Image credit: Drawing by Jess Wallace.
This year again, I am delighted to be taking part in the York Festival of Ideas, online on this occasion to talk about:
Technologies for the Future - a Response from the Heart.
In this talk, we take a hard look at some of the technologies we surround ourselves with, how they impact our lives, the environment, the lives of others, and ask: what would form a sound basis for ethical and responsible technological innovation? In a context where technologies are often imposed from the top down or by for-profit corporations without proper public scrutiny, I believe this question is relevant to everyone and should be reclaimed by the public sphere. At this time of extreme uncertainty and misinformation, I will argue that meaningful answers can only come from reconnecting with our hearts.
Please be aware that some of the content can be emotionally challenging as we address issues such as environmental justice, cultural and unconscious bias, and work to dismantle the Western narrative of linear progress.
Please use the comment section for Q&A.
Please use the comment section for Q&A.
Transcript & Notes:
With apologies for the delay!
Good afternoon, and a very warm welcome to this podcast on technologies for the future, which is part of the York Festival of Ideas, online on this occasion.
I believe that we live in times of change, times when there are things we can no longer take for granted and I do believe that the decisions we are making now will matter for a long time to come. My aim is to look at the situation form the angle of technologies: and ask questions like which ones do we want to take with us into the future with us, which ones no longer serve and are ready to be let go of?
And to begin with, I'd like to express gratitude because we're just coming out of this period of lock-down, not quite, there's still a lot of restrictions going on and I am grateful that I have a computer, that I have internet access, and that through these means I have been able to keep in touch with friends and family. And these are very sophisticated pieces of technology, they involve a lot of people in the supply chain to create the hardware, they involve a lot of places on Earth that have given some of their elements and coped with the pollution generated, and they involve the people who've made the computers, the people who have designed and built the software and so there are many people to thank just to be able to use this technology. And I think gratitude is important because it recenters us, and it helps us to to receive, rather than take or simply take for granted.
But the fact is that the technologies we have now, in this modern world, have a global impact that we can no longer ignore: there are plastic debris everywhere. Waters, oceans, rivers, streams are polluted. In York, we can't drink from the river and we think that's normal, and that's worrying. There is nuclear waste to look after, mining tailing ponds that need maintaining in perpetuity, because they hold toxic product and radioactive waste; and in perpetuity really means forever. There are man-made electromagnetic frequencies that are criss-crossing the air that surrounds us, and we have used the Earth as supply house and sewer: All of the Earth's natural cycle are affected, not just the carbon cycle. Biodiversity is collapsing, and the planet is on the brink of not coping anymore. The fact is we can no longer ignore the large-scale consequences of what the dominant culture has unleashed.
And the question that underpins all that I am trying to say here and a lot of my work is this: what kind of a society do we want to build and live in? Can we make fully conscious choices?
Now this year, the theme for the Festival of Ideas has changed to 'Virtual Horizons', and I'm going to mainly focus on ICT – information and communication technologies, and digital technologies, all of which involve increasingly sophisticated electronics because I believe it's time to dispell some myths that are pervasive in the mainstream media and in the way we tend to look at those technologies.
Now the first thing, which is very important to note is that digital technologies are not virtual. They require raw materials, in particular metals and the mining generates pollution, it used a lot of water, creates a lot of toxic waste, brings to the surface radioactive materials. In China, where the rare earths are mined – most of the rare earths – and there are places that Westerners have visited and called 'cancer villages'. There is pollution from lithium extraction in South America. There are conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo as armed groups are trying to control the profits from the mines. And the minerals are increasingly hard to extract because obviously we've extracted the easiest ones first. Now we need more, we need more diverse minerals and demand is continuously increasing, so we're in effect running out and this led the geologist Ugo Bardi, who write a book called Extracted to write:
When it comes to mineral depletion it is not just a question of asking for how long can we keep plundering the planet, but whether the planet – and its ecosystems – can survive the wounds we are inflicting upon it. We can no longer shy away from these questions .
Then the digital technologies also require energy, at the production stage, when we discard the items, the hardware, although because recycling is limited, it's hard to put a figure on the cost of waste, an when we run them, you know, data centres, sending information on the network, all this requires energy. And there is a French Think Tank called The Shift Project who works to demystify the energy costs and mineral costs of those technologies and how sustainable they are and they give the example of video: 80% of global data flows in 2018 were made of videos. Now here are some figures:
- 10 hours of high definition video comprises more data than all the English language article of Wikipedia in text format.
- In 2018, online video viewing generated as much greenhouse gas emissions as a country such as Spain.
- Then the greenhouse gas emissions of Video on Demand services, such as, you know, Netflix, Amazon, etc.. is equivalent to a country like Chile.
Now the paradox is that a digital transition is often considered key to efficient use of energy an the fight against climate change, however, those – the proponents of these technologies consistently underestimate the environmental impacts they might have and so we run the risk of making matters much worse. Currently, digital technologies emit 4% of greenhouse gas emissions – more than civil aviation, so, you know, if we're all in lock-down watching videos, it really doesn't help – and currently, the energy consumption of those technologies increases by 9% per year [3,4]. So estimates project that the telecommunication industry could use 25% – a quarter – of the world's electricity in 2025 .
So there are questions that need to be asked, especially before we roll out any new ICT network. Are the energy costs of building and running the new networks, and the ones we already have – we need to maintain them – affordable and justifiable in the current climate? And that would include the energy used to extract the raw material, to transport it, to make the finished product and to manufacture the hardware, even if it doesn't happen in the UK. And I'd like to insist on the transport costs. I would certainly recommend – I'll put the link – if you have a look at the Fairphone website, they demystify their supply chain for a few key minerals and you realise that the amount of transport involved just beggars belief . And there are supply chains for, you know, everything . Transport criss-crossing the world is generating a pollution very rarely taken into account. Also once we have a network it costs energy to use and maintain it and it needs to be – we need to make sure we have enough energy to cope with any forecasted increase in activity.
Now a question is, you know, there're climate change targets that we want to uphold and that we actually need to uphold, so will other sectors have to consume less energy so that some energy is diverted to the growing needs of digital technologies? That's a question that needs asking. But if so, which ones and who is making that decision? This matters. This is a political decision. Now from an inter-generational perspective: we might want to ask whether it's fair not to do our utmost now to limit energy consumption and avert catastrophic climate change. And also, are we prepared to take full responsibility for the e-waste that's going to be generated – the electronic waste?
So to help address those issues there are Codes of Ethics that engineers have to abide by, and it's a first step, but most of them do not go far enough. I'll give an example. The Royal Academy of Engineering Code of Ethics mentions respect for the environment in 3 out of 25 points, and what struck me is that the first one of them says: they need to respect or have respect 'for the built and natural environment' . 'Built' comes first. However to survive on this planet we need clean air, we need clean water, we need clean food, we need obviously ways to provide shelter, but that doesn't come first. You can have a nice house and no air to breathe, you're not going to survive very long.
So some things need to be tweaked. Some things need to change and Dominic Raab was made a lot of fun of when he suggested that he hadn't realised that we were very dependent on the Dover-Calais crossing, when you know Brexit was the frontline of the news, but we're all like this we do not really understand the link between the gadgets we hold in our hands and our landbase and this, this dangerous. We forget that to live, we need the land, and I'm trying to grow vegetables at the minute and it's really hard work. But I don't need a computer to survive, I need food to survive. So it's dangerous that we forget that we need the land and that those technologies are very well embodied.
Another thing which is dangerous, in a way, with the digital technologies is because we have these screens in front of us, it removes ourselves even more from the reality. You know, kids know more about tigers or dinosaurs than about the wildlife they might find in their neighbourhood, while there's still some. So it increases the disconnection with the land that allows us to live. So I think for us Westerners, it's time to learn also from the wisdom of indigenous people, who were very attached to the land.
But, even if our use of, you know, ICT technologies was sustainable, even if the planet was infinite, we had infinite supplies of minerals and energy, we might want to ask, you know, is it worth the destruction and the human costs? Because there are here clear issues of environmental justice – or rather injustice. You know we have exported the polluting industries, our kids are no longer working in the coal mines, but others kids are working in other mines all around the world for us to have computers and i-pads. So is it worth it? Well I can tell you that my Western schooled brain would try to convince me that this is necessary, this is like collateral damage on the road to better technologies for an increasing number of people, and that that's the way the world works anyway. But my heart shouts a resounding no, okay – but let me qualify that: I am not against technology, but surely there is a more graceful way to further technological development than what we are doing at the moment.
So I believe we need to open our hearts. And if we look at the situation, if we look at the truth of the situation, at the pollution, at the destruction, at the suffering of the people involved, it does hurt. So often we look away, we close our hearts because it's easier, because we don't want to feel that pain. But opening our hearts and actually feeling the pain is a first step on the road to change.And the person who really made me understand that was Joanna Macy – the writer, activist and scholar, Joanna Macy. She says that feeling the pain unblocks our response loop, and here is a quote from her:
This is a dark time, filled with suffering and uncertainty. Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don’t be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear, because these responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your inter-connectedness with all beings.and she also adds that if the pain you feel when you open your heart is part of your own personal pain, your own personal trauma, this is also part of the suffering of the world. And once we accept to feel that, then we can choose our response, because the pain we feel is just a measure of the love we are capable of when our hearts open . And then, we begin to see reality with new eyes, and regarding digital technologies, there are more things we should see.
Another point I want to make about them is that they're not neutral.
So you might have heard about a concept called 'inclusive design', which is the idea to design products that work for the widest possible range of people. But, in some cases, it just doesn't work like that. There was a story of a virtual reality video game developed, and it didn't work for black people because of how the light is reflected by their skin. And that was a complete mistake, the developer hadn't really thought of it. But sometimes, it can be more deliberate: for decades, the photographic film we were using was calibrated to better represent white skin tones. And also if we move away from digital technologies, there are a lot of tests that use, you know, a man's template, crash dummies for example, for car tests, are the size of men, not the size of pregnant women; drug trials are mainly based on adult men, so what about children?  So it's important and the remedy here is simple: have diverse teams of innovators, including women, people of colour, disabled people [I should have said people with disabilities, please accept my apologies], both right and left-handed people. You know, we might want to ask the questions: what would a world designed by women look like? what would a world designed by black people look like? By Native Americans? Everyone should have a voice in the design of technology, and at the minute, this is not the case.
Now if I move onto the software aspects of digital technologies, there is a very big growth in data science and algorithms. There are ads out there, that are mercilessly collecting data and targeting the most vulnerable among us to generate profits. There are algorithms making choices and trained using data so if there is a bias – conscious or not – in the data or in the programmers, for example more people of colour arrested because of a bias in the police force, then their will be a bias in the algorithm, which will for example flag up black people as more likely to commit a crime, and so it will reinforce and amplify a bias that is already there. So we need to be extremely careful with that .
And in addition, there are a lot of problems with algorithms, and sometimes it's impossible to say why you fall on one side of a boundary – it could be a trade secret from the company running the algorithm, the consultancy company, or simply the maths is so complex that no-one actually knows, because it relies on some random processes for the algorithm to learn. And an example close to home for that, you know mainly the question is how are border-line cases decided. And my partner was phoned by a lady from the NHS and invited to self-isolated completely for longer because she is more 'at risk' of covid-19. And the lady who phoned to let her know didn't know why the algorithm had flagged her up, she had merely become the spokesperson for a computer that supposedly knew the truth. And I I find this extremely scary and kafkaesque. There is a lack of transparency, which is pervasive in technologies and it's fuelled by patents, and it's fuelled by trade secrets, and also military involvement – and this is extremely worrying, especially when computers are thought to be bearers of impartial truths when in fact, they have been programmed by biased humans. But also, we might want to ask, with absolutely no disrespect for the NHS lady and bearing in mind this happens in many other areas: is it our ambition as human beings to become spokespersons for computers? We are losing our sense of agency here and we are stopping to trust ourselves, our judgements, our decisions because of this myth of impartiality. You know, objectivity in science was a tool, to be able to have a look at natural phenomena. Now it has become ontological: there is this idea that it is possible to be this objective observer and that there is a truth to be found . We should know better since quantum mechanics was developed, but we're still stuck with these very, very old-fashioned ideas. So do we want to lose agency? This is a question that needs asking.
Now with softwares and things like Facebook and Twitter and news feeds, there is also the phenomenon of fake news and information bubbles. Can anyone say for sure that there isn't another Cambridge Analytica working in the background? . And there is also censorship now, on Facebook: for example, posts questioning the roll-out of 5G are being removed, yet Facebook insist they're not a publisher but a utility company, so why such censorship? Who does it benefit? There are also deliberate slandering campaigns of people who simply ask questions . We have to be aware that there are very powerful lobbies at work. The telecommunication industry is very powerful. 'The pharmaceutical industry is the largest private funder of R&D both in the UK and globally' . So what comes out of universities is no longer that independent research anymore. It's led by private concerns, whether they're business concerns, whether they're military concerns and again this is worrying, this is worrying.
Now something that is not always mentioned in the non-neutrality of technology is this idea that some of them can reinforce a top-down control and I'm going to give examples from energy technologies. If you think about nuclear technologies for example, it's very complex and it requires a lot of technical expertise to be able to run those things, and there's a lot of danger involved, and there's also the link with armament and the military. So, there is a sociologist, philosopher, Langdon Winner, in the eighties, who argued that because of this, it requires a very hierarchical way of, you know, of being regulated . But if we look at renewable energy technologies, for example wind turbines, then we have a choice. We could still have this top-down control, like an energy company running the show by building those big off-shore or on-shore wind farms – bearing in mind that, you know, you might have to think, we're running out of energy, we're running out of materials: how do you maintain that in a post-petrol society? Or we could have the other, completely opposite thing of having a community-owned wind turbine, where the skills to actually repair the tool is within the community and not within an external company. And there is a design called the Hugh Pigott design, by this, this person living in Scotland that has been used all around the world to provide electricity to companies, to, sorry to communities, and I'll put links in the notes .
