Category Archives: NATURE

Landscapes, infrascapes, greenscapes

The landscape and what our image of the landscape is like is due to a long tradition that includes traditional landscape painting, traditions of aesthetics, place of residence and a landscape catalog conveyed by the media. A landscape is often thought to be beautiful when it does not directly show the human handprint. “In Finland, it is customary to talk about ‘untouched nature’. Few proverbs are so untrue and downright false, ”writes Ismo Tuormaa [1] Pure or untouched nature as a concept is misleading. According to research, old, natural or nature-like forests make up well below 5 per cent of Finland’s forest area. It may take a hundred years to a thousand years to return to a perfect natural state, depending on the tree species in the forest. In the United States, for example, it has been estimated that the restoration of felled deciduous forests to virgin forests will usually take one or two complete tree generations, ie 150 to 500 years. [2]

Åland archipelago

 

Infrascapes

Urban landscapes rest on built infrastructure. The infrastructure is visible and invisible at the same time. As long as it works, it is not thought of. And yet the urban landscape is very strongly shaped by infrastructure. Media exists increasingly as the true landscape forming force. [3] Infrastructures as pipes, power plants, highways, sewers, pylons carrying the high voltage, cables, transmission Towers, data centers, wasteland and power lines are central to shaping our cityscape. Ports and power plants are monuments of our time. There is a certain beauty in manufactured landscapes, says Samir Bhowmik.

 

The disadvantages of the built infrastructure are pollution, radiation and the removal of living space from other organisms, as well as the energy, natural resources and the resulting pollution used to create the infrastructure.

According to research, the urban environment affects our well-being in many ways, for example by increasing stress, raising blood pressure and disturbing concentration, while nature calms down. Positive effects on, among other things, heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension can be seen after just a few minutes spent in nature.

According to biophilia theory, innate attachment to all living things is the foundation through which we have been able to achieve sustainable forms of life in general. Literally, “biophilia” means love of life and living systems. [4]

Man has made a decisive contribution to the reduction of species diversity. In order for nature to sustain life, its diversity must be safeguarded. Indeed, species interactions play a key role in diversity. No species thrives or functions in isolation, but in conjunction with other species

Roughly speaking, it can be said that we have found and named about 20 percent of the Earth’s species. This means that species that we do not yet know and that could be potentially useful are constantly disappearing from the world. We may lose species that could have been the origin of a new drug or a new food source. While the situation seems inconsolable in many ways, researchers firmly believe there is still hope. One reason for optimism is that, compared to previous generations, we have much more information and tools to solve problems. [5]

Greenscapes

Green infrastructure is a design approach whose key principles include a holistic approach, cross-sectoral systems thinking, the pursuit of multiple benefits (ecosystem services, but also public health and economic benefits, for example) and a long-term strategic perspective on urban habitat management.

A dense urban structure is beneficial for mitigation measures, but the urban environment is vulnerable to the changes brought about by climate change. Mitigation and adaptation should therefore be seen as parallel goals that must both be taken into account in the development of the urban environment. It should be possible to take the next step past mitigation measures towards adaptation. Resilience is a new key concept in sustainable development. [6]

In England, a London Green Grid has been created which seems to be a very interesting and comprehensive green infrastructure program. The main goals for green infrastructure planning in London are climate change mitigation and adaptation. In this context, flooding and heat island are seen as key threats. Other key goals include increasing green infrastructure in the metropolitan area, for example by planting 10,000 new trees in the metropolitan area. In Finnish cities, compaction and thus the shrinking of the green sector in cities is still ongoing. [7]

Various innovations have been and are being developed to build a greener infrastructure. The most radical green infrastructure solution is Bosco Verticale in Italy. Bosco Verticale is a residential building consisting of two buildings, in which dizzying tree plantings and other vegetation have been planted in the building. Recycled water and energy produced by solar panels are used for irrigation.

The Bosco Verticale (“Vertical Forest”) in Milan has hundreds of trees and more than 2,000 plants embedded into its façade

 

Nature-based solutions currently seem to be the key word for EU environmental funding. [8] Biomimetics is an activity that seeks to understand innovations produced by nature and then transfer them to human activities. Identified benefits include e.g. energy efficiency, utilization of photosynthesis, durable and lightweight structures, and resilient solutions for different situations. [9]

Since 2007, the Baubotanik research team at the University of Stuttgart has been developing structures that combine living trees and steel structures. The idea is therefore to develop and test living load-bearing structures. [10] Baubotanik describes a construction method in which structures are created by the interaction of a technical joint and plant growth. For this purpose, living and non-living building blocks are interconnected so that they grow together to form a plant-technical composite structure: The individual plants merge to form a new, larger overall organism and the technical elements grow into the plant structure. For this approach, the term building botany was established in 2007 at the Institute of Fundamentals of Modern Architecture (IGMA) at the University of Stuttgart.

