The Digital Humanities and the Climate Crisis: A Manifesto (2021) states:
The digital is material. As digital humanists, every project we create, every software application we use, every piece of hardware we purchase impacts our environment. […] As humanities researchers, it is also our role to probe the values, the power structures, and the future imaginaries that underpin sustainable solutions.
To meet climate targets, the world needs to cut net carbon emissions by about half by 2030, and achieve net zero carbon by 2050. Globally, Information Communication Technology (ICT) already contributes 1.8% to 3.9% of greenhouse gas emissions, and is currently projected to grow significantly (Freitag et al. 2021). Transport accounts for about 14% (SLOCAT 2021), and research often involves heavy travel for conferences, meetings, and fieldwork. What can we do?
Who is this for? #
We can all play our part in a rapid and just climate transition.
While we initially conceived of this Toolkit to help Digital Humanities researchers, digital tools are now so woven into academic practice that this toolkit has relevance across all the arts, humanities and social sciences. The Toolkit is for anyone who makes a website, or uses videoconferencing, or visualises data. It is for educators, students, researchers, librarians, technicians, administrators and others. We hope the information and suggestions here will empower and inspire you in your work.
What does it cover? #
The Minimal Computing section explores how we can reduce the carbon footprint of our digital practices. The Maximal Computing section examines computationally intensive digital tools such as Machine Learning, and offers perspectives on when these might be justifiable. Grant Writing includes recommendations on designing (or redesigning) research projects, including Data Management Plans. Working Practices offers guidance on reducing energy consumption in your day-to-day working life, including communication and shared working, travel, and publishing and preserving data. Advocating within your Institution offers tips on how to go beyond individual or project-level sustainability. The Decision Trees and Teaching sections are works-in-progress that will offer guides for making technical choices in daily work and project planning and implementing climate-oriented DH teaching. You’ll also find a brief Climate Change Primer.
Get involved #
This toolkit comes out of the Digital Humanities Climate Coalition, and in many places it reflects the concentration of our membership in the UK and Northern Europe. As of November 2022, its primary authors, in alphabetical order, are Anne Baillot, James Baker, Jenny Bunn, Michael Faerber, Charlotte Feidicker, John Moore, Christopher Ohge, Torsten Roeder, Martin Steer, Jo Lindsay Walton, Elizabeth Williamson.
Climate change is a global issue, and we hope it will still be of use all around the world. Climate action is always work-in-progress, and we welcome your contributions and suggestions to evolve this Toolkit in the future.
Areas we are particularly interested in developing include:
- Coverage. Widening the toolkit’s scope to cover more countries (especially in the Grant Writing section).
- Tools. User-friendly tools to measure impacts or support decisions.
- Carbon literacy. How can we get a handle on orders of magnitude, even when we can’t measure precisely?
- Quantification. What are the best ways to estimate or to measure emissions of digital humanities projects? Can we develop a more digital-native vocabulary of Emissions Factors?
- Case studies. Case studies. Have you decarbonised aspects of your work? Have you implemented moratoriums until more sustainable practices are developed? Have you adopted tools to better understand your impact? We would like to hear about what has worked well (and what hasn’t).
- Preservation, archiving, and curation. These areas are touched on briefly under Working Practices, but we see room for considerable expansion (or smart signposting).
- Systems change. Linking individual- and project-level best practice to climate justice activism and broader systems change.
Further reading #
Baillot, Anne. 2023. Text and Heritage in the Age of Climate Crisis. Cambridge: OpenBook Publishers. https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0355.
Freitag, Charlotte, Mike Berners-Lee, Kelly Widdicks, Bran Knowles, Gordon S. Blair, and Adrian Friday. 2021. ‘The Real Climate and Transformative Impact of ICT: A Critique of Estimates, Trends, and Regulations’. Patterns 2 (9): 100340. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.patter.2021.100340.
SLOCAT. 2021. ‘Tracking Trends in a Time of Change: The Need for Radical Action Towards Sustainable Transport Decarbonisation, Transport and Climate Change Global Status Report’. https://tcc-gsr.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/1.1-Global-Transport-and-Climate-Change.pdf.
Greening the Digital Humanities Resource Hub. This is a Google doc of further resources. Please feel free to suggest additions, or to leave comments about your own experiences with the tools listed here.
Santarius, Tilman, Jan C. T. Bieser, Vivian Frick, Mattias Höjer, Maike Gossen, Lorenz M. Hilty, Eva Kern, Johanna Pohl, Friederike Rohde, and Steffen Lange. ‘Digital Sufficiency: Conceptual Considerations for ICTs on a Finite Planet’. Annals of Telecommunications, 12 May 2022. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12243-022-00914-x.
Travis, Charles, Deborah P. Dixon, Luke Bergmann, Robert Legg, and Arlene Crampsie (eds.). 2022. The Routledge Handbook of the Digital Environmental Humanities. London: Routledge.