively, we would accept an architecture that will further destroy the natural world – to become only further disconnected from our natural world. A world that will be further devastated by the very global architecture purported to save it.

“Once we can access people’s thoughts and people’s emotions, we have to create a space that enables people to think freely, to think divergent and creative thoughts.  And in a society where people fear having those thoughts, the likihood of being able to enjoy progress is significantly diminished.” [The Fourth Industrial Revolution | Full Version, World Economic Forum, April 13, 2016]

 

“The very idea of humans being some sort of natural concept is really going to change. Our bodies will be so hightech, we won’t be able to really distinguish between what is natural and what is artificial”

 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution | Full Version, World Economic Forum, April 13, 2016

In closing this segment, we can juxtapose Andrae’s suggestion that communications technology may account for more than 20% of global energy consumption by 2025, with this observation articulated by The Guardian’s John Vidal back in 2017: “The industry has encouraged the idea that the digital transformation of economies and large scale energy efficiencies will slash global emissions by 20% or more.”

Thus, the power elite intend to crush the informal sectors and whole societies in the Global South – and across the world, in order to usher fourth industrial revolution digitalization, utilizing COVID-19 as the catalyst. Under the guise of protecting the biosphere and mitigating climate change, the “Great Reset”, decades in the making, has been foisted upon us by the ruling class. The new global architecture masks its intentions with illusory concern over ecological crises that they created. That they accelerate. To “slash global emissions by 20% or more” by rolling out an infrastructure that may well translate to 23% of all global emissions by 2030. At the cost of further plundering the Earth. At the cost of a growing, collective mental duress.

Imperative 21: Allies for System Change, a Virtual Convening of the Skoll World Forum - April 1, 2020

Imperative 21: Allies for System Change, a Virtual Convening of the Skoll World Forum – April 1, 2020

 

This depraved psychosis only makes sense when one understands that “action on climate” is not about mitigating climate change. Rather, it serves as an opportunity to “reset” capitalism as it teetered on the verge of collapse with global debt having reached a staggering 253 trillion dollars. [The global debt has since ballooned to a whopping 272 trillion dollars.] We are embarking on an inescapable and irreversible technological enslavement.

“Who survives? Amazon, Netflix, Google, Comcast, Facebook, et al. Those who control the screens control the world. It is a new morning in hell.”

 

John Steppling, Morning in Hell, October 7, 2020

The more that states, industries, institutions, platforms and devices rely on data and internet interconnectivity to function, the more our global energy consumption will soar.

Assessing “the silicon footprint, [and the] environmental impact of hyperconnected technologies”, the Institute for the Future concludes, “These facts considered together increase the probability that the net environmental impact of a hyperconnected world will be negative.” [The Hyperconnected World of 2030–2040; made possible by the support of the Office of Director of National Intelligence; IFTF convened a team of technology experts and researchers to look at the future of the hyperconnected world in a day-long workshop in 2019.]

The ruling classes intend to assign monetary value to nature, global in scale. The monetization of “social and human capital” will follow. This would entail the greatest transformation to the economic system in modern history. “Natural capital” valuation is expected to replace GDP (Gross Domestic Product) with nature to be bought, sold and traded on Wall Street. This, coupled with “protected areas” that would further displace Indigenous peoples. In addition to data as the new oil, classifying nature as an asset class represents a global corporate coup of the commons. With capitalism having reached its limits, and physical labour now disposable, to be replaced by automation/robotics, data and nature represent new and untapped emerging markets. Utilizing the very real fact that nature is vital to all life, we are told to believe that it can only be valued properly by humans if monetized (i.e. “natural capital” and “payments for ecosystem services”). Yet consider this: In just a few months the World Health Organization (partnering with the World Economic Forum on March 13, 2020), and the United Nations (partnering with the World Economic Forum on June 11, 2019) – in unison with the sycophant institutions, academia, sciences, media and NGOs that serve them. et al. – effectively utilized cognitive sciences, psychology, conformity and fear, to convince an entire global population that masks must be worn in order to save lives. In this same way, if they truly desired to convince a population that it is critical to protect nature against development, industry, privatization, corporate capture and monetization – as nature is vital to all life, and should be respected as such, they could easily do so. They do not – because it is they, primarily, who are wholly responsible for the bulk of the plunder they wish to continue. The global decimation of nature, from which they build and retain their fortunes and status.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has caused and will continue to cause mass upheaval, displacement, severe impacts, and untold suffering to the peasantry, Indigenous, working class and those belonging to the informal economy. The middle class will not be spared. Yet this depraved new global architecture, dangerous to life, human, sentient and biological, is pushed forward despite advanced knowledge of foretold tragedy – solely for the pursuit of money, profits and power. It is this very fact that shows us unequivocally and irrevocably that promises for a just transition, green deals, new deals, build back better schemes, are nothing but empty, hollow assurances, void of intent. These are the lies they tell. Promises and assertions that are nothing more than alibis.

Western and ruling class ideologies have played a crucial and cruel role in the violent transformation of the peoples, ecosystems and biosphere. The Fourth Industrial Revolution represents the most violent transformation of all. For as long as the ruling class is allowed to exist, social and environmental justice remain pipe dreams.

The ruling class has weaponized the power of both fear and conformity against us. That Covid-19 is the catalyst to usher in a new global architecture, that is the 4IR, is not conjecture, not “conspiracy theory“, but a fact. Full compliance is the goal. A physical transformation away from our physical world, towards a full embracing of an artificial, digital, virtual world, is being engineered, right before our very eyes. The social engineering of a collective consciousness. Social license is being harvested to reset the capitalist system – under the guise of a climate emergency and saving the planet. This we know: the planet will not be saved by those that have destroyed it.

 

 

End Notes:

[1] The September 11, 2020 article “The Social Dilemma Wants You to Delete Facebook”, is somewhat disingenuous, with the film’s emphasis on deleting notifications, rather than the social media platform. Yet what is of interest, and on the mark, is the reference to a TED Talk by Eli Pariser explaining “filter bubbles are the result of internet platforms’ race to feed users the information that will keep them coming back.” Pariser should know – as a co-founder of both Avaaz and Upworthy – with cofounder Chris Hughes of Facebook.

[2] “The sprawling camp, which is divided into 12 districts across 13 square kilometres, is surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by police and military. Refugees cannot leave without permission. If they want to move to a city elsewhere in the country, they need a Jordanian sponsor guaranteeing financial support – a condition that leaves many stuck in the camp.” [Source]

[3] Gov.UK: “We asked our hosting providers, Amazon Web Services, UKCloud and Carrenza, to tell us how much electricity we use, and how much CO2 we produce. Only one of our providers, UKCloud, agreed to give us data about our electricity usage. For Amazon and Carrenza, we made a guess about the amount of electricity we use, assuming a percentage of our monthly bill. In addition, neither Amazon nor Google currently shares information about how much CO2 their data centres produce.” [Source]

[4] Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) have concluded that room air conditioners alone — the typical window and split units used in most homes — are set to account for over 130 gigatons (GT) of CO2 emissions between now and 2050. That would account for 20–40% of the world’s remaining “carbon budget” (the most we can emit while still keeping global warming to less than 2?C above pre-industrial levels — the goal set at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015).” [Source] “If room air conditioners have a massive emission, then it is hard to imagine the immense emissions that is occurring on the industrial scale.”

[5] In 2018, the total amount of electricity generated from renewables was 6 586 TWh. Renewable hydro accounted for about 63% of this (4 149 TWh), followed by wind energy (1 263 TWh), solar energy (562 TWh), bioenergy (523 TWh), geothermal energy (88 TWh) and marine energy (1 TWh). [Source: IRENA – Renewable energy highlights, July 1, 2020]

[6] “But data centers are rapidly becoming more energy efficient, and new research suggests there’s no longer a close link between more cloud computing and more energy use. A report published Thursday in Science credits the progress to better management, more efficient hardware and the rise of “hyperscale” data centers created by tech giants…The data-center industry’s 20% annual improvement in energy intensity dwarfs all other major parts of the economy. The power used today by data centers, 1% of the global total, is roughly the same as it was in 2010… This new research is the first major attempt to compile a bottom-up view of data-center energy use in a decade. Researchers based their work on reports published by Cisco Systems, Inc., Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the International Energy Agency, among other sources.” [Source]

[7] The Cisco Annual Internet Report, 2018-2023 predicts that by 2023, there will be 299.1 billion global mobile application downloads, up from 194 billion global mobile application downloads in 2018. By 2023, there will be 29.3 billion global devices and connections (3.6 devices and connections per capita), up from 18.4 billion devices and connections in 2018 (2.4 devices and connections per capita). Similarly, Gartner forecasts that 14.2 billion connected things will be in use in 2019, and that the total will reach 25 billion by 2021, producing immense volume of data. [Source]

[8] Quote added on December 4, 2020 after initial publication. [Source] Full quote as follows: “Total electricity power consumption obviously will increase. I mean when everything, when all transport goes electric, or road transport going electric, it will approximately double the electricity usage, um total electricity usage. Like I said, because most of its at night, [charging batteries], that doesn’t mean a doubling of the power plant. But we will need to increase the amount of solar and wind, geothermal, hydro, [and] nuclear, I think is fine. Like I said, in order to solve the needs of electric vehicles.” — AxelSpringer Award Talk with Questions from other CEOs, December 1, 2020 [Source]

 

[Cory Morningstar is an independent investigative journalist, writer and environmental activist, focusing on global ecological collapse and political analysis of the non-profit industrial complex. She resides in Canada. Her recent writings can be found on Wrong Kind of Green, The Art of Annihilation, Internationalist 360, Tortilla con Sal, and Counterpunch. Her writing has also been published by Bolivia Rising and Cambio, the official newspaper of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. You can follow her on twitter @elleprovocateur]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

History’s Largest Mining Operation Is About to Begin. It’s Underwater—and the Consequences are Unimaginable.

