According to ONS three quarters of adults in Great Britain worry about climate change.
It can be difficult to know what to do about this because the crisis is real and not going away any time soon. Climate Psychotherapist and researcher Caroline Hickman recommends practicing a form of ‘radical hope’ by transforming eco-anxiety into action.
The goal of this post is to introduce some tools and techniques you can use to figure out what’s the most effective climate action you can take given your circumstances. I’ll give some examples of ways you can use your skills as a software developer to help out with climate solutions.
How to find joy in climate action
In her TED talk “How to find joy in climate action” which has been viewed over a million times, Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson presented a technique called the Climate Action Venn Diagram”. By using this technique you can find the intersection between what brings you joy, what you’re good at and what needs doing.
If you’re reading this post you’re most likely working in a technical role. If so, you’re probably passionate about technology and quite good at it. That automatically fulfils two of the criteria.
It’s worth noting, however, that to get the best results from the exercise you should give it some serious consideration. You may have other passions outside of work that can also fit the bill. Remember you don’t have to put just one thing in the middle of that diagram and there are many ways to contribute.
Going back to the third and final criteria, that is: what needs doing. There is definitely plenty that needs doing in ICT. The sector is responsible for an estimated 3 to 4% of global CO2 emissions and some projections see it growing to 14% by 2040.
A lot of this is waste, as Oliver Cronk said in his post: Conscientious Computing - facing into big tech challenges:
“Bloated, wasteful applications contribute to growing energy consumption and carbon emissions from data centres. They strain local resources for power and cooling. Materials and energy used in the manufacturing and supply chain (aka embodied carbon from hardware) are almost completely hidden and unknown”. - Oliver Cronk
What can I do?
The problem is massive and a lot of it will be outside of your control. One way to work out where you do have the power to change things is to look at your circles of concern, influence and control.
This exercise consists of drawing out three nested circles: in the central circle you write all the things you can control, in the middle one you put all the things you can influence and the outer circle is for all the things that affect you but are outside your control. Doing this lets you focus on things within the inner two circles and less on things from the outer one (since you’re acknowledging there is nothing you can do about these anyway).
Starting with the circle of control, one area where you probably have the most control is on your own awareness about green computing issues and best practices. There are lots of resources available and too many to mention here but a great place to get started is the Green Software Practitioner course from the Green Software Foundation.
As you build awareness of best practices you can start to implement these in your day job. This is an area where you also have a lot of control. You can start to write sustainable code by default. This can also bring a lot of benefits to your work and users, since sustainable code is often more efficient and performant.
Moving into the circle of influence, once you have a solid understanding of good practices you can start to share these with your team. Through informal chats with your colleagues, internal talks at your place of work and joining communities of practice you can help others to also make considerations around sustainability a key part of their work.
These things will help with making new code sustainable, but to rewrite existing code you’ll probably require larger investment and buy-in from stakeholders. You can start to influence this by sharing the benefits of sustainable code and how these align with the wider objectives of your business such as cost savings, more efficient code and better user experience.
If you’re lucky sustainability will already be a priority for your company. This is the case with Scott Logic which is committed to a net zero target of 2040 and is actively reducing it’s carbon footprint. It has also recently become a B Corp which is a global community of businesses which meet high standards of social and environmental impact.
Your day job isn’t the only way to make an impact as a developer though, another is through contributions to Open Source software. For example, the Open Source mobile operating system Android is running on an estimated 2.3 billion devices worldwide. Even a small sustainability improvement to that project will have huge benefits. There are also loads of specific sustainability focused Open Source projects you can support and help to maintain. Sites such as ClimateTriage can help you to locate these and choose which interest you most.
The work of our lifetimes
In this post I’ve discussed a couple of exercises which can help you to get started with climate action. These are exercises that are worth doing yourself to get the most out of them. Remember the Climate Action Venn Diagram and ensure that your planned actions aren’t just things within your control/influence but also things you’re passionate about and excited to get started doing.
It’s also worth bearing in mind the best way to create effective action is to work together with others. This roundup of the Sustainable Computing Ecosystem is a great resource to help you find like-minded individuals to share ideas and approaches.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Dr Johnson which I find particularly inspiring:
“This is what I know. There are innumerable possible futures. I know we each get some say in the future we’ll collectively have, and a chance to help build it. I know that each 10th of a degree of warming we prevent, every centimetre of sea level rise we avoid, every bit of nature we protect and restore matters I know that our actions add up. This? This is an invitation. Find your role if you haven’t already, encourage others to find theirs. Averting climate catastrophe: this is the work of our lifetimes.” - Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson