It has been an ongoing challenge for us at The Arctic Agency for Environmental Research Methodologies and Artistic Practice to think about how we operate an art project which aims to radically deviate from the way most art projects themselves operate with regards to an environmental focus, but also functionally operate that project in an art world that operates in a highly carbonised way. Certain trained habits, ingrained and hard-dying, continue and live on in the unconscious and the not-so unconscious. Our collective muscle memories – in visiting www.skyscanner.com, or booking into AirBnBs or purchasing certain materials- spasm into action.
Our inter connected world of fibre optic which binds and ties us to data machines and to power plants (never mind to the arms of the powerful themselves) are a nessecary component not just of the art world and its decentralised nodes of the art worker, cultural producer and content creator, but of the economy in general – lest you think we would pick out the art world as a particular evil. Its evilness is only partial and a reflection of the wider economy itself. Our world relies on the silent hardwire, sunk into the Atlantic or Pacific, connecting distant hubs to each other with literal light speed; bringing to life our deepest masturbation fantasies, home shopping requirements, political agitprop or obligatory conversations with distant relatives.
As a first step on our art project, our capitalist overlords of the Silicon Valley world have done thankfully something rather helpful in setting up net zero carbon website servers. All these websites on the World Wide Web, as I believe more and more are coming to realise, must actually be stored somewhere. The cloud is material. We at The Arctic Agency… use a company called Eco Hosting which promises both a very fast connection speed (the time it takes to load on your browser) and being net zero carbon, by virtue of being powered through renewable energy from renewable power sources.
One immovable object we have encountered thus far in this question to run an artwork or art practice with net zero carbon output is perhaps our use of social media. In terms of our practice here being to think about our carbon footprint ( as made if not explicit in our Manifesto, then implied) this is something we must think about in how we run our projects.
Fortuntely, because the tech firms tend to come from the end of genocidal Capitalism that is a little more grounded in shame, they are beginning to think about adaptation to renewable capacity. Facebook turnout to be rather good with regards to this. Their aim is to run its servers and sites from fully renewable capacity from 2020. My Research (Googling) turns out very little information on the other social media companies however, but did turn out a lot on Facebook. Why? Because Facebook publish the stuff.
On their website there are great graphs and compilations on their transition to renewable energy. In 2018, Facebook claim to have generated 75% of their energy from renewable capacity. In 2017 this was 51%. The year before 44%. Carrying on this trajectory and it does seem likely that Facebook will get close to, or even meet, a 100% electricity generation by renewable means by 2020. The emission per person usage per year is the same (according to Facebook) as boiling water in a kettle one time.
The artist and writer James Bridle notes that the internet accounts for 2-3 % of global emissions annually – the same as the airline industry. Whereas the airline industry requires an act of God to figure out a way of de-carbonising, at least the social media companies can increasingly draw on renewable sources of energy as renewable energy becomes cheaper and more plentiful. Jet fuel that is not carbon emitting is a glint in the eye of a scientist somewhere, whereas cheap, clean energy is not just a fantasy but an actually, existing reality. Sure, there are problems with storage and energy loss related to moving that electricity around, but it feels with enough money and research and infrastructure built that a solution is findable.
So this is why we use Facebook. Google puts out a complex and rather confusing set of ways it offsets its carbon footprint, but to understand this I will need to conduct more research and see if its actually viable. We will look into other social media platforms to understand their energy consumption and report back but for now we are content that Facebook (with its commitment to clean energy useage) is our best option of conveying to our audience in Tromsø and abroad what we are up to.
In relation to my first paragraph, art institutions an artists themselves use these social media sites to convey their programme. This is the infrastructure laid down already. We live in the world we inhabit and thankfully the dominant platform for communicating in the art world is one of the most easily investigatable in terms of energy useage. If only all our evil capitalist overlords were this transparent and easily shamed into climate conscious energy transitions.