History’s Largest Mining Operation Is About to Begin. It’s Underwater—and the Consequences are Unimaginable.

The Atlantic

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2020 ISSUE

 

By Wil S. Hylton

 

Mining robots, such as these, will help unlock a subsea gold rush. Source: World Economic Forum

Unless you are given to chronic anxiety or suffer from nihilistic despair, you probably haven’t spent much time contemplating the bottom of the ocean. Many people imagine the seabed to be a vast expanse of sand, but it’s a jagged and dynamic landscape with as much variation as any place onshore. Mountains surge from underwater plains, canyons slice miles deep, hot springs billow through fissures in rock, and streams of heavy brine ooze down hillsides, pooling into undersea lakes.

These peaks and valleys are laced with most of the same minerals found on land. Scientists have documented their deposits since at least 1868, when a dredging ship pulled a chunk of iron ore from the seabed north of Russia. Five years later, another ship found similar nuggets at the bottom of the Atlantic, and two years after that, it discovered a field of the same objects in the Pacific. For more than a century, oceanographers continued to identify new minerals on the seafloor—copper, nickel, silver, platinum, gold, and even gemstones—while mining companies searched for a practical way to dig them up.

Today, many of the largest mineral corporations in the world have launched underwater mining programs. On the west coast of Africa, the De Beers Group is using a fleet of specialized ships to drag machinery across the seabed in search of diamonds. In 2018, those ships extracted 1.4 million carats from the coastal waters of Namibia; in 2019, De Beers commissioned a new ship that will scrape the bottom twice as quickly as any other vessel. Another company, Nautilus Minerals, is working in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea to shatter a field of underwater hot springs lined with precious metals, while Japan and South Korea have embarked on national projects to exploit their own offshore deposits. But the biggest prize for mining companies will be access to international waters, which cover more than half of the global seafloor and contain more valuable minerals than all the continents combined.

Regulations for ocean mining have never been formally established. The United Nations has given that task to an obscure organization known as the International Seabed Authority, which is housed in a pair of drab gray office buildings at the edge of Kingston Harbour, in Jamaica. Unlike most UN bodies, the ISA receives little oversight. It is classified as “autonomous” and falls under the direction of its own secretary general, who convenes his own general assembly once a year, at the ISA headquarters. For about a week, delegates from 168 member states pour into Kingston from around the world, gathering at a broad semicircle of desks in the auditorium of the Jamaica Conference Centre. Their assignment is not to prevent mining on the seafloor but to mitigate its damage—selecting locations where extraction will be permitted, issuing licenses to mining companies, and drafting the technical and environmental standards of an underwater Mining Code.

Writing the code has been difficult. ISA members have struggled to agree on a regulatory framework. While they debate the minutiae of waste disposal and ecological preservation, the ISA has granted “exploratory” permits around the world. Some 30 mineral contractors already hold licenses to work in sweeping regions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. One site, about 2,300 miles east of Florida, contains the largest system of underwater hot springs ever discovered, a ghostly landscape of towering white spires that scientists call the “Lost City.” Another extends across 4,500 miles of the Pacific, or roughly a fifth of the circumference of the planet. The companies with permits to explore these regions have raised breathtaking sums of venture capital. They have designed and built experimental vehicles, lowered them to the bottom, and begun testing methods of dredging and extraction while they wait for the ISA to complete the Mining Code and open the floodgates to commercial extraction.

At full capacity, these companies expect to dredge thousands of square miles a year. Their collection vehicles will creep across the bottom in systematic rows, scraping through the top five inches of the ocean floor. Ships above will draw thousands of pounds of sediment through a hose to the surface, remove the metallic objects, known as polymetallic nodules, and then flush the rest back into the water. Some of that slurry will contain toxins such as mercury and lead, which could poison the surrounding ocean for hundreds of miles. The rest will drift in the current until it settles in nearby ecosystems. An early study by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences predicted that each mining ship will release about 2 million cubic feet of discharge every day, enough to fill a freight train that is 16 miles long. The authors called this “a conservative estimate,” since other projections had been three times as high. By any measure, they concluded, “a very large area will be blanketed by sediment to such an extent that many animals will not be able to cope with the impact and whole communities will be severely affected by the loss of individuals and species.”

At the ISA meeting in 2019, delegates gathered to review a draft of the code. Officials hoped the document would be ratified for implementation in 2020. I flew down to observe the proceedings on a balmy morning and found the conference center teeming with delegates. A staff member ushered me through a maze of corridors to meet the secretary general, Michael Lodge, a lean British man in his 50s with cropped hair and a genial smile. He waved me toward a pair of armchairs beside a bank of windows overlooking the harbor, and we sat down to discuss the Mining Code, what it will permit and prohibit, and why the United Nations is preparing to mobilize the largest mining operation in the history of the world.

Until recently, marine biologists paid little attention to the deep sea. They believed its craggy knolls and bluffs were essentially barren. The traditional model of life on Earth relies on photosynthesis: plants on land and in shallow water harness sunlight to grow biomass, which is devoured by creatures small and large, up the food chain to Sunday dinner. By this account, every animal on the planet would depend on plants to capture solar energy. Since plants disappear a few hundred feet below sea level, and everything goes dark a little farther down, there was no reason to expect a thriving ecosystem in the deep. Maybe a light snow of organic debris would trickle from the surface, but it would be enough to sustain only a few wayward aquatic drifters.

That theory capsized in 1977, when a pair of oceanographers began poking around the Pacific in a submersible vehicle. While exploring a range of underwater mountains near the Galápagos Islands, they spotted a hydrothermal vent about 8,000 feet deep. No one had ever seen an underwater hot spring before, though geologists suspected they might exist. As the oceanographers drew close to the vent, they made an even more startling discovery: A large congregation of animals was camped around the vent opening. These were not the feeble scavengers that one expected so far down. They were giant clams, purple octopuses, white crabs, and 10-foot tube worms, whose food chain began not with plants but with organic chemicals floating in the warm vent water.

For biologists, this was more than curious. It shook the foundation of their field. If a complex ecosystem could emerge in a landscape devoid of plants, evolution must be more than a heliological affair. Life could appear in perfect darkness, in blistering heat and a broth of noxious compounds—an environment that would extinguish every known creature on Earth. “That was the discovery event,” an evolutionary biologist named Timothy Shank told me. “It changed our view about the boundaries of life. Now we know that the methane lakes on one of Jupiter’s moons are probably laden with species, and there is no doubt life on other planetary bodies.”

Shank was 12 years old that winter, a bookish kid in North Carolina. The early romance of the space age was already beginning to fade, but the discovery of life near hydrothermal vents would inspire a blossoming of oceanography that captured his imagination. As he completed a degree in marine biology, then a doctorate in ecology and evolution, he consumed reports from scientists around the world who found new vents brimming with unknown species. They appeared far below the surface—the deepest known vent is about three miles down—while another geologic feature, known as a “cold seep,” gives rise to life in chemical pools even deeper on the seafloor. No one knew how far down the vents and seeps might be found, but Shank decided to focus his research on the deepest waters of the Earth.

Scientists divide the ocean into five layers of depth. Closest to the surface is the “sunlight zone,” where plants thrive; then comes the “twilight zone,” where darkness falls; next is the “midnight zone,” where some creatures generate their own light; and then there’s a frozen flatland known simply as “the abyss.” Oceanographers have visited these layers in submersible vehicles for half a century, but the final layer is difficult to reach. It is known as the “hadal zone,” in reference to Hades, the ancient Greek god of the underworld, and it includes any water that is at least 6,000 meters below the surface—or, in a more Vernian formulation, that is 20,000 feet under the sea. Because the hadal zone is so deep, it is usually associated with ocean trenches, but several deepwater plains have sections that cross into hadal depth.

Deepwater plains are also home to the polymetallic nodules that explorers first discovered a century and a half ago. Mineral companies believe that nodules will be easier to mine than other seabed deposits. To remove the metal from a hydrothermal vent or an underwater mountain, they will have to shatter rock in a manner similar to land-based extraction. Nodules are isolated chunks of rocks on the seabed that typically range from the size of a golf ball to that of a grapefruit, so they can be lifted from the sediment with relative ease. Nodules also contain a distinct combination of minerals. While vents and ridges are flecked with precious metal, such as silver and gold, the primary metals in nodules are copper, manganese, nickel, and cobalt—crucial materials in modern batteries. As iPhones and laptops and electric vehicles spike demand for those metals, many people believe that nodules are the best way to migrate from fossil fuels to battery power.

The ISA has issued more mining licenses for nodules than for any other seabed deposit. Most of these licenses authorize contractors to exploit a single deepwater plain. Known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, or CCZ, it extends across 1.7 million square miles between Hawaii and Mexico—wider than the continental United States. When the Mining Code is approved, more than a dozen companies will accelerate their explorations in the CCZ to industrial-scale extraction. Their ships and robots will use vacuum hoses to suck nodules and sediment from the seafloor, extracting the metal and dumping the rest into the water. How many ecosystems will be covered by that sediment is impossible to predict. Ocean currents fluctuate regularly in speed and direction, so identical plumes of slurry will travel different distances, in different directions, on different days. The impact of a sediment plume also depends on how it is released. Slurry that is dumped near the surface will drift farther than slurry pumped back to the bottom. The circulating draft of the Mining Code does not specify a depth of discharge. The ISA has adopted an estimate that sediment dumped near the surface will travel no more than 62 miles from the point of release, but many experts believe the slurry could travel farther. A recent survey of academic research compiled by Greenpeace concluded that mining waste “could travel hundreds or even thousands of kilometers.”

