Webs of Unintended Consequence
Silicon Graphics (SGI) launch party for their Indy workstation.
Held in July 1993 at their Mountain View campus, SGI was riding high on its success in bringing dinosaurs to virtual life in Jurassic Park. With Indy, it promised to deliver that quality of 3D computing to the desktop so they invited some Bay Area animators to preview its capability. We were eager to be amazed.
Clark told us that anyone connected to the Internet could type an address called a URL (Uniform Resource Locater) into Mosaic and view this photo on their personal computers. Andreessen then sent an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) message asking someone in a distant building to upload another image. When a new photo appear within seconds, it felt like witnessing a miracle.
An Opportunity to Evangelize
Fast forward seventeen years
The Internet continued to play a central role in my life as a webmaster, video producer, and educator. But the corrosive effects of "Social Media" began to discourage all of us who believed in the humane potential of the Web. Mobile applications divided audiences and parsed consumer surveillance data. They reduced the Internet to nothing more than a pipeline to profit.
While the PSA view count grew at a snail pace, my personal interests expanded into the world of handcrafted cheese. From food safety to product self-promotion, potential uses for the Web in small scale food production were unlimited. But financial and technical obstacles to access in rural areas still remained. So I looked for ways to educate and rally these producers around the value of being connected.
By August of 2012 I was pleased to see the PSA view count had climbed to 1000. Then came the big surprise. While driving around Butte a few days later, my phone started rapidly pinging. By the time I pulled over to check my email, the pings were a steady stream. Meanwhile, a phone call came in from an unknown New York number. The caller introduced himself as a writer with Vanity Fair, then asked for my reaction to going viral. I had no idea what he was talking about.
The onslaught of parasitic mercenaries was astounding, from offers to pump up view counts with bots to plagiarized versions showing up on other channels. A makeshift production company in Australia even sent Google a copyright infringement claim stating that the PSA was theirs.
Though the view count continued to climb over the next year, the viral mania was short lived. By the time the count settled down to a trickle, it dawned on me that this would probably be my only opportunity to see how YouTube's monetization plan worked so I opted in. The payback has been a few hundred bucks from Google and an invaluable amount insight. Successfully implementing Google's mercurial monetization schemes is a grueling and tenuous way to earn a living.
The most gratifying part of the experience was witnessing the direct immediacy of the Net. Thousands of people from all over the world left comments and asked questions. Brazilians were definitely into the music track. My favorite, though, was from a young girl who was curious about the cat.
Anti-Social Media Usurps the Web
The summit was a chance to be around those with similar discouragement, while also giving me the pleasure of personally thanking Tim Berners Lee (Sir Tim) for creating the World Wide Web. His own distress was evident but he was channeling his grief into re-engineering his original vision into a new project called Solid.
Some young coders, who had built the social media addiction engines, were sounding alarms about their work. Foremost among them was Tristan Harris, a former Google Design Ethicist who now works on behalf of the Center for Humane Technology. Harris summarized his experience in the Extractive Attention Economy with this sober truth: "Profiting from the problem, these platforms won’t change on their own."
One phrase was repeated throughout the summit: unintended consequences.
An Unintended Advocate
A gigantic company providing essential infrastructure for every American, a shifting media landscape, a deregulated environment, and a smoothly operating political campaign built on decades of steady effort that made it impossible for federal officials to reject the merger out of hand: the Comcast-NBCUniversal narrative offers a cautionary tale about what has happened to communications in America.This graphic of global fiber adoption shows the US clearly in a laggard position. (Interesting to note that Germany is also struggling due to similar private monopoly issues.)