The Baubotanik research team is developing structures based on living trees.

 

Living root bridges in Northeast India are grown, functional structures from the antenna roots of the Indian rubber tree (ficus elastica). The khasi and jainti peoples of southern Meghalaya have developed various techniques to take advantage of the growth stages of the rubber tree. Increased bridges connect houses, fields, villages and markets. [10]

Green roofs and green walls are essential building blocks of green infrastructure in a densely built big city. Productive roofs will be the thing of the future. One of the test roofs also had a combined green roof and solar panels. This solution also has its own name “biosolar roof”. [7]

Oslo is a good example of the innovative nature of small town landscaping. Green walls and roofs have expanded into grass fields with tram rails, natural meadows in the urban area and biogas-heated  benches. Oslo won the European Green Capital 2019 designation.

CityTree Project

 

A green city like Helsinki is admired elsewhere. The challenges in greening cities and building green infrastructure are in a really dense urban structure at a completely different level compared to Finnish cities, many of the implemented projects are expensive and still remain in the degree of green frosting. It is much easier to take green infrastructure into account during design and construction. [7]

Perhaps green infrastructure can act as a bridge between industrial infrastructure and the natural environment.

 

reference:

  1. Samir Bhowmik and Jussi Parikka, “Infrascapes for Media Archaeographers,” Archaeographies: Aspects of Radical Media Archaeology, eds. Moritz Hiller and Stefan Höltgen, Berlin: Schwabe Verlage, 2019: 183-194.

 

photos:

  1. © tuula vehanen

2. Image: Joe Mud,CC BY-SA 2.0, via IFPRI Flicker

3. The Bosco Verticale (“Vertical Forest”) in Milan has hundreds of trees and more than 2,000 plants embedded into its facade, Courtesy of Luca Nebuloni/Flickr

4.  Courtesy of Paolo Rosselli/Stefano Boeri Architetti

5.  The Baubotanik research team is developing structures based on living trees.(http://www.baubotanik.org/en/)

6. https://www.ar.tum.de/en/gtla/research/living-root-bridges/

7. Monica Thorud Olsen, retrieved 08/24/2018

 

 

1]  https://suomenluonto.fi/uutiset/koskemattoman-luonnon-myytti/

[2]  /https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aarniomets%C3%A4

[3]  Infrascapes for Media Archaeographers  /Samir Bhowmik & Jussi Parikka

[4]  https://www.vihreaveraja.fi/@Bin/220277/luonnon+vaikutukset+hyvinvointiin.pdf

[5]  https://www.auroralehti.fi/lajien-tuho/

[6]/ https://blogs.aalto.fi/virma/2015/03/25/ilmastonmuutos-hillinnasta-eteenpain-kohti-sopeutumista/

[7]  /https://blogs.aalto.fi/virma/2015/08/04/vihreaa-infraa-lontoolaisittain/

[8]  / https://blogs.aalto.fi/virma/2015/11/29/bosco-verticale-ja-baubotanik-marraskuisia-unelmia-wienissa/

[9]  /https://www.muoviyhdistys.fi/2019/12/13/kummajaiset-biomimiikka-ja-strateginen-innovaatio/

[10] / https://blogs.aalto.fi/virma/2015/11/29/bosco-verticale-ja-baubotanik-marraskuisia-unelmia-wienissa/

[11]  /https://www.ar.tum.de/gtla/forschung/baubotanik/

Terrain textures of infrascapes: photo-essay.

In order to understand media-nature interactions, it is quite important to understand that “media analysis starts in landscapes, which themselves include both historical and ecological aspects”. [1] So why is it still, nowadays, that media and nature have a disconnected relationship? Our landscapes are forever changed with the magnificence of power plant chimneys, electrical lines, oil ports, to name a few. The structures and the influence of them are visible from a distance and are there for us to notice without even realising. However, what about the ground and terrain of Earth these majestic structures are built on? What about the close-up view of these terrains that infrastructure stands on?