Like many deepwater plains, the CCZ has sections that lie at hadal depth. Its eastern boundary is marked by a hadal trench. No one knows whether mining sediment will drift into the hadal zone. As the director of a hadal-research program at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts, Timothy Shank has been studying the deep sea for almost 30 years. In 2014, he led an international mission to complete the first systematic study of the hadal ecosystem—but even Shank has no idea how mining could affect the hadal zone, because he still has no idea what it contains. If you want a sense of how little we know about the deep ocean, how difficult it is to study, and what’s at stake when industry leaps before science, Shank’s research is a good place to start.

Ifirst met shank about seven years ago, when he was organizing the international mission to survey the hadal zone. He had put together a three-year plan to visit every ocean trench: sending a robotic vehicle to explore their features, record every contour of topography, and collect specimens from each. The idea was either dazzling or delusional; I wasn’t sure which. Scientists have enough trouble measuring the seabed in shallower waters. They have used ropes and chains and acoustic instruments to record depth for more than a century, yet 85 percent of the global seabed remains unmapped—and the hadal is far more difficult to map than other regions, since it’s nearly impossible to see.

If it strikes you as peculiar that modern vehicles cannot penetrate the deepest ocean, take a moment to imagine what it means to navigate six or seven miles below the surface. Every 33 feet of depth exerts as much pressure as the atmosphere of the Earth, so when you are just 66 feet down, you are under three times as much pressure as a person on land, and when you are 300 feet down, you’re subjected to 10 atmospheres of pressure. Tube worms living beside hydrothermal vents near the Galápagos are compressed by about 250 atmospheres, and mining vehicles in the CCZ have to endure twice as much—but they are still just half as far down as the deepest trenches.

Building a vehicle to function at 36,000 feet, under 2 million pounds of pressure per square foot, is a task of interstellar-type engineering. It’s a good deal more rigorous than, say, bolting together a rover to skitter across Mars. Picture the schematic of an iPhone case that can be smashed with a sledgehammer more or less constantly, from every angle at once, without a trace of damage, and you’re in the ballpark—or just consider the fact that more people have walked on the moon than have reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on Earth.

The first two people descended in 1960, using a contraption owned by the U.S. Navy. It seized and shuddered on the descent. Its window cracked as the pressure mounted, and it landed with so much force that it kicked up a cloud of silt that obscured the view for the entire 20 minutes the pair remained on the bottom. Half a century passed before the film director James Cameron repeated their journey, in 2012. Unlike the swaggering billionaire Richard Branson, who was planning to dive the Mariana in a cartoonish vehicle shaped like a fighter jet, Cameron is well versed in ocean science and engineering. He was closely involved in the design of his submarine, and sacrificed stylistic flourishes for genuine innovations, including a new type of foam that maintains buoyancy at full ocean depth. Even so, his vessel lurched and bucked on the way down. He finally managed to land, and spent a couple of hours collecting sediment samples before he noticed that hydraulic fluid was leaking onto the window. The vehicle’s mechanical arm began to fail, and all of the thrusters on its right side went out—so he returned to the surface early, canceled his plan for additional dives, and donated the broken sub to Woods Hole.

A 3-D model of the Mariana Trench
A 3-D model of the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on Earth. Most of what we know about its topography has been gathered by sonar. Only three crewed expeditions have reached the bottom. (Data Design Co)
The most recent descent of the Mariana Trench was completed last spring by a private-equity investor named Victor Vescovo, who spent $48 million on a submarine that was even more sophisticated than Cameron’s. Vescovo was on a personal quest to reach the bottom of the five deepest trenches in the world, a project he called “Five Deeps.” He was able to complete the project, making multiple dives of the Mariana—but if his achievement represents a leap forward in hadal exploration, it also serves as a reminder of how impenetrable the trenches remain: a region that can be visited only by the most committed multimillionaire, Hollywood celebrity, or special military program, and only in isolated dives to specific locations that reveal little about the rest of the hadal environment. That environment is composed of 33 trenches and 13 shallower formations called troughs. Its total geographic area is about two-thirds the size of Australia. It is the least examined ecosystem of its size on Earth.Without a vehicle to explore the hadal zone, scientists have been forced to use primitive methods. The most common technique has scarcely changed in more than a century: Expedition ships chug across hundreds of miles to reach a precise location, then lower a trap, wait a few hours, and reel it up to see what’s inside. The limitations of this approach are self-evident, if not comic. It’s like dangling a birdcage out the door of an airplane crossing Africa at 36,000 feet, and then trying to divine, from the mangled bodies of insects, what sort of animals roam the savanna.All of which is to say that Shank’s plan to explore every trench in the world was somewhere between audacious and absurd, but he had assembled a team of the world’s leading experts, secured ship time for extensive missions, and spent 10 years supervising the design of the most advanced robotic vehicle ever developed for deepwater navigation. Called Nereus, after a mythological sea god, it could dive alone—charting a course amid rocky cliffs, measuring their contours with a doppler scanner, recording video with high-definition cameras, and collecting samples—or it could be linked to the deck of a ship with fiber-optic cable, allowing Shank to monitor its movement on a computer in the ship’s control room, boosting the thrusters to steer this way and that, piercing the darkness with its headlamps, and maneuvering a mechanical claw to gather samples in the deep.

I reached out to Shank in 2013, a few months before the expedition began. I wanted to write about the project, and he agreed to let me join him on a later leg. When his ship departed, in the spring of 2014, I followed online as it pursued a course to the Kermadec Trench, in the Pacific, and Shank began sending Nereus on a series of dives. On the first, it descended to 6,000 meters, a modest target on the boundary of the hadal zone. On the second, Shank pushed it to 7,000 meters; on the third to 8,000; and on the fourth to 9,000. He knew that diving to 10,000 meters would be a crucial threshold. It is the last full kilometer of depth on Earth: No trench is believed to be deeper than 11,000 meters. To commemorate this final increment and the successful beginning of his project, he attached a pair of silver bracelets to the frame of Nereus, planning to give them to his daughters when he returned home. Then he dropped the robot in the water and retreated to the control room to monitor its movements.

On-screen, blue water gave way to darkness as Nereus descended, its headlamps illuminating specks of debris suspended in the water. It was 10 meters shy of the 10,000-meter mark when suddenly the screen went dark. There was an audible gasp in the control room, but no one panicked. Losing the video feed on a dive was relatively common. Maybe the fiber-optic tether had snapped, or the software had hit a glitch. Whatever it was, Nereus had been programmed to respond with emergency measures. It could back out of a jam, shed expendable weight, guide itself to the surface, and send a homing beacon to help Shank’s team retrieve it.

As the minutes ticked by, Shank waited for those measures to activate, but none did. “There’s no sound, no implosion, no chime,” he told me afterward. “Just … black.” He paced the deck through the night, staring across the Stygian void for signs of Nereus. The following day he finally saw debris surface, and as he watched it rise, he felt his project sinking. Ten years of planning, a $14 million robot, and an international team of experts—it had all collapsed under the crushing pressure of hadal depths.

“I’m not over it yet,” he told me two years later. We were standing on the deck of another ship, 100 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, where Shank was preparing to launch a new robot. The vehicle was no replacement for Nereus. It was a rectilinear hunk of metal and plastic, about five feet high, three feet wide, and nine feet long. Red on top, with a silvery bottom and three fans mounted at the rear, it could have been mistaken for a child’s backyard spaceship. Shank had no illusion that it was capable of hadal exploration. Since the loss of Nereus, there was no vehicle on Earth that could navigate the deepest trenches—Cameron’s was no longer in service, Branson’s didn’t work, and Vescovo’s hadn’t yet been built.

Shank’s new robot did have a few impressive features. Its navigational system was even more advanced than the one in Nereus, and he hoped it would be able to maneuver in a trenchlike environment with even greater precision—but its body was not designed to withstand hadal pressure. In fact, it had never descended more than a few dozen feet below the surface, and Shank knew that it would take years to build something that could survive at the bottom of a trench. What had seemed, just two years earlier, like the beginning of a new era in hadal science was developing a quixotic aspect, and, at 50, Shank could not help wondering if it was madness to spend another decade of his life on a dream that seemed to be drifting further from his reach. But he was driven by a lifelong intuition that he still couldn’t shake. Shank believes that access to the trenches will reveal one of the greatest discoveries in history: a secret ecosystem bursting with creatures that have been cloistered for eternity in the deep.

“I would be shocked if there aren’t vents and seeps in the trenches,” he told me as we bobbed on the water that day in 2016. “They’ll be there, and they will be teeming with life. I think we’ll be looking at hundreds or thousands of species we haven’t seen before, and some of them are going to be huge.” He pictured the hadal as an alien world that followed its own evolutionary course, the unimaginable pressure creating a menagerie of inconceivable beasts. “My time is running out to find them,” he said. “Maybe my legacy will be to push things forward so that somebody else can. We have a third of our ocean that we still can’t explore. It’s embarrassing. It’s pathetic.”

While scientists struggle to reach the deep ocean, human impact has already gotten there. Most of us are familiar with the menu of damages to coastal water: overfishing, oil spills, and pollution, to name a few. What can be lost in the discussion of these issues is how they reverberate far beneath.

Take fishing. The relentless pursuit of cod in the early 20th century decimated its population from Newfoundland to New England, sending hungry shoppers in search of other options. As shallow-water fish such as haddock, grouper, and sturgeon joined the cod’s decline, commercial fleets around the world pushed into deeper water. Until the 1970s, the slimehead fish lived in relative obscurity, patrolling the slopes of underwater mountains in water up to 6,000 feet deep. Then a consortium of fishermen pushed the Food and Drug Administration to change its name, and the craze for “orange roughy” began—only to fade again in the early 2000s, when the fish was on a path toward extinction itself.

Environmental damage from oil production is also migrating into deeper water. Disturbing photographs of oil-drenched beaches have captured public attention since at least 1989, when the Exxon Valdez tanker crashed into a reef and leaked 11 million gallons into an Alaskan sound. It would remain the largest spill in U.S. water until 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon explosion spewed 210 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico. But a recent study revealed that the release of chemicals to disperse the spill was twice as toxic as the oil to animals living 3,000 feet below the surface.

Maybe the greatest alarm in recent years has followed the discovery of plastic floating in the ocean. Scientists estimate that 17 billion pounds of polymer are flushed into the ocean each year, and substantially more of it collects on the bottom than on the surface. Just as a bottle that falls from a picnic table will roll downhill to a gulch, trash on the seafloor gradually makes its way toward deepwater plains and hadal trenches. After his expedition to the trenches, Victor Vescovo returned with the news that garbage had beaten him there. He found a plastic bag at the bottom of one trench, a beverage can in another, and when he reached the deepest point in the Mariana, he watched an object with a large S on the side float past his window. Trash of all sorts is collecting in the hadal—Spam tins, Budweiser cans, rubber gloves, even a mannequin head.

Scientists are just beginning to understand the impact of trash on aquatic life. Fish and seabirds that mistake grocery bags for prey will glut their stomachs with debris that their digestive system can’t expel. When a young whale drifted ashore and died in the Philippines in 2019, an autopsy revealed that its belly was packed with 88 pounds of plastic bags, nylon rope, and netting. Two weeks later, another whale beached in Sardinia, its stomach crammed with 48 pounds of plastic dishes and tubing. Certain types of coral like to eat plastic more than food. They will gorge themselves like a kid on Twinkies instead of eating what they need to survive. Microbes that flourish on plastic have ballooned in number, replacing other species as their population explodes in a polymer ocean.

If it seems trivial to worry about the population statistics of bacteria in the ocean, you may be interested to know that ocean microbes are essential to human and planetary health. About a third of the carbon dioxide generated on land is absorbed by underwater organisms, including one species that was just discovered in the CCZ in 2018. The researchers who found that bacterium have no idea how it removes carbon from the environment, but their findings show that it may account for up to 10 percent of the volume that is sequestered by oceans every year.

Many of the things we do know about ocean microbes, we know thanks to Craig Venter, the genetic scientist most famous for starting a small company in the 1990s to compete with the Human Genome Project. The two-year race between his company and the international collaboration generated endless headlines and culminated in a joint announcement at the White House to declare a tie. But Venter’s interest wasn’t limited to human DNA. He wanted to learn the language of genetics in order to create synthetic microbes with practical features. After his work on the human genome, he spent two years sailing around the world, lowering bottles into the ocean to collect bacteria and viruses from the water. By the time he returned, he had discovered hundreds of thousands of new species, and his lab in Maryland proceeded to sequence their DNA—identifying more than 60 million unique genes, which is about 2,500 times the number in humans. Then he and his team began to scour those genes for properties they could use to make custom bugs.

Venter now lives in a hypermodern house on a bluff in Southern California. Chatting one evening on the sofa beside the door to his walk-in humidor and wine cellar, he described how saltwater microbes could help solve the most urgent problems of modern life. One of the bacteria he pulled from the ocean consumes carbon and excretes methane. Venter would like to integrate its genes into organisms designed to live in smokestacks and recycle emissions. “They could scrub the plant’s CO2 and convert it to methane that can be burned as fuel in the same plant,” he said.

Venter was also studying bacteria that could be useful in medicine. Microbes produce a variety of antibiotic compounds, which they deploy as weapons against their rivals. Many of those compounds can also be used to kill the pathogens that infect humans. Nearly all of the antibiotic drugs on the market were initially derived from microorganisms, but they are losing efficacy as pathogens evolve to resist them. “We have new drugs in development,” Matt McCarthy, an infectious-disease specialist at Weill Cornell Medical College, told me, “but most of them are slight variations on the ones we already had. The problem with that is, they’re easy for bacteria to resist, because they’re similar to something bacteria have developed resistance to in the past. What we need is an arsenal of new compounds.”

Venter pointed out that ocean microbes produce radically different compounds from those on land. “There are more than a million microbes per milliliter of seawater,” he said, “so the chance of finding new antibiotics in the marine environment is high.” McCarthy agreed. “The next great drug may be hidden somewhere deep in the water,” he said. “We need to get to the deep-sea organisms, because they’re making compounds that we’ve never seen before. We may find drugs that could be used to treat gout, or rheumatoid arthritis, or all kinds of other conditions.”

Marine biologists have never conducted a comprehensive survey of microbes in the hadal trenches. The conventional tools of water sampling cannot function at extreme depth, and engineers are just beginning to develop tools that can. Microbial studies of the deepwater plains are slightly further along—and scientists have recently discovered that the CCZ is unusually flush with life. “It’s one of the most biodiverse areas that we’ve ever sampled on the abyssal plains,” a University of Hawaii oceanographer named Jeff Drazen told me. Most of those microbes, he said, live on the very same nodules that miners are planning to extract. “When you lift them off the seafloor, you’re removing a habitat that took 10 million years to grow.” Whether or not those microbes can be found in other parts of the ocean is unknown. “A lot of the less mobile organisms,” Drazen said, “may not be anywhere else.”

Drazen is an academic ecologist; Venter is not. Venter has been accused of trying to privatize the human genome, and many of his critics believe his effort to create new organisms is akin to playing God. He clearly doesn’t have an aversion to profit-driven science, and he’s not afraid to mess with nature—yet when I asked him about the prospect of mining in deep water, he flared with alarm. “We should be very careful about mining in the ocean,” he said. “These companies should be doing rigorous microbial surveys before they do anything else. We only know a fraction of the microbes down there, and it’s a terrible idea to screw with them before we know what they are and what they do.”

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone is a deepwater plain wider than the continental United States. When the Mining Code is approved, more than a dozen contractors could begin commercial extraction there. (La Tigre)

Mining executives insist that their work in the ocean is misunderstood. Some adopt a swaggering bravado and portray the industry as a romantic frontier adventure. As the manager of exploration at Nautilus Minerals, John Parianos, told me recently, “This is about every man and his dog filled with the excitement of the moon landing. It’s like Scott going to the South Pole, or the British expeditions who got entombed by ice.”

Nautilus occupies a curious place in the mining industry. It is one of the oldest companies at work on the seafloor, but also the most precarious. Although it has a permit from the government of Papua New Guinea to extract metal from offshore vents, many people on the nearby island of New Ireland oppose the project, which will destroy part of their marine habitat. Local and international activists have whipped up negative publicity, driving investors away and sending the company into financial ruin. Nautilus stock once traded for $4.45. It is now less than a penny per share.Parianos acknowledged that Nautilus was in crisis, but he dismissed the criticism as naive. Seabed minerals are no different from any other natural resource, he said, and the use of natural resources is fundamental to human progress. “Look around you: Everything that’s not grown is mined,” he told me. “That’s why they called it the Stone Age—because it’s when they started mining! And mining is what made our lives better than what they had before the Stone Age.” Parianos emphasized that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which created the International Seabed Authority, promised “to ensure effective protection for the marine environment” from the effects of mining. “It’s not like the Law of the Sea says: Go out and ravage the marine environment,” he said. “But it also doesn’t say that you can only explore the ocean for science, and not to make money.”The CEO of a company called DeepGreen spoke in loftier terms. DeepGreen is both a product of Nautilus Minerals and a reaction to it. The company was founded in 2011 by David Heydon, who had founded Nautilus a decade earlier, and its leadership is full of former Nautilus executives and investors. As a group, they have sought to position DeepGreen as a company whose primary interest in mining the ocean is saving the planet. They have produced a series of lavish brochures to explain the need for a new source of battery metals, and Gerard Barron, the CEO, speaks with animated fervor about the virtues of nodule extraction.

His case for seabed mining is straightforward. Barron believes that the world will not survive if we continue burning fossil fuels, and the transition to other forms of power will require a massive increase in battery production. He points to electric cars: the batteries for a single vehicle require 187 pounds of copper, 123 pounds of nickel, and 15 pounds each of manganese and cobalt. On a planet with 1 billion cars, the conversion to electric vehicles would require several times more metal than all existing land-based supplies—and harvesting that metal from existing sources already takes a human toll. Most of the world’s cobalt, for example, is mined in the southeastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where tens of thousands of young children work in labor camps, inhaling clouds of toxic dust during shifts up to 24 hours long. Terrestrial mines for nickel and copper have their own litany of environmental harms. Because the ISA is required to allocate some of the profits from seabed mining to developing countries, the industry will provide nations that rely on conventional mining with revenue that doesn’t inflict damage on their landscapes and people.