So there's two aspects, you know, and a resilience aspect as well, but I think we need to think, you know, do we have – want to have the control over the technologies that are running our lives, even if that means it's being a bit less high-tech? I think it's a question worth asking. But another question Langdon Winner asks and said was really urgent to tackle was “a problem that has been brewing since the earliest days of the industrial revolution – whether our society can establish forms and limits for technological change, forms and limits that derive from a positively articulated idea of what society ought to be.” And I quoted here from his book The Whale and the Reactor. So this is a key question to me: how do we want to live? This should be the first question – what do we need for that, that should come second. It seems however nowadays that the first question an innovator is compelled to asks is: what will I be able to sell? And then we worry about the consequences later.
So the problem is, if we do not have a societal or a community project, there is a void – who or what will fill that void? Maybe people happy to control, people happy to provide their answers, people with unchecked biases, and so the technology might help alleviate their fears, and perhaps some of ours. Bias is a very important issue and I hope there was a talk on unconscious bias and you might have heard it as part of the Festival of Ideas . We're not responsible in a way for those biases, but we're responsible for trying to debunk them. And we all have them, we all have beliefs, and beliefs masquerade as truths, so it's very difficult to challenge them but I would argue that this is the work we urgently need to do. If you believe something – check its source, cross-check it, and again. One thing most of us believe is that we can't have a say in a debate about technologies because we're not experts: so let me dispel that one, we all have a responsibility inform ourselves and to have a say. We might want to ask: why do we need so many weapons and nuclear submarines patrolling the seas? What are we so scared of? Other people? People who, as Sting might have said, love their children too? Why do we build so many virtual worlds? Can we no longer face what we've done with the real one? This is worrying. Are we trying to escape death? Some of us might be. We're always looking for the next cure, and the next cure, and might be creating new diseases in the process. What does it mean to live a good life? These are the questions we need to be asking.
I read a sermon from Martin Luther King, from the sixties, which has stayed with me for a very long time . And it was about Jesus's last words on the cross, which was 'Father forgive them for they know not what they do'. And Dr King was saying we have a responsibility to know what we're doing and to make sure that science/ philosophy/ technology is not perverted for example to support the doctrine of white supremacy as happened and still is happening as the, you know, the sad news that is coming at the moment. So this is important: we need to know what we're doing.
So let's return to the heart. Let's return to the heart. It's really difficult because there is a lot of misinformation out there, a lot of opinions, a lot of bias, even in media I once thought I could trust. In addition, we live in a time of great uncertainty, and our brains will have a tendency to freak out – mine certainly does. Where do the answers lie? I believe in a return to the heart, there's too much information out there for the brain to deal with. We need to find it [the heart] and recenter, to return to our centre. What the brain won't know, the heart will. And I'd like to quote Van Morrison here :
If my heart could do my thinkingand my head begin to feelI would look upon the world anew and know what is truly real.Now I cannot tell you how one gets there. I don't even know what it feels to be there, seeing the world from the heart, but I believe these times call for emotional healing and a spiritual practice – and on the blog I suggest links to what is helping me, but finding what works for you and what resonates with you, you know, it is a very personal path . But what is important, what is very important at this time is that we give each other the space to acknowledge our biases, and move from there. It's OK to make mistakes. It's also very important to give each other the time, to pause, to think. Some of us had plenty of that during that lock-down – what did we fill that time with? Perhaps the internet can provide too much distraction too.
Now let me tell you a story. When I was a teenager I was receiving this science magazine and there was an essay competition once. And the story that won it was about a scientist, and that scientist – he was some kind of biologist as I recall – and he had found a cure for something, made a lot of people much happier, you know, that kind of thing, and he got very famous and rich as a result. But at some point he noticed that the monkeys had started to dye, the monkeys he's done the tests with, and so obviously he understood that there was a big side effect to the drug. And, well, what do you do, you know? All is reputation, all is career, all is wealth was based on this, but he couldn't let that pass. He had to warn people. He had to tell the truth, and he said so to his family. The next day, he was dead. It had been easy for the son, the son who had decided that it was more important to keep the wealth than to actually tell the truth.
So there's two things I want to say about this story. One is, as I was saying before, we need to give each other the space, to hold a space to acknowledge what is and to acknowledge that in some situations, yes, we might have made mistakes. And it's hard, our culture doesn't like this, it doesn't like mistakes. But also this relates to my last point about ICT technologies: they're not safe. Of course, the industry won't want you to know about this, so it's pictured as controversial, but independent studies show that the electromagnetic waves we're bathed in have cumulative effects on health, which means they might take a long time to appear those effects, but also we need to bear in mind that we have dramatically increased the levels of exposures. Any physiological process reliant on electric currents and electron exchange in the body is liable to be affected. And children, of course, with their growing bodies and thinner skulls are most at risk. So I'm not asking you to believe what I say, but I do encourage you to check the links I'm going to post on the web . And now that we're threatened with 5G: which means more intense beams, more numerous antennae, some of them on schools, thousands of privately-owned satellites bathing the Earth with man-made electromagnetic radiations that no-one can escape. The industry had to admit at a hearing in the US senate that no safety tests had been performed, and no such studies were currently being financed . And of course, you know, what I mentioned at the beginning of this talk: the hardware and energy consumption issues are still extremely relevant as far as 5G is concerned, because we're here, all of us, in that case, in our consumer incarnation waiting to download boxsets in seconds, that's how it's sold to us – but also remember what I said about the use of videos. So do we want 5G? Who will pay for it? Who will really benefit from it? Who is going to be harmed by it? Is that the only future that is available to us? Our hearts, which rely on electricity to function, I'm sorry to say, are in danger. They're in danger of being overrun by man-made frequencies. They're in danger of being overwhelmed by fear. Yet in the heart lies the courage and wisdom to act.
Now a last myth that is very important to dispel here is that there will be a technological fix. There won't. There won't. We will not solve the problems we're in unless we have a clear look at ourselves. Of course technologies can help, but they can also make matters much worse if we remain within the resource-hungry, consumerist, industrial, for-profit paradigm. Let me quote you from Limits to Growth, The 30 year update, These were the people who first alerted the world to the fact that we were about to run over the physical limits of the planet, so they write
One reason technology and markets are unlikely to prevent overshoot and collapse is that technology and markets are merely tools to serve goals of society as a whole. If society’s implicit goals are to exploit nature, enrich the elites, and ignore the long term, then society will develop technologies and markets that destroy the environment, widen the gap between rich and poor, and optimize for short-term gain. In short, society develops technologies and markets that hasten a collapse instead of preventing it. This is really important. And might sound really familiar to a lot of us. Technologies are deeply embedded in the culture that produces them. And the western industrial world is a culture amongst others, there is no such thing as linear progress towards...? and that's the problem, towards what? We don't know where we're heading, and that's the problem. The quote says: 'if society's implicit goals' so they are not open, there is again this lack of transparency, this void, this possibility for bias to come. So I'm going to insist again, we all have to be part of the debate, we have to remember we're citizens – not just consumers or taxpayers as mainstream media portray us. Who calls us 'citizens'? But that's what we are. We all have to be part of that debate, a debate we have been excluded from, you know, we're not experts and some people have no interest in the public debating potentially profitable technologies; and that we've excluded ourselves from, out of disempowerment, or because it requires some hard work and we're just too busy, or too distracted. How do we want to live? How do you want to live? What makes you happy – not what adverts say should make you happy, but what does make you really happy? What resources you? What fills you with joy? Do we even know? Perhaps, it's time to find out and then, perhaps, we can work out technologies that might be for the best of everyone, not just a few.
Now a decade ago, or over a decade ago, I read a book that I found very scary. It was called Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, and it's been, you know, it's been reedited, with a very relevant introduction by the author, and I would really encourage you to do [I meant read] it, but it was first published in 1976 . And in this book, the main character is a Mexican-American woman with mental health issues, called Connie Ramos, and she ends up incarcerated in a mental hospital. And she's got this empathy and dreaming ability and she receives visits, or dreams, from a being from the future who ends up taking her to this Utopian, agrarian community, where she is introduced to an egalitarian, ecologically sound, and decentralised society. But in the drug induced nightmares, she has visions of another potential future and that future is hyper-capitalist, polluted, stratified society where a rich elite controls the rest of the population through technology, and the control extends to bodies, that of women for example is commodified, and control of mind. I no longer have the book, so I don't remember whether what I'm going to say now is actually true or not, but I recall is a description of a world of insulated people, locked in tiny cells and only able to access the outside via virtual communications. So Connie finds herself at a time nexus when her doctors (or torturers you might want to say) decide to test their fledgling mind-control technology on her. A nexus in time. And I think that's where we're at.
I think this book is very relevant and again, the question is: How do we want to live? What future do we want and what technologies are best going to serve that future? I found Charles Eisenstein's essay on the corona virus (I'll put the link) extremely helpful . We might never have an answer as to what really is at the bottom of covid-19. As I said, there is a lot of misinformation, there is too much emotional baggage and there is a lot of polarisation of the debate that is discharged on the internet – either you're for something or you're against something. But we need to grow up. We need to be able to ask questions. Science is about asking questions, not just feeling secured in, you know, technologies that have been developed two hundred years ago. It's about asking questions, because we move on, we discover new things, we become aware of the consequences of what we've done. So we all need to reflect on this, and perhaps start a debate with those near us: how do we want to live? Do we want to live out of fear – which means not living at all? Or do we want to live out of love, and just enjoy what is given to us to enjoy?
Of course, if we go back to Woman on the Edge of Time, you will have guessed that my preference is for a sustainable, low-tech society living in harmony with Nature, but this doesn't preclude high-technologies for very specific applications. It doesn't preclude high-technologies if we find alternatives to develop them, not such a destructive way. I mean if we look at bio-technologies: does it even make sense to produce sterile seeds? Yet there might come one day we'll be able to and want to grow ourselves wings – but not now, we're not ready. We have to do a lot of work on ourselves first.
And in a way, what we chose doesn't matter so much, what is important is that the choice is fully conscious – not something born from fear, bias, unfulfilled desires, greed, a wish to control. These times call for an awakening: what motivates our technological choices? Our acceptance of them? We can no longer brush these questions aside or treat them superficially, the consequences for us, for future generations, for the continuation of life on this planet are too big. As my friend Carolyn Dougherty wrote in an essay that I encourage you to read: “we don't need to accept the technologies we have today, with the unconscious cultural baggage attached.” 
And of course, this will require some efforts: to remove cultural biases, we have to work on our own biases. The brain doesn't like this too much, because it make us vulnerable. It doesn't have to be pleasant, but it's crucial. The heart will help – this is work that requires huge levels of compassion, for ourselves, and others. It requires, again, a spiritual practice. It take great courage, but we are in times that require great courage of us. We need to take responsibilities for the times we live in. As Joanna Macy says, we're here, now so who else can do it?
Let me offer another story. For many reasons, I believed that 5G is madness and it should be opposed, yet I am no conspiracy theorist and last year, I was asked by the Young Producers at the Greenwich Museum to take part in the last evening of the Moon Festival and tell some stories there, and they asked whether I could mention conspiracy theories, and I was very puzzled by this. I know very little about moon landing conspiracy theory, but this is what I cam up with . I reminded people of a short story published in 1951 by Arthur C. Clarke. And in this story there is a geologist, his assistant and their driver, who truck across the lunar landscape looking for minerals and collecting samples. One morning, as the geologist is frying the breakfast bacon, he happens to look out of the galley window and he notices a strange light shining from a peak that looks unnaturally flat, it looks as if as if light were reflected by a mirror-like surface. And so he manages to convince his team to investigate, and if anything, it would be a break from the routine and an opportunity for a hike. So the geologist and his assistant scale the mountain, and of course with the Moon's gravity it's nice and easy, and the top, they find this black smooth tetrahedron surrounded by a hemispherical force-field, so they can't get to it, so obviously it's an alien object from a much more technologically advanced civilisation. Now twenty years later, the structure still defies the scientific analysis of those people on the Moon and so they blow the object up with, you know, nuclear power. They could only destroy what they didn't understand. And of course the geologist remains haunted by this discovery and he believes the object to be a beacon, a sentinel left by another civilisation so it can be warned when the intelligent species likely to emerge on the promising blue planet nearby begins to develop space travel technology.
OK so perhaps there is no sentinel on the Moon. Perhaps there is one, still waiting to be found. Perhaps there is one, it was noticed by the Astronauts, or by unmanned missions, and no-one told us about it. But if there is one (and even if there isn't), we might want to ask: what kind of truths are we showing about ourselves? About (hu)mankind? A culture with the technology to go to the Moon and back, yet who treats its home planet as supply house and sewer and is ready to let it die? A culture with the technology to send tourists to space, yet ready to let millions die in and of poverty? What would we tell the aliens and you might want to think – what will you tell your kids when they ask? Perhaps I'm here today because back then, I had no satisfactory answer. Now of course, I'd love to go to the Moon, but not like this.
The American went there in a spirit of conquest, on a collective, if not on an individual basis. But what the Astronauts rediscovered was the Earth, the Earth rising over the lunar horizon. That's what they rediscovered, the Earth. Our own, stunningly beautiful spacecraft.
And perhaps this is the lesson – not to forget the Earth, but to care for her. To heal the wounds we're inflicting to her fabric, the wounds we're inflicting to ourselves, because we are from this Earth, we're not dis-incarnated spirits out there, we have bodies then perhaps we can reach for the stars once more, a a child would, in a spirit of awe, wonder, curiosity, care and ultimately love.