Along with some emergency funding as a result of the pandemic, the current digital divide fix is called The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). Introduced about six months before Covid-19 hit, the RDOF is awarding an unprecedented $20 billion over various implementation stages. However, it is already looking like boondoggles of the past. Many of the first round auction winners in 2020 are controversial beyond measure. Foremost among them is Starlink with its unproven array of satellites receiving one of the largest grants. It and others are now under scrutiny from the current FCC panel, though that isn't likely to change the outcome,
When Green Isn't Clean
Soon after the world raced to the Internet at the start of the pandemic, my PSA got renewed attention on YouTube. A production company in NYC even asked to license it for a Web series. I declined, but their interest rekindled my hope for the Internet being recognized as an essential public utility. Months of research and online conferences then brought me back to an inconvenient truth. The corporate juggernaut of big tech won't be stopped by anything short of its own inadvertent destruction. The journey, however, did return me to a topic I know by heart.
Butte's Berkeley Pit Copper Mine Consuming the Rockies
|Google Satellite View of Butte's Extraction Zone|
Oceans of Unintended Consequence
Low-carbon technologies, particularly solar photovoltaic (PV), wind,
and geothermal, are more mineral intensive relative to fossil fuel
technologies. For example, about 3,000 solar panels are needed
for 1 megawatt (MW) of capacity of solar PV; this means that a 200 MW
solar PV project could be as big as 550 American football fields
(Mathis and Eckhouse 2020).
Under a 2-degree scenario (2DS), production of graphite, lithium, and cobalt will need to be significantly ramped up by more than 450 percent by 2050—from 2018 levels—to meet demand from energy storage technologies. Though demand for some base minerals, like aluminum and copper, appears to be smaller in percentage terms, their absolute production figures are significant, at 103 million tons and 29 million tons by 2050, respectively. These projections do not include the associated infrastructure needed to support the deployment of these technologies (for example, transmission lines) or the physical parts (like the chassis of newly built electric vehicles).
Because of the material intensity of low-carbon technologies, any potential shortages in mineral supply could impact the speed and scale at which certain technologies may be deployed globally.
Minerals for Climate Change: The mineral intensity of the Clean Energy Transition
World Bank Report - May 2020
Often the size of an egg or small potato, these nodules are compact storehouses of rare metals crucial to all forms of low-carbon technology. They formed over the last five hundred million years in the deepest parts of the ocean floor, the most unexplored and ecologically sensitive region on earth. Yet it is being targeted for massive and immediate exploitation.
Digesting an Unfathomable Dilemma
As comprehensive and comforting as the phrase "common heritage of all humankind" may seem, there are pivotal exemptions. A main one being that individual nations have control over their own boundary waters.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (or UNCLOS) has been described as “the constitution of the oceans.” Originally finalized in 1982, UNCLOS’ 320 articles and nine annexes represent arguably the most holistic codification of international law in history. One hundred and fifty seven nations have signed on to the treaty and agreed to its wide-ranging provisions on topics such as coastal sovereignty, conservation and ocean resource management, and the freedom of the high seas. One thing, though, is missing from the Convention: the signature of the United States of America.
Harvard International Review
At a basic level, the boundary water exemption is the legal loophole that The Metals Company (TMC) is exploiting on a circuitous route (through the tiny island nation of Nauru) to full bore nodule extraction in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) of the Pacific Ocean. (Mining the Bottom of the Sea) The CCZ is particularly rich in nodules but most of the Pacific is a treasure trove of Rare Earth Elements (REE). When The Metals Company is granted full extraction rights, it will open the floodgates on the whole ocean.
With new technological advances in deep-sea mining, the ocean floor’s trove of valuable metals and rare earth elements is coming within reach of commercial mining operations. The impending reality of this practice, and its associated environmental risks, raises the question of how we, as a society, assess the value of a place we may never see to guide environmental decisions.
Now, a new study finds that people’s emotional associations with the deep sea, more than their knowledge about it, determine how much they care about this remote environment. The results, reported June 12 in People and Nature, suggest that these emotional associations may be more powerful than information in driving people’s concerns about mining the area.
Link to the Article
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America - 2018
If you're thinking about what we have actually looked at on the sea
floor, it's less than 0.001%. But you have to remember, it's
vast. 70% of our planet is ocean. And of that 70%, 90% is
deep sea. So it's a huge, huge area and difficult to get to.
Kerry Howell, Marine Biologist
Exploring the Ocean floor aboard the RSS James Cook