Whether DeepGreen represents a shift in the values of mining companies or merely a shift in marketing rhetoric is a valid question—but the company has done things that are difficult to dismiss. It has developed technology that returns sediment discharge to the seafloor with minimal disruption, and Barron is a regular presence at ISA meetings, where he advocates for regulations to mandate low-impact discharge. DeepGreen has also limited its operations to nodule mining, and Barron openly criticizes the effort by his friends at Nautilus to demolish a vent that is still partially active. “The guys at Nautilus, they’re doing their thing, but I don’t think it’s the right thing for the planet,” he told me. “We need to be doing things that have a low impact environmentally.”

By the time i sat down with Michael Lodge, the secretary general of the ISA, I had spent a lot of time thinking about the argument that executives like Barron are making. It seemed to me that seabed mining presents an epistemological problem. The harms of burning fossil fuels and the impact of land-based mining are beyond dispute, but the cost of plundering the ocean is impossible to know. What creatures are yet to be found on the seafloor? How many indispensable cures? Is there any way to calculate the value of a landscape we know virtually nothing about? The world is full of uncertain choices, of course, but the contrast between options is rarely so stark: the crisis of climate change and immiserated labor on the one hand, immeasurable risk and potential on the other.

I thought of the hadal zone. It may never be harmed by mining. Sediment from dredging on the abyssal plains could settle long before it reaches the edge of a trench—but the total obscurity of the hadal should remind us of how little we know. It extends from 20,000 feet below sea level to roughly 36,000 feet, leaving nearly half of the ocean’s depths beyond our reach. When I visited Timothy Shank at Woods Hole a few months ago, he showed me a prototype of his latest robot. He and his lead engineer, Casey Machado, had built it with foam donated by James Cameron and with support from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whose engineers are hoping to send a vehicle to explore the aqueous moon of Jupiter. It was a tiny machine, known as Orpheus, that could steer through trenches, recording topography and taking samples, but little else. He would have no way to direct its movements or monitor its progress via a video feed. It occurred to me that if Shank had given up the dream of true exploration in the trenches, decades could pass before we know what the hadal zone contains.

Mining companies may promise to extract seabed metal with minimal damage to the surrounding environment, but to believe this requires faith. It collides with the force of human history, the law of unintended consequences, and the inevitability of mistakes. I wanted to understand from Michael Lodge how a UN agency had made the choice to accept that risk.

“Why is it necessary to mine the ocean?” I asked him.

He paused for a moment, furrowing his brow. “I don’t know why you use the word necessary,” he said. “Why is it ‘necessary’ to mine anywhere? You mine where you find metal.”

I reminded him that centuries of mining on land have exacted a devastating price: tropical islands denuded, mountaintops sheared off, groundwater contaminated, and species eradicated. Given the devastation of land-based mining, I asked, shouldn’t we hesitate to mine the sea?

“I don’t believe people should worry that much,” he said with a shrug. “There’s certainly an impact in the area that’s mined, because you are creating an environmental disturbance, but we can find ways to manage that.” I pointed out that the impact from sediment could travel far beyond the mining zone, and he responded, “Sure, that’s the other major environmental concern. There is a sediment plume, and we need to manage it. We need to understand how the plume operates, and there are experiments being done right now that will help us.” As he spoke, I realized that for Lodge, none of these questions warranted reflection—or anyway, he didn’t see reflection as part of his job. He was there to facilitate mining, not to question the wisdom of doing so.

We chatted for another 20 minutes, then I thanked him for his time and wandered back to the assembly room, where delegates were delivering canned speeches about marine conservation and the promise of battery technology. There was still some debate about certain details of the Mining Code—technical requirements, oversight procedures, the profit-sharing model—so the vote to ratify it would have to wait another year. I noticed a group of scientists watching from the back. They were members of the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative, which formed in 2013 to confront threats to the deepwater environment. One was Jeff Drazen. He’d flown in from Hawaii and looked tired. I sent him a text, and we stepped outside.

A few tables and chairs were scattered in the courtyard, and we sat down to talk. I asked how he felt about the delay of the Mining Code—delegates are planning to review it again this summer, and large-scale mining could begin after that.

Drazen rolled his eyes and sighed. “There’s a Belgian team in the CCZ doing a component test right now,” he said. “They’re going to drive a vehicle around on the seafloor and spew a bunch of mud up. So these things are already happening. We’re about to make one of the biggest transformations that humans have ever made to the surface of the planet. We’re going to strip-mine a massive habitat, and once it’s gone, it isn’t coming back.”

 

[Wil S. Hylton is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. He has published cover stories for many outlets including The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Harper’s, Details, New York, and Outside.]

WATCH: Salmonopoly [Marine Harvest & WWF, Chile]

marine-harvest-john-fredriksen-wwf

A film by Wilfried Huismann and Arno Schumann.

“Long-term investment in sustainability and the environment is the only way forward. With this commitment Marine Harvest is showing how environmental sustainability is a precondition for economic sustainability, and that they take global leadership to minimise their impact on the environment.” — Nina Jensen, CEO of WWF Norway

The risks and catastrophic results of aquaculture. The dirty tricks of powerful billionaires like John Fredriksen, who controls one third of the global salmon production. The WWF who greenwashes the ecological devastation and horrific plunder.

Marine Harvest is the largest salmon company in the world. It is headed by John Fredriksen (Marine Harvest’s biggest shareholder), a billionaire who has developed salmon farms in Norway and Chile. But in Chile, with weaker environmental legislation, a fatal disease for salmon has developed. Working conditions are also catastrophic for employees and sometimes fatal for local divers. To improve its image, Marine Harvest negotiated a contract with WWF for $ 100,000 a year. [Le Festival international de films “Pêcheurs du monde”]

 

 
Further Reading:

WATCH: Salmon Confidential [Marine Harvest & WWF, British Columbia]

Blue-washing the Colonization and Militarization of Our Ocean

How U.S. Marine National Monuments protect environmentally harmful U.S. military bases throughout the Pacific and the world.

The Hawaii Independent

June 26, 2014

by Craig Santos Perez

b-1_bombers_on_diego_garcia__large

B-1 bombers on Diego Garcia

President Obama recently announced plans to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles. Despite the media framing this move as a victory for ocean conservation, the truth is that these monuments will further colonize, militarize and privatize the Pacific.

Many mistakenly refer to marine “monuments” as “sanctuaries” because they are both “marine protected areas.” However, an official sanctuary is designated by the Secretary of Commerce under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, which requires “extensive public process, local community engagement, stakeholder involvement, and citizen participation, both prior to and following designation.”  On the other hand, the President unilaterally designates marine monuments through the Antiquities Act of 1906. No public process is required.

The first and largest Marine National Monument was established in 2006: The Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument (140,000 square miles). Three more marine monuments were established in 2009: The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (95,000 square miles); The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (87,000 square miles); and The Rose Atoll Marine National Monument (13,000 square miles). The total “protected” area, with Obama’s expansion, would be more than a million square miles of “small islands, atolls, coral reefs, submerged lands, and deep blue waters.”

Why has this antiquited, unilateral process suddenly become so popular? Why are U.S. presidents from both sides of the political divide side-stepping Congressional approval and—more importantly—public participation and scrutiny?

It’s important to understand that establishing a marine national monument, reserve, or refuge places our coastal and open ocean waters under federal control. The marine monuments are administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (under the Department of Commerce) or by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (under the Department of the Interior). This ocean and submerged land grab by the federal government severely limits public access and trust. Additionally, these monuments violate the rights of indigenous peoples by separating us from our sacred spaces. Traditional fishing grounds or ritual spaces may no longer be accessible. If there are exceptions for indigenous rites, we will need to apply for a permit and receive federal approval.

How Do Marine Reserves Militarize the Ocean?

As I wrote about in a previous editorial, the U.S. military removed the original landowners of Litekyan (Ritidian), an area in northern Guam, under eminent domain in 1963, and the Navy used the area as a communications station during the Cold War. Thirty years later, 1,000 acres of the land was deemed “excess.” Instead of that land being returned to the families, it was transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and designated a “National Wildlife Refuge.” Today, four thousand acres of Litekyan is now being considered for a live firing range complex.

You see, designating land and water as a monument, refuge, reserve, or even sanctuary keeps the land under federal control as opposed to public (and indigenous) trust. So if the military ever wants to use the land in the future, it can simply be converted (or re-converted in the case of Litekyan) from the Department of the Interior or Commerce to the Department of Defense. This is the “logic of military conservation.”

Many marine monuments house strategic military bases. For example, the marine monuments of the Pacific are home to U.S. bases on Guam, Tinian, Saipan, Rota, Farallon de Medinilla, Wake Island and Johnston Island, to name a few. The reason why military bases can be within marine monuments is because “nothing in the proclamations impairs or otherwise affects the activities of the Department of Defense. Among other things, the DoD is ensured full freedom of navigation in accordance with the law of the sea, and the U.S. Navy can continue effective training to maintain its antisubmarine warfare and other capabilities.” In other words, the military is exempt from most environmental regulations and prohibitions.

Ironically, the public may no longer be allowed to fish in these “protected” areas because it might affect the fragile ocean ecosystem, yet the military can conduct weapons training and testing. Remember, marine monuments are not designed to protect the ocean from the U.S. military, one of the worst polluters in the world. In fact the opposite is true: they are designed to allow easier military access. As activists in Hawai’i know, these national monuments could become “watery graves” for endangered species when military training occurs.