So from all this, you will have gathered I'm not keen on the technologies currently on offer. Key questions are – what motivates them? What are we trying to achieve? Who benefits? Who controls the technology – and I'm all for repairability and local control. Are the technologies transparent? How will it affect the children down to the 7th generation? How can technologies be aligned with what is in the highest and best of all?
Yet still teenagers are lulled into engineering on the promise of high-tech feats. So we have to ask: what does it mean to be an engineer? And I have to go to the Moon again. I loved the film Apollo 13. I loved the story behind it. I loved the fact that at some point, well they had to bring these guys back on Earth, and they wanted to bring them safely, health and sound, back on Earth. And what the the engineers have to do? Well, they had to look at what was available on board and build something from that, and that, that's an amazing scene when all these things are put on that table and they have to use their skills, their ingenuity, all their knowledge to make up something that's going to bring these men from space back down to Earth. And this is what it means to be, to be an engineer: to work with what is there. Then more recently – and it doesn't need to be high-tech, that's the key – more recently I listened to a podcast where a French Spationaut was interviewed and he said they were very lucky, despite all this, despite the skills of the men on the spacecraft and the skills of the people in Houston, they were very lucky . And this reminded me of a scene in the film with the Aborigenes, the Australian Aborigenes, and perhaps, you know, perhaps, if we look at what is (because the men had to look at their situation with unflinching eyes, at the risks), if we look at our resources, if we bring some ingenuity and work really hard, then we might get that extra little bit of help [correction see 30]. If we get back into balance within ourselves, then Earth, I'm sure will help us recover.
I'll finish with a quote from Joanna Macy:
The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world: we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as if from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.
Thank you very much for your attention. I realise I've been a bit longer than I said I would. But please look after yourselves in those times.
 Ugo Bardi, Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet, A report to the Club of Rome. 2014, Chelsea Green Publishing, USA.
 I have written more extensive blogs on energy and mining issues, please see my three previous entries and the references therein.
 H. Ferreboeuf et al., “Lean ICT - towards digital sobriety”, a study by The Shift Project, https://theshiftproject.org, March 2019. Available: https://theshiftproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Lean-ICT-Report.pdf [accessed 21st April 2019]
 M. Efoui-Hess et al., “Climate crisis: the unsustainable use of online video”, a study by The Shift Project, https://theshiftproject.org, July 2019. Available: https://theshiftproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/2019-02.pdf [accessed 23rd April 2019]
 “‘Tsunami of data’ could consume one fifth of global electricity by 2025”, by Climate Home News, part of the Guardian Environment Network, The Guardian, 11th December 2017. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/11/tsunami-of-data-could-consume-fifth-global-electricity-by-2025 [accessed 27th February 2019]
 See www.fairphone.com
 I recently listened to a podcast interview of Ryan Gellert, General Manager for Patagonia, in which he said:
If you're in the business of making things [...] the single, strongest piece of advice I'd give you is to really commit to deeply understanding your supply chain because I think almost in any business that manufactures anything that's where the dirty stuff happens.See “Business for good – Ryan Gellert”, podcast interview, episode 43, available at: https://sismique.fr.
 The RAE's Statement of Ethical Principles is available at: https://www.raeng.org.uk/publications/reports/statement-of-ethical-principles
This is just an example amongst many. The main point to here is that looking after the environment is not part of mainstream engineering culture because the costs of environmental damage are not yet factored into the economic models we work with. Change is needed on many levels.
 I highly recommend any work by Joanna Macy. In particular:
J. Macy & C. Johnstone, Active Hope: How to face the mess we're in without going crazy, New World Library, Novato, California, 2012.
J. Macy & N. Gahbler, Pass it On: Five Stories that Can Change the World, Parallax Press, 2006.
Online: https://joannamacy.net; https://workthatreconnect.org
 See for example the following articles:
Chella Ramanan, “The video game industry has a diversity problem, but it can be fixed”, The Guardian, 15th March 2017. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/15/video-game-industry-diversity-problem-women-non-white-people [accessed 7th June 2020]. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the original news story I refer to in the podcast.
Sarah Lewis, “The Racial Bias Built Into Photography”, The New York Times, 25th April 2019. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/25/sarah-lewis-racial-bias-photography [accessed 7th June 2020].
Caroline Criado-Perez, “The deadly truth about a world built for me – from stab vests to car crashes”, The Guardian, 23rd February 2019. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/feb/23/truth-world-built-for-men-car-crashes [accessed 7th June 2020].
 For a plunge into the dark side of algorithms, I recommend reading: Weapons of Maths Destruction – how big data increases inequality and threatens democracy, Cathy O'Neil, Penguin Random House, 2016.
 E. Klein, Allons-nous liquider la science? Galilée et les Indiens, Champs sciences, Flammarion, 2013 (original edition: 2008).
