HCII Seminar Series - Tamara Kneese
Senior Researcher and Project Director, AIMLab, Data & Society Research Institute. Visiting Scholar at the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society at the University of California, Berkeley
The talk will be livestream only this week.
"From Socially Useful to Responsible Tech: Learning From Histories of Environmental Justice and Labor Rights in Silicon Valley and Beyond"
At a time when “climate tech” has attracted the interest of venture capitalists and disaffected, laid-off tech workers alike, it seems prudent to offer some historical context. Corporate Net Zero goals are built on speculative, and often empty, promises. Carbon offsetting is largely a scam, another example of a technologically-driven solution to a social problem. Some technologists hope to use innovation to decarbonize the ICT industry, as corporate responsibility staff, IT managers, and software engineers attempt to measure, report, and reduce carbon emissions across the supply chain. At the same time, rank-and-file tech workers are often the ones pushing their employers to take on climate pledges and adhere to their climate goals. Global supply chains also offer space for transnational labor organizing around climate justice (Vgontzas 2022). In some cases, including some Amazon Employees for Climate Justice’s recent demand for climate reparations to Pakistan and more support for Pakistani-American workers on H1B visas, workers are sparking discussions about social inequalities and climate justice, going beyond decarbonization to consider more holistic forms of sustainability.
This talk draws on longer histories of grassroots organizing and environmental justice in the tech sector to delineate the tensions within and the more radical possibilities connected to the contemporary climate movement in tech. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, founded in the 1980s, united labor grievances with environmental justice and racial justice fights in microchip manufacturing. Toxic chemicals from electronics manufacturing contaminated San Jose’s water supply and also caused cancer in immigrant women workers (Pellow and Park 2002). Beyond Silicon Valley, current organizers might learn from the Lucas Plan of the 1970s, or aerospace manufacturing workers in the United Kingdom who called for socially useful production when they were threatened with layoffs. Collectively, Lucas Aerospace Corporation workers came up with ideas ranging from wind turbines to battery driven cars, constituting a 200+ page radical R&D plan (King 2019). What would it mean to create socially responsible forms of technology today, at the intersection of environmental justice and labor rights?
Tamara Kneese is a Senior Researcher and Project Director of Data & Society’s Algorithmic Impact Methods Lab. Before joining D&S, she was Lead Researcher at Green Software Foundation, Director of Developer Engagement on the Green Software team at Intel, and Assistant Professor of Media Studies and Director of Gender and Sexualities Studies at the University of San Francisco. Tamara holds a PhD in Media, Culture and Communication from NYU and is author of Death Glitch: How Techno-Solutionism Fails Us in This Life and Beyond.