Besides providing more federally controlled space for the U.S. military to train, marine monuments give military bases another layer of secrecy from the public. This buffer strategy is spreading to other nations. During the meeting of the U.S. State Department sponsored Our Ocean conference last week in Washington DC, other countries announced similar plans to federalize massive ocean areas, including Palau, Kiribati, the Cook Islands and the Bahamas. These new marine reserves will become military sanctuaries, buffer zones and watery bases for the U.S. military as it forcefully positions itself in the Asia-Pacific region (and uses “illegal fishing” as justification to militarize these marine reserves).

We need to be critical of these efforts. Read about what happened to the Cayos Cochinos, an island group in the Carribean off Honduras, during the twenty years after they were declared a “protected area.” The Afro-Indigenous Garifuna peoples have been displaced from their lands and fishing grounds. Tourism developers and other private industries have invested in and exploited the islands. And, you guessed it, the U.S. military is using the area for basing and training, providing millions of dollars of aid to the Honduras government. This is what will happen to countries that ally with the U.S. in this colonial conservation scheme.

In 2009, Britian designated a marine protected area around the Chagos islands. However, the waters around the island of Diego Garcia, which is the site of one of the most secretive overseas U.S. military bases, was exempted. How bizarre: a secretive U.S. military base in the Indian Ocean surrounded by a 200-mile marine preserve controlled by the British government. Peter Sand, in “The Chagos Archipelago: Footprint of Empire, or World Heritage?”, pointedly asks whether these new marine reserves are “an anachronistic example of ‘environmental imperialism’, or evidence of an equally outdated variant of ‘fortress conservation’ that disregards human rights under the noble guise of nature protection.” Either way, the Chagossians who were removed from their islands may never be able to return.

How do Private Corporations Benefit from Marine Monuments?

As I mentioned before, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is under the Department of Commerce (DOC). Does that seem strange to you? It certainly seems strange to Obama, when he joked during his 2011 State of the Union address: “The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater.” Obama wants to move NOAA to the Department of the Interior.

Joking aside, it actually makes perfect (or perverse) sense that NOAA remains in DOC, which promotes trade and economic development. A few years ago, then Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton dubbed the 21st century: “America’s Pacific Century.” This strategic turn aims to expand trade, investment, and militarization throughout the Asia-Pacific region. The cornerstone of America’s Pacific Century is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement that has been described as “NAFTA on steroids.” As Clinton stated, the continued economic growth of the region depends on the “security and stability that has long been guaranteed by the U.S. military.” It is not surprising that TPP negotiations, as well as militarization proposals in the Pacific, intensified around the same time that President Bush designated the first marine monument in 2006.

So what are these economic opportunities, and what does the TPP have to do with the surge of marine national monuments and reserves designated by the U.S. federal government and its allies?

First, the more military sanctuaries the U.S. has around the world, the more federal tax money will be spent to secure these areas for investment, which means more profit for the military industrial complex and private defense firms.

Second, does something smell fishy? The justification for many of these marine reserves is to prevent illegal fishing and fish fraud, especially from China. With a massive fleet of 2,000 distant-water, state-subsidized fishing vessels, China catches nearly five tons of fish a year, worth more than $10 billion—some legally and some illegally. In contrast, nearly 90 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported. By establishing marine monuments, and encouraging its allies in the Pacific to do the same, the U.S. could effectively shut out China from Pacific tuna waters. In turn, private U.S. tuna corporations could negotiate contracts with Pacific allied nations to develop Pacific fisheries or to obtain exclusive fishing rights within the marine reserves (as well as access to cheap labor and canneries). This comes at a time when foreign-owned and American-owned canned-tuna companies are battling for control over our kids’ school lunches. Billions of dollars of tuna are on the plate.

Third, wherever you find a national monument, you will find a tourism industry. The Cayos Cochinos is a prime example. The government that controls the marine monument can permit private companies to operate tourism centers, hotels, eco-adventures—all in the name of development and jobs. The concessions throughout the U.S. National Park Service are owned and operated by private companies, which gross over $1 billion annually. There are more than 500 companies, from food to lodging to adventure sports to retail, that have contracts with the National Parks. Of course, the entire National Park system was one way of displacing Native American presence on these lands.

Fourth, the Pacific has long been a “laboratory” for Western science and technology. Since another justification for marine reserves is scientific research, then we will see many more unprecedented grants for oceanography research. This research can be transformed into profit by private industries, such as deep-sea mining, geo-thermal energy, open-ocean (genetically modified) aquaculture, and pharmaceutical drugs derived from ocean microbial bacteria.

New Zealand established a Marine Mammal Sanctuary in 2008 to protect engangered dolphins, yet it is now considering opening the area up for oil drilling. This is not a contradiction; this is exactly what these conservation schemes are designed for.

Lastly, do you want to see Avatar 2 with me when it comes out? In 2012, James Cameron dived in a submarine to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on earth, which is protected by the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. He lit up the trench with an eight-foot tower of LED lighting to film 3D footage. In another celebrity sighting, Leonardo DiCaprio made a cameo at the State Department’s Our Ocean conference, donating $7 milllion towards marine reserves. Apparently, he’s a diving enthusiast.

What is Blue-Washing?

In the 21st century, national marine momunents, marine parks, marine preserves, marine refuges, marine sanctuaries and their other iterations are instruments that empower the federal government to take land and water away from indigenous and public access, scrutiny, and trust. The “marine monuments” are especially dangerous because they do not require—nor are they accountable to—legislative or public comment, engagement, or approval.

As David Vine, in “Environmental Protection of Bases,” notes: “For all the benefits that marine protection areas might bring, governments are using environmentalism as a cover to protect the long-term life of environmentally harmful bases. The designation also helps governments hold onto strategic territories.” Furthermore, these designations give the governments of the U.S. and its neoliberal allies the power to create contracts with private corporations to exploit the resources of our ocean for profit and not for the public good. Let’s call this a form of “Blue-washing.”

The word “monument” comes from the Latin, monumentum, meaning “grave” or “memorial.” If our oceans continue to become national marine monuments, our blue ocean will indeed become a watery grave, a memorial to the beauty, richness, and biodiversity that once was.

 

Further reading:

Mauritian socialists’ open letter to Greenpeace — `Don’t help cover up colonialism’s crimes on Diego Garcia’

Inside the lonely fight against the biggest environmental problem you’ve never heard of

In 2011, an ecologist released an alarming study showing that tiny clothing fibers could be the biggest source of plastic in our oceans. The bigger problem? No one wanted to hear it

by Mary Catherine O’Connor

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Ecologist Mark Browne takes samples from the shoreline. His pioneering work on microfiber waste has received little support from clothing brands. Photo: Mark Browne

Ecologist Mark Browne knew he’d found something big when, after months of tediously examining sediment along shorelines around the world, he noticed something no one had predicted: fibers. Everywhere. They were tiny and synthetic and he was finding them in the greatest concentration near sewage outflows. In other words, they were coming from us.

In fact, 85% of the human-made material found on the shoreline were microfibers, and matched the types of material, such as nylon and acrylic, used in clothing.

It is not news that microplastic – which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines as plastic fragments 5mm or smaller – is ubiquitous in all five major ocean gyres. And numerous studies have shown that small organisms readily ingest microplastics, introducing toxic pollutants to the food chain.

But Browne’s 2011 paper announcing his findings marked a milestone, according to Abigail Barrows, an independent marine research scientist based in Stonington, Maine, who has helped to check for plastic in more than 150 one-liter water samples collected around the world. “He’s fantastic – very well respected” among marine science researchers, says Barrows. “He is a pioneer in microplastics research.”

By sampling wastewater from domestic washing machines, Browne estimated that around 1,900 individual fibers can be rinsed off a single synthetic garment – ending up in our oceans.

microfibers
Tiny plastic fibers taken from a water sample in Blue Hill Bay in the gulf of Maine. Photograph: Marine Environmental Research Institute

Alarmed by his findings, Browne reached out to prominent clothing brands for help. He sought partnerships to try to determine the flow of synthetic fibers from clothing to the washing machine to the ocean. He also hoped his research might help develop better textile design to prevent the migration of toxic fibers into water systems.

The reaction wasn’t what he expected.

nike bicep ceres

Both Nike and Patagonia are BICEP (Ceres) members. The Ceres Coalition represents: the Ceres Network Companies, Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR) (publicly launched in November 2003 at the first Institutional Investor Summit on Climate Risk held at the United Nations) and Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP: a coalition of more than 20 leading consumer brand corporations.) [Further reading: “Climate Wealth” Opportunists]

He contacted leaders in the outdoor apparel industry – big purveyors of synthetic fabrics – including Patagonia, Nike and Polartec. But none of these companies agreed to lend support.

“Perhaps it’s my pitch,” Browne joked. “We want to look for new, more durable materials that do not emit so much microplastic.”

In 2013, Brown presented his vision for a program called Benign by Design, backed by a team of engineers and scientists from academic institutions around the world as well as from the Environmental Protection Agency. The group’s goal is to help the industry tackle the problem of synthetic microfiber migration into waterways and marine ecosystems. He proposed creating a range of working groups where scientists and industry representatives would work together to develop synthetic materials that do not shed synthetic fibers – or do so minimally but are still cost-effective, high-performing and, if possible, rely on recycled materials.

Only one firm, women’s clothing brand Eileen Fisher, offered to support him. The company’s $10,000 grant has supported a section of Browne’s research over the past year.