This photo-essay is exploring the terrain textures of Kruunuvuorenranta, where one of the oil silos of Helsinki is located. The oil silo, nowadays, is mainly used as an event venue for exhibiting art installations and organising events; however, the nature and terrain around it is changed, forever, due to toxic spillage. How these textures differ from pure terrains in nature? Is there “purity” in nature even, nowadays? The discourse in nature purity.

(All photography is by the author, 25 October, 2020, Kruunuvuorenranta)

References:

[1] Bhowmik, Samir and Parikka, Jussi.. (2019).Infrascapes for Media Archaeographers. Schwabe Verlag Berlin GmbH. pp 183-193.

Plastopocene [*]

We are used to take plastic for granted as part of our lives. Plastic is everywhere. More than 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year, and according to a UN report, more than 9 billion tonnes of plastic is produced worldwide [1]. By the early 20th century, plastics were used in electric lighting, telephones, wireless telegrams, photography, and sound recordings. In fact, when we look at media devices commonly used over the last century, we find that plastics were crucial to a number of popular media technologies. In 1948, Columbia records introduced a vinyl record. Lightweight polycarbonate plastic is also used in c-cassettes, MiniC´Discs, DVD and Blu-Ray.

Plastic is present in the food packaging, clothing, electronics and pharmaceutical industries, as coatings, in the photographic and film industries, in consumer goods, in childcare – almost everything around us. The electronics industry in Europe uses an estimated 6% of plastics [11] and15-25% of the microelectronics in use (eg smartphones, data computers, tablets) is plastic. Plastic is an ideal insulator because it has poor electrical and thermal conductivity, good formability and is lightweight.

Plastics can be divided into thermoplastics, which do not change when heated and can be reshaped, and disposable plastics, which are used in circuit boards, for example, due to their plasticity and good heat resistance. It usually ends up in a landfill.

In addition, there are bio-based plastics, which refer to plastics processed from renewable raw materials of biological origin. Biodegradable plastics are materials that degrade through a biological process into carbon dioxide and water. Contrary to popular belief, bio-basedness is not a prerequisite for biodegradability or vice versa. [2]

A 1956 world oil production distribution, showing historical data and future production, proposed by M. King Hubbert – it had a peak of 12.5 billion barrels per year in about the year 2000. As of 2016, the world’s oil production was 29.4 billion barrels per year

 

From deep time to the 6th massextinctions

Over more than two hundred years, technocultural systems have transformed significant shares of the Earth’s fossil fuels into heat and plastic. The formation of fossil fuels takes thousands of years, the culture of the plastics industry – extraction, transport, trade, fractionation and conversion into monomers and then polymers and then products that are sold, used and disposed of – takes place within a few months (Marriott and Minio-Paluello 2014) [12]

The overall impact of human societies on earth has led to the anthropocene, a new geological era.

A huge number of living systems are not keeping pace with the ecological changes caused by anthropogenic industrial activities. While some species thrive in these changed conditions, there is an ongoing sixth wave of mass extinction that will be of immense importance to our planet and habitats. This is despite the fact that more than 99 percent of the species that have occurred on Earth have already become extinct (McKinney 1997: 110).

An estimated 5.25 trillion plastic particles floating in the oceans with an estimated total weight of 270,000 kilos. Plastic debris accumulates into large spins that only collect more debris with them.

By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the seas than fish.

-Plastics are known to release chemicals that are harmful to the environment, but according to a new study, they also release the greenhouse gases methylene and ethane into the atmosphere. Polyethylene, which is also the most common type of plastic, proved to be the worst producer of greenhouse gas emissions. Polyethylene is used in plastic bags, among other things, and accounts for more than a third of all plastic produced in the world. [3]

Certain forms of bacteria have evolved to inhabit the plastic vortices of the oceans and use it for food. Bacteria are responsible for the most significant changes in the biosphere, the atmospheric oxidation event that occurred 2.3 billion years ago. Microbes also live in the digestive tract of all vertebrates and are responsible for digestion. This raises the question of what we should protect. Aesthetic differences are crucial here; is an easier to feel compassion for a penguin than a micro-organism that requires an electron microscope to examine.

E-waste management, recycling,  environmental pollution and health risks

Since 2015, the global rapidly growing amount of e-waste has exceeded 42 million tons. This poses an ecological, health, ethical and colonialist problem. The global north supplies enormous amounts of waste for recycling and storage in the global south. In the words of geographer David Harvey, “the capitalist economy does not solve its problems, it only moves them from one state to another” **. [4]

Electronic waste mountains are a serious environmental and health risk. Equipment often contains mercury, lead and other heavy metals, various fluorescent and flame retardants, and plastics that, if improperly handled, can contaminate soil, air, and water.  [4] The primary problem of incineration arises from the presence of halogenated flame retardants which release toxic gases. Metals are separated from circuit boards by heating and dissolving in acid. When soaking, wastewater enters rivers as well as soil. In addition, the chemicals used in e-waste treatment are very dangerous to health, and respiratory diseases, for example, are common among scrap collectors in developing countries. Many of them are minor children. E-waste toxins can also cause a variety of birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and many other health hazards [4]

In the words of geographer David Harvey, “the capitalist economy does not solve its problems, it only moves them from one state to another” **. [5]

Photo: IMPEL-EU European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law

Chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system

Many chemicals are used in the processing of plastics and plastic compounds, which have been found to interfere with the human endocrine system, which is the body’s hormonal function responsible for regulating metabolism, growth, development, reproduction and mood. More common endocrine diseases include diabetes, bone loss, obesity, and various thyroid diseases. [6] How important are the chemicals in plastic compounds in the pathogenesis of these living standards diseases.

The greatest concern about the presence of BPA and phthalates has been raised in food and beverage packaging where chemicals can where chemicals can dissolve and be ingested. In particular, the use of BPA-based polycarbonate in baby bottles has been a concern and in many countries their sale is prohibited by law. BPA and phthalates can be found on computers, CDs and DVDs, and, surprisingly, also on thermal papers, commercial receipts, and ATM printouts. It has been found that BPA is absorbed more efficiently if the skin is wet or oily, whether it has been in contact with e.g. moisturizer or sweaty.

Life after plastic

Modern industrial societies are based on the idea of ​​continuous economic growth. Full employment and welfare services are dependent on economic growth, as are debt and growth-based financing and investment systems. A halt in economic growth would mean the dismantling of services and support systems, debt restructuring, bank failures, high unemployment and the downsizing of the entire welfare state. [7]. Growth and development are largely based on the oil industry, the production of plastics and thus the media at the heart of cultures. Communication, transport, stock exchanges and logistics are built on digital media.

In discussions about the collapse of industrial society, the most topical issue is most often the peak of world oil production defined by M. King Hubbert, followed by the inevitable decline in total production. As oil is the world’s main source of energy and its importance is further emphasized in key areas of society’s infrastructure, the oil peak is considered to be an insurmountable problem and the cause of the collapse. What makes the issue topical is the fact that many people assume that the oil peak was passed between 2005 and 2011, when the world economy would have already reached its peak and would soon go into recession. For example, the financial crisis of 2007-2009 is considered to be the result of an oil peak. [8]

Heinberg does not believe that the oil peak can be solved by technical solutions, as the world economy and technological development are far behind the current problem, oil is also crucial for the production of other forms of energy, and a viable form of energy would only delay rather than prevent a collapse. In his book Powerdown; Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World, he puts forward as a primary solution a cultural change of direction in which the world abandons the pursuit of growth and high consumption. [8]

Jonathan Huebner, for his part, defined the innovation peak of technological development by comparing the list of major inventions from the Middle Ages to the present with the world’s current population. He found that the peak of innovation was reached as early as 1873 and that the average innovativeness of the world’s population declined throughout the 20th century, despite the fact that the population was more educated and more funds were devoted to research. Based on the innovation curve he has formed, he estimates that in 2005, 85% of all innovations had already been made. According to him, technological development is limited not only by what is physically possible to invent, but also by what is economically possible or sensible to invent. [9]

The collapse of industrial society is seen as a dramatic chain of events that would result in famine, epidemics, the collapse of democratic systems, population displacement, the collapse of safety nets and chaos. As a significant difference from historical collapses, the collapse of industrial societies is seen for the first time in world history as a purely global phenomenon. On the other hand, if humanity is able to renew its culture and values, according to Thom Hartmann, it is possible to build a new society after the collapse that is not based on private property, growth, subjugation and destruction and could therefore be more permanent in structure. [10]

Alternatives are being sought for oil and substitutes are being developed for plastics, such as sunflower oil, seaweed, cellulose and milk. The production of biodiesel, which takes land away from food production, has already been criticized. What about when you want to make more bio-based plastics on the market. It therefore makes sense to focus on the development and production of bio-based plastics in raw material sources that do not compete with food production, [11]

Of the substitutes being developed as a sustainable solution, there are hardly any. They do not solve the problems of continued growth and over-consumption or acquisition. The only solution on a sustainable basis is to seek out the structure of society, worlds of values ​​and material-centredness from society and to look for alternative models of action.

Painting

REFERENCES:

-TECHNOFOSSILS of the ANTHROPOCENE
Media, Geology, and Plastics / Sy Taffel

* ´Plastopocene´ -term copied from: https://ekokumppanit.fi/muoviopas/

[1]  /https://www.maailma.net/uutiset/tuore-tutkimus-muovi-luultua-vaarallisempaa-paastaa-ilmakehaan-kasvihuonekaasuja

[2] s/https://www.pakkaus.com/biopohjainen-ja-biohajoava-muovi-eivat-tarkoita-samaa/

[3]  /https://www.maailma.net/uutiset/tuore-tutkimus-muovi-luultua-vaarallisempaa-paastaa-ilmakehaan-kasvihuonekaasuja

[4]   /https://eetti.fi/vastuullinentekniikka/

/https://www.maailma.net/nakokulmat/muovigaten-jalkipyykki-mita-muovin-dumppaaminen-kehitysmaihin-kertoo-taloudellisesta; **citation  from David Harvey´s lecture ’The Enigma of Capital”, which was arranged in  London School of Economics 26.4.2010

[5] /https://www.maailma.net/nakokulmat/muovigaten-jalkipyykki-mita-muovin-dumppaaminen-kehitysmaihin-kertoo-taloudellisesta; **citation  from David Harvey´s lecture ’The Enigma of Capital”, which was arranged in  London School of Economics 26.4.2010

[6]  https://www.vaasankeskussairaala.fi/potilaille/hoito-ja-tutkimukset/erikoisalat/storningar-i-hormonbalansen-och-amnesomsattningen—endokrinologi/

[7] “Hyvinvointivaltio vaarassa”, Helsingin Sanomat 30.9.2010, s. A5

[8]  Grupp, Adam: Peak Oil Primer energybulletin.net. Energy Bulletin

[9]  Huebner, Jonathan: A possible declining trend for worldwide innovation

[10]  Hartmann, Thom: The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1997

[11] /https://ekokumppanit.fi/muoviopas/

[12]  TECHNOFOSSILS of the ANTHROPOCENE
Media, Geology, and Plastics

Sy Taffel

The Thingification of Everything

What if everything was connected? What if all the information we need would be just one glance away? What if every single move we make could be translated into data, be documented, and evaluated. What if all our senseless actions and unsustainable behaviors would be visible to everyone. What if, instead of learning a new language, we create one that nobody understands.

Karen Brad wrote that thingification“ the turning of relations into “things,” “entities,” “relata”—infects much of the way we understand the world and our relationship to it.” [1]

it is once again possible to acknowledge nature, the body, and materiality in the fullness of their becoming without resorting to the optics of transparency or opacity, the geometries of absolute exteriority or interiority, and the theoretization of the human as either pure cause or pure effect while at the same time remaining resolutely accountable for the role “we” play in the intertwined practices of knowing and becoming. [2]

What if in our desperate attempts to control what was given to us for free, we cover the world in rubbish and data. What if everything is already connected and our dense species just fails to see it.

 


[1] Karen Barad: Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter [Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2003, vol. 28, no. 3] https://www.uio.no/studier/emner/sv/sai/SOSANT4400/v14/pensumliste/barad_posthumanist-performativity.pdf

[2] ibid

Plastiglomerate – The molten plastic cores of the anthropocene.

Plastiglomerate sample/ready-made collected by geologist Patricia Corcoran and sculptor Kelly Jazvac at Kamilo Beach, Hawai’i, 2012. Photo: Kelly Wood. Courtesy of the artist.  | SOURCE: https://www.e-flux.com/journal/78/82878/plastiglomerate/

Plastic is the material that is probably most representative of our single-use-throw-away culture. When we considering the amount of time that we actively use plastic (as an essential part of electronic devices or as something more simple like a plastic cup) compared to the hundreds of years it takes to decompose plastic, it becomes quite evident what is fundamentally wrong with the way we consume.