 See e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/news/series/cambridge-analytica-files
 This is reported from personal experience of seeing videos, with no obvious offensive content (except to the dominant narrative), disappear from Facebook. An interesting documentary to watch is Adam Curtis's “Hypernormalisation” BBC documentary. Available: https://bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04b183c [accessed 7th June 2020].
 C. Langley & S. Parkinson, “Science and the Corporate Agenda – The detrimental effect of commercial influence on science and technology”, Scientists for Global Responsibility Report, October 2009. Available: https://www.sgr.org.uk/index.php/publications/science-and-corporate-agenda [accessed 7th June 2020]. The quote is from the executive summary.
S. Parkinson & C. Wood, “Irresponsible Science? – How the fossil fuel and arms corporations finance professional engineering and science organisations”, Scientists for Global Responsibility Report, October 2019. Available: https://www.sgr.org.uk/publications/irresponsible-science [accessed 7th June 2020].
 Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1986. The pages quotes refer to the paperback edition, 1989.
 See e.g. Hugh Pigott's blog: https://www.scoraigwind.co.uk/about/, and https://www.windempowerment.org a sharing network for users of small wind turbines worldwide.
 Pragya Agarwal, Sway: Unravelling unconscious bias, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020. See: https://yorkfestivalofideas.com/2020-online/calendar/sway-bias, the talk has passed, but there's link to buying the book.
 M.L. King, Strength to Love, Collins, Fontana Books, London & Glasgow,1963.
 Van Morrison, “I forgot that love existed”, in Poetic Champions Composed, Mercury, 1987.
 As I said, anything spiritual is very personal. I can only share what is helping me, and also acknowledge that when I give a talk, I come with my whole self – not simply, for example, my scientific brain. Here are some reading/ listening suggestions:
Joanna Macy's Active Hope referenced above.
Chris Lüttichau, Calling us Home, Head of Zeus, 2017.
Lindsay Mack's Tarot for the Wild Soul podcast: https://lindsaymack.com/podcast
Matthieu Ricard, The Art of Meditation, Atlantic Books, 2010.
 See for example the information on the following websites and articles:
The EM Radiation Research Trust: https://www.radiationresearch.org
Physician's Health Initiative for Radiation and the Environment: http://www.phiremedical.org
The International Appeal to Stop 5G on Earth and in Space: https://www.5gspaceappeal.org/the-appeal
The Astronomers' appeal: https://atronomersappeal.wordpress.com
D. Davies, “5G: The Unreported Global Threat”, 18th May 2019, The Startup, a publication from Medium, https://medium.com/swhl. Available: https://medium.com/swhl/5g-the-unreported-global-threat-717c98c9c37d [accessed 7th June 2019].
 See e.g. the YouTube excerpt on the EM - Radiation Research website: https://www.radiationresearch.org/articles/us-senator-blumenthal-raises-concerns-on-5g-wireless-technology-health-risks-at-senate-hearing-youtube
 D. Meadows, J. Randers & D. Meadows, Limits to Growth, the 30-year update, Earthscan, London, 2005. The quote can be found in an online synopsis here: http://donellameadows.org/archives/a-synopsis-limits-to-growth-the-30-year-update.
Also I need to apologise here: the first people who tried to alert us of the dangers of disregarding our landbase were First Nations People.
 Marge Piercy, Woman On The Edge of Time, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976. See e.g. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_on_the_Edge_of_Time [accessed 25 May 2020].
Marge Piercy, Woman On The Edge of Time, Fiction Del Rey, Penguin, 2019. See e.g. https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Woman_on_the_Edge_of_Time.html [the introduction is available in the preview; accessed 25 May 2020].
 Charles Eisenstein, “The Coronation”, March 2020. Available: https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-coronation/ [acccessed 7th June 2020].
 Carolyn Dougherty, "On progress, On Airships" Steampunk Magazine, No.5, pp.27-29, 2005. Accessible: http://www.combustionbooks.org/downloads/spm5-web.pdf
 I wrote a blog post on my experience at the Greenwich Museum. Available at: https://talesandshapes.com/2019/08/06/a-return-to-the-moon/
 La vie intime des sous-marins nucléaire, La Conversation Scientifique avec E. Klein, Radio France Culture. Available (in French): https://www.franceculture.fr/la-conversation-scientifique/la-vie-secrete-des-sous-marins-nucleaires
 Edit from 3rd September 2020. First, I should have said 'Aboriginal people of Australia' rather than 'Aborigines', my apologies for this. Then I got my films mixed up: the scene I was referring to is not in Appollo 13, but at the end of The Right Stuff, when John Glenn orbits the Earth and flies over Australia. He has problems with the heat shield of his capsule and there are worries he might not make it back safely