“Any lifecycle issue, especially when it’s about a huge consumer product like clothing, is important,” says Shona Quinn, sustainability leader with Eileen Fisher. “[Browne] is raising an issue no one else has been studying.”

While Browne sees the grant as a validation of his efforts, 90% of the products Eileen Fisher sells are made of natural fibers. He’s still hoping to find a clothing company that will collaborate on research and development of new synthetic fabrics that will not shed microfibers.

While pitching his idea at the Launch innovation conference, Browne spoke to Jim Zieba, vice president of Polartec’s advanced concepts and business development group. In a follow-up email, Browne asked if Zeiba could provide him with polymers from Polartec textiles so that Browne could grow the database of materials he maintains to help discern the unidentified fibers in his samples. He did not hear back from Zeiba.

Polartec-SS15_400x341px

Allon Cohne, global marketing director at Polartec, says he’s familiar with Browne and his research, but that Polartec has already done an internal study to analyze the effluent at its Lawrence, Massachusetts, manufacturing plant. Aside from characterizing the amount of microfibers contained in the effluent as “minimal”, Cohne said he could not publicly share the study or any details – such as what minimal means.

Browne says he’s glad to hear that Polartec conducted a study, but maintains that any truly scientific study would be open to peer review. (As it happens, the words “Committed to Science” are currently presented on Polartec’s website, above a video describing Polatec’s approach to fabric innovation.)

Patagonia, a company known for its strong environmental ethic and sustainable manufacturing processes, has also declined to work with Browne. The company’s strategic environmental responsibility manager, Todd Copeland, says the company considers Browne’s findings too preliminary to commit resources directly to a project like Benign by Design, until it sees more solid evidence that specific types of products or materials, such as fleece jackets or polyester base layers, are contributing to a major environmental threat. “I don’t know how much effort we want to spend looking for the solution before we know where the problem is,” Copeland says.

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Founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard

Browne says that, without industry support, he doesn’t know how he can move ahead with his efforts to address microfiber migration from textiles at their source.

“I think [clothing companies] have all put a lot of marketing money into environmental programs, but I’ve not seen evidence that they’ve put much money into research,” says Browne.

In fact, Patagonia maintains a policy to not directly support research, its spokesman Adam Fetcher told me. Instead, it supports non-profit groups doing environmental advocacy work. Over the past five years, Patagonia has awarded close to $70,000 in grants to groups focused on the microplastics pollution issue. These include Algalita Marine Research Foundation (founded by captain Charles Moore, who first raised the issue of microplastics in oceans), 5 Gyres, and Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC), with whom Abigail Barrows works to collect surface water samples from around the world for her research into microfibers.

Abigail Barrows
Microplastic researcher Abigail Barrows draws water samples from a lobster boat. Photograph: Veronica Young

Perhaps Browne would have more luck if he were an environmental advocate rather than a scientist.

Still, Gregg Treinish, ASC executive director, says he would need to raise a great deal more money to fund the level of research he feels microfibers deserve. “Determining what type of plastic is in the water is hard and expensive – up to $1000 per sample.”

Bad chemistry

Browne’s difficulty in finding companies to cooperate might be compounded by the fact that the industry that is already under scrutiny for different environmental issues. According to the World Bank, textile manufacturing generates up to 20% of industrial wastewater in China, and a number of environmental groups, chiefly Greenpeace, have launched campaigns to pressure clothing makers to rid their supply chains of toxic chemicals, such as perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) used in textile processing. PFCs are linked to environmental toxicity and human health problems, and Kevin Brigden, a chemist and Greenpeace honorary research fellow, says some manufacturers are finally beginning to phase them out.

But Brigden fears microfibers released from synthetic fibers could just as chemically hazardous. “Some chemicals are very water soluble, so they wash out [into wastewater during textile manufacturing],” Brigden says. “Others are less soluble so they take time to wash off. If fabrics break down then [microfibers] are another pathway for those [chemicals into the environment].”

Those fighting the use of microbeads in beauty products are finding more traction, Barrows says, because phasing them out is straightforward. Getting rid of synthetic fibers, on the other hand, would be extremely difficult. Not only are synthetic fabrics durable and versatile, but they can have smaller water and energy footprint than natural fabrics. “Synthetic fabrics have many great applications,” Barrows concedes, and determining how to measure their environmental impacts is an overwhelming challenge.

Other sources, other solutions

Polartec’s Cohne argues that too much emphasis is being placed on the clothing industry and that carpet and upholstery manufactures ought to be considered as equally important sources of synthetic microfiber runoff in the industrial sector. Professional carpet cleaners might be another vector.

Cohne also believes more onus should be put on washing machine manufacturers to find ways to capture the clothing fibers so that they do not ultimately enter wastewater treatment systems.

Browne has reached out to appliance manufacturers Siemens, Dyson (which sells washing machines in Europe), and LG, hoping to engage their design or research teams in a discussion about how they might be able to develop microfiber filters to prevent them from entering the water.

None has responded.

However, a Canadian tinkerer turned entrepreneur named Blair Jollimore is working on a solution. After his septic tank backed up and flooded his home, he discovered the main culprit was lint from his washing machine. So the former airplane engine mechanic, based in Nova Scotia, created a filter for his home laundry machine. “I’m a mechanical engineer, so I modified a water filter and added stainless steel screen,” says Jollimore. “I’ve been using it for 14 years.”

In 2003, some of his neighbors who were also having septic tank problems asked if he could make filters for their machines, too, and a home business was born. Jollimore has sold more than 1,000 of his filters to homeowners from England to Hawaii and now, with Browne’s encouragement, is preparing to pitch his filter to appliance makers as a way to rid wastewater of microfibers.

While he has found a screen that would capture strands down to 1 micron – necessary to stop all microfibers – he is still experimenting with what forcing water through such a fine filter could do to laundry machine function. “Every bit of dirt in your laundry would be captured, so it would back up the process,” he says.

As for capturing the fibers at their next stop, wastewater treatment plants, Browne is not optimistic. He says he has conferred with many engineers who work in sewage treatment and none of them thinks removing fibers – or microbeads, which enter wastewater through residential plumbing – is viable. Besides, he says, even if those microplastics were removed from the liquid waste, they would end up in sludge, which in some places ends up being turned into fertilizers. In those cases, the plastics would still enter the ecosystem, and conceivably the food chain.

Browne concedes that more research is required to better understand the sources and impacts of synthetic microfibers in the environment, and he wishes he could get the clothing companies on his side. “The [textile] people I’ve talked to have not been trained environmental scientists, they’re more often marketing people.”

“Industry is saying, ‘you just have to do more work on it’. But that will require someone to support it,” he says. “It seems to be a way of avoiding dealing with the problem.”

 

[Mary Catherine O’Connor is an independent reporter and co-founder of Climate Confidential.]

 


The (Illusory) Green Economy – A Critical Analysis by Dr.Joanna Boehnert

The work of environmental scientists supporting the UN’s GEP will give scientific authority the project, but the important decisions will have already been made. The project is a deepening commitment to neoliberal free markets. On a macroeconomic level “the subordination of social and environmental considerations to macroeconomic policy imperatives” is the fundamental basis of neoliberalism (Nadal, 2012, p.15). Once “macroeconomic objectives are determined, every other policy target is chiseled in accordance” (Ibid., p. 15). The lessons of the recent economic crisis in regards to the fallibility of the financial sector are entirely ignored.

 

The architects of the project have failed to acknowledge the most expansive systemic dynamics of capitalism and ignored the political and historic context. Despite claims by the UNEP, the UN’s GEP is not policy neutral (Ibid., p. 23).

 

The UN’s GEP is supported by the financial and corporate sectors because they recognize the programme as a continuation of the neoliberal model, an expansion of the scope of market and also an exceptional opportunity to create entirely new financial instruments. Similarly to the financial deregulation that set up conditions for the dramatic plunder of public wealth during the current economic crisis, the UN’s GEP establishes new markets that will lead to new avenues for financial speculation. The speculative bubble during the 2008-2009 period has been estimated to cost governments globally at least $12 trillion (Conway quoting IMF, 2009) leaving several bankrupt national governments and severe economic austerity in its wake. This is the context in which the UN’s GEP is operating. The designers of the project have closely aligned themselves to the same financial institutions that played leading roles in the economic crisis.

 

Meanwhile, scientific institutions, environmental NGOs and government agencies are working to build institutional infrastructure to give scientific authority to the UN’s GEP. …The historical critique of capitalism presented by John Bellamy Foster (2002) and others describes that the appropriation of the commons is an integral aspect of capitalism. Capitalism is always looking for new means of producing profit from activities that were otherwise not managed through commodity relationships.

 

The Indigenous People’s Kari-Oca 2 Declaration describes the UN’s GEP as ‘a continuation of colonialism… a perverse attempt by corporations, extractive industries and governments to cash in on Creation by privatizing, commodifying and selling off the Sacred and all forms of life and the sky’ (2012, p.1-2). The programme of re-visioning of the commons as sets of commodities ripe for exploitation is diametrically contrary to the environmental rhetoric used to sell the project.

Corporate NGOs Work Hand in Hand With Walmart to Privatize Earth’s Oceans & Fisheries

illustration: zeeninginlaos

Walton Family Foundation Sunk $71.4 Million into Greenwashing Schemes

 

Over $36 million alone was handed over to “Marine Conservation” grantees including the Ocean Conservancy, Conservation International Foundation, Marine Stewardship Council, World Wildlife Fund and EDF. All of these organizations are notorious for their role in corporate greenwashing efforts across the globe.

 

“The Walton Family Foundation is funding the Environmental Defense Fund, which wants to commodify water through water marketing and privatize our fish through catch shares program,” said Grader. “These are tools used by corporations to further the growing disparity between 1 percent and rest of us.”

 

California Progress Report

November 19th, 2012

By Dan Bacher

 

Much recent media attention has focused on Walmart’s announcement that it is canceling Thanksgiving plans for many of its employees. These workers will now have to work on the holiday as the retail giant kicks off its holiday sale at 8 PM on Thanksgiving Day, rather than waiting until midnight on “Black Friday.”

“The result is troubling for advocates for workers’ rights, as Walmart has encroached repeatedly on a holiday that traditionally involves plenty of time spent with family and away from work,” according to a statement from the Corporate Action Network. “The decision to move up the start of Black Friday sales to Thursday could be an attempt to thwart the workers’ organization efforts scheduled for Black Friday.

Labor, social justice and human rights groups are supporting a nationwide boycott of Walmart on Black Friday to back the strike of Walmart workers that day.

However, less well known to the public is Walmart’s ambitious campaign of corporate greenwashing in recent years.

The Walton Family Foundation proudly reported “investments” totaling more than $71.4 million in “environmental initiatives” in 2011, including contributions to corporate “environmental” NGOs pushing ocean privatization through the “catch shares” programs and so-called “marine protected areas” like those created under Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

According to a press release from the Walmart Headquarters in Bentonville Arkansas, the foundation made grants to more than 160 organizations in the U.S. and other countries “that work to protect natural resources while strengthening the local economies that depend on them.”

The foundation directed an overwhelming majority of the grants toward its two core environmental initiatives – “Freshwater Conservation and Marine Conservation.”

“Our work is rooted in our belief that the conservation solutions that last are the ones that make economic sense,” claimed Scott Burns, director of the foundation’s Environment Focus Area. “The foundation and our grantees embrace ‘conservationomics’ – the idea that conservation efforts can and should bring economic prosperity to local communities.”

The foundation donated $30.5 million to Marine Conservation, $26,842,289 to Freshwater Conservation and $14,022,907 for “Other Environment Grants.”

The Top Five Grantees were Conservation International, $16,208,278; Environmental Defense Fund, $13,683,709; the Marine Stewardship Council $3,122,500; Nature Conservancy $3,024,539, and the National Audubon Society, $2,739,859.

Conservation International, the top recipient with $16,208,278, is an organization noted for its top-down approach to conservation and involvement with corporate greenwashing.

The Walton Foundation press release claimed that, “Conservation International continued to implement a three-year program to empower local communities to manage and conserve fishing resources on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast.”

However, the group’s board features controversial corporate leaders such as Rob Walton and Stewart Resnick.

Rob Walton, Walmart Chairman, serves as the Chairman of the Executive Committee of Conservation International. Serving with him on Conservation International’s Board of Directors is Stewart Resnick, the owner of Paramount Farms.

Resnick has been instrumental in campaigns to build the peripheral canal to increase water exports to agribusiness and Southern California, to eviscerate Endangered Species Act protections for Central Valley Chinook salmon and Delta smelt and to eradicate striped bass in California. The Center for Investigative Reporting describes Resnick as a “Corporate Farming Billionaire and One-Man Environmental Wrecking Crew.”

Resnick is notorious for buying subsidized Delta water and then selling it back to the public for a big profit, as revealed in an article by Mike Taugher in the Contra Costa Times on May 23, 2009.

“As the West Coast’s largest estuary plunged to the brink of collapse from 2000 to 2007, state water officials pumped unprecedented amounts of water out of the Delta only to effectively buy some of it back at taxpayer expense for a failed environmental protection plan, a MediaNews investigation has found,” said Taugher.

Taugher said the “environmental water account” set up in 2000 to “improve” the Delta ecosystem spent nearly $200 million mostly to benefit water users while also creating a “cash stream for private landowners and water agencies in the Bakersfield area.”

“No one appears to have benefitted more than companies owned or controlled by Stewart Resnick, a Beverly Hills billionaire, philanthropist and major political donor whose companies, including Paramount Farms, own more than 115,000 acres in Kern County,” Taugher stated. “Resnick’s water and farm companies collected about 20 cents of every dollar spent by the program.”

Likewise, the Nature Conservancy, a group that received $3,024,539 from the Walton Family Foundation, in 2011, is also known for its strong support of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels that Resnick and other corporate agribusiness interests so avidly support. A broad coalition of fishermen, Indian Tribes, environmentalists, family farmers and elected officials opposes the construction of the tunnels because they would hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other species.

Drive to Privatize Fisheries

illustration: zeeninginlaos

Environmental Defense Fund, with the second highest donation at $13,683,709, is known for its market-based approach to conservation and its push for “catch shares” that essentially privatize the oceans. The relationship between the group and the retail giant is so close that it operates an office in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart is headquartered.

“Environmental Defense Fund released its ‘Catch Shares Design Manual: A Guide for Fishermen and Managers’ to provide a roadmap to catch share design, which is a focus of our Marine Conservation initiative,” according to the Walton Family Foundation.

A catch share, also known as an individual fishing quota, is a transferable voucher that gives individuals or businesses the ability to access a fixed percentage of the total authorized catch of a particular species.

“Fishery management systems based on catch shares turn a public resource into private property and have lead to socioeconomic and environmental problems. Contrary to arguments by catch share proponents – namely large commercial fishing interests – this management system has exacerbated unsustainable fishing practices,” according to the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

True to form, Sam Rawlings Walton, the grandson of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, serves on the Board of Trustees of EDF.

Times Articles Put Spotlight on Walmart, Highlight Media Failures

Two New York Times articles in April 2012 put Walmart and the Walton family’s “dirty laundry” in the international spotlight, leading to a renewed call by the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) for the public to support their boycott of Walmart.

The Times articles covered Walton family support for anti-fishing, pro-privatization efforts in North America, followed by the publication’s exposure of alleged $24 million worth of bribes in Central America to speed up the chain’s expansion into Mexico.

“The headlines prove that Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation are no friends of local communities anywhere, and their ongoing efforts to destroy coastal fishing businesses through support of arbitrary marine reserves and privatization of fish stocks nationwide should not be supported by anglers,” said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. “We’re asking coastal fishermen who support open access, under the law, to healthy and sustainable fish stocks to send a clear message to this arrogant corporation that we’ve had enough of their greenwashing and grafting efforts.

Donofrio noted that Walmart made world headlines following a New York Times story that charges the Bentonville, Arkansas company and its leaders of squashing an internal investigation into suspected payments of over $24 million in bribes to obtain permits to build in Mexico.

The bribery scandal was exposed on the same day that the Gloucester Times of Massachusetts exposed a reporting lapse in another recent New York Times article about the relationship between Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Walmart partnering together for “more enlightened and sustainable operations.”

The New York Times had earlier reported that EDF “does not accept contributions from Wal-Mart or other corporations it works for.”

However, when confronted on the fact that the $1.3 billion Walton Family Foundation (started in 1987 by Wal-Mart’s founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and directed presently by the Walton family) has been underwriting EDF’s successful effort to replace the nation’s mostly small-business, owner-operated fishing industry with “a catch shares model designed to cap the number of active fishermen by trading away ownership of the resource to those with the deepest pockets,” the author of the New York Times report conceded by email that in her rush to meet deadlines, she had not considered the relationship between the Walton family and Wal-Mart, according to Donofrio.

“I didn’t think to check the EDF board for Walton family members, or Walton Family Foundation donations,” said reporter Stephanie Clifford, adding “None of the third parties I’d spoken to had mentioned that connection, which isn’t an excuse – I should have thought of it myself, but didn’t.

RFA is hoping that saltwater anglers and fishing business owners help send Walmart stocks tumbling by refusing to shop at the corporate giant any longer.

“The Walton family uses their fortune to buy off friends who’ll cover for their despicable business practices, whether it’s corporate greenwashing with EDF, rebranding efforts through national trade association campaigns, or apparently by way of directed bribes to local officials in other countries,” Donofrio said. “Don’t just stop buying fishing tackle at Wal-Mart – stop supporting this company altogether and let’s quit supporting complete buyouts and takeovers of local communities.”

In August 2011, RFA asked fishermen to publicly boycott Walmart stores following issuance of a news release from Wal-Mart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas where the Walton family announced investments totaling more than $71.8 million awarded to various environmental initiatives.

Over $36 million alone was handed over to “Marine Conservation” grantees including the Ocean Conservancy, Conservation International Foundation, Marine Stewardship Council, World Wildlife Fund and EDF. All of these organizations are notorious for their role in corporate greenwashing efforts across the globe.

The RFA pointed out that by contributing over $36 million to NGOs promoting alleged “marine protected areas” like those created under Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative and catch share programs in 2010, the Waltons were contributing to the demise of sustainable recreational and commercial fisheries and the privatization of the oceans.

Commercial Fishermen Back Boycott

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, supports RFA’s boycott of Walmart.

“People who are concerned about our environment or labor rights should all be boycotting Walmart,” said Grader. “Their polices are clearly intended to commodify our natural resources and put them under the control of large corporations.”

“The Walton Family Foundation is funding the Environmental Defense Fund, which wants to commodify water through water marketing and privatize our fish through catch shares program,” said Grader. “These are tools used by corporations to further the growing disparity between 1 percent and rest of us.”

“I’ve been boycotting Walmart for decades and it’s absolutely great that recreational and commercial fishermen are together on this,” concluded Grader.

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