In his work Technofossils of the Athnorpocene Dr. Sy Taffel, senior lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand emphasizes: ” …the urgent need for a dramatic reorientation of the material infrastructures and practices of consumption that underpin twenty-first-century digital cultures.” [1]

How much plastic is becoming part of our future geology is visible in Plastiglomerates. Plastiglomerate, a term just recently coined, refers to polymers that are combined with other materials creating fragments with much greater density. Basically it is a stone made out of a mixture of natural stuff like sand or wood that is held together by a molten and hardened plastic core.

Patricia Corcoran, Charles Moore, and Kelly Jazvac, who discovered and named Plastiglomerates present a striking reminder of the long-lasting and damaging influence of human existence on our environment and a new symbol of the Anthropocene: “…this anthropogenically influenced material has great potential to form a marker horizon of human pollution, signaling the occurrence of the informal Anthropocene epoch.” [2]

————————————
[1] Sy Taffel: Technofossile of The Anthropocene. Cultural Politics, Volume 12, Issue 3, © 2016 Duke University Press, p.358
[2] Patricia L. Corcoran, Charles J. Moore, Kelly Jazvac: An anthropogenic marker horizon in the future rock record, https://www.geosociety.org/gsatoday/archive/24/6/article/i1052-5173-24-6-4.htm

The flip side of the media

The flip side of the media

Digital media is often thought to be that environmentally friendly option. After all, it saves huge amounts of information on paper, messages sent via the Internet, remote meetings, information in the web is fast, effortless and energy-saving. However, there is a huge production process behind digital media that is by no means unproblematic.

THE ORIGIN OF MEDIA

In the soil rests the seed of digital media from which it is converted into media in its many forms, global media networks and sophisticated media equipment through mining, chemical processes and a highly refined thermal control system.

The rock is removed by blasting and drilling metals and minerals that, as a result of numerous thermological and chemical processes, reach sufficient concentration, sufficient purity to guarantee media performance, speed of networks and equipment, and a more streamlined appearance of equipment. The functionality of data transmission and cloud services are maintained by means of advanced thermal regulation. A small deviation in temperature can lead to overheating and a network crash.

On our home computers, we look forward to the connection being restored. The blackout of the screen and the interruption of communications may seem like greater adversity and personal punishment. We are accustomed to seeing effective data transfer and access as a right around which much of our lives revolve. However, little has been discussed about the geological and thermodynamic system behind and maintaining seamless data transfer or its climate or social implications.

Both the history of communication and the present have been entirely dependent on metals, of which copper and silica are the most important. Copper and silicon are part of almost all modern media. All metal is bound to the aggregate from which it must be separated. The process requires huge amounts of heat, and only a small fraction of the huge amount of aggregate is clean enough to be used for media needs. Ten kilograms of copper are obtained from a ton of aggregate. The rest of the aggregate is rock waste. Contamination is a by-product of such a process. Surplus rock material is only one part of the waste generated by the process, in addition to the chemicals used, the rock dust generated in mining, the by-products of processing and the used electronic waste. [5]

Many of the raw materials used in electronic equipment come from mines in countries where it is difficult to safeguard fundamental human rights. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, mines owned by insurgents and various paramilitary forces have funded and fed wars that have killed more people than in any conflict since World War II.

Congo and its neighbouring countries account for a large proportion of the tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold used in electronic components. Without them, computers, tablets and cell phones would not work.

Larger-scale mining in particular has also led to significant environmental damage. [1]

Most of our electronic equipment are manufactured in factories whose working conditions do not meet internationally agreed minimum standards. Salaries are not enough to live on, trade unions are banned and many workers live in conditions comparable to slavery. [1]

The biggest environmental impacts of electronic equipment are energy consumption and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions, electronic waste, and the toxic chemicals and heavy metals used in the equipment.

The energy efficiency of the devices has improved but the need for energy is still on the rise as more and more energy is needed for digital media storage and data processing.

Tens of millions of tonnes of electronic waste are generated every year. From Europe, e.g. Nigeria and Ghana leave Europe with a lot of “reusable” equipment that ends up directly in a landfill. An estimated 5-13% of e-waste in the EU is exported illegally.

Electronic waste mountains are a serious environmental and health risk. Equipment often contains mercury, lead and other heavy metals, various fluorescent and flame retardants, and plastics that, if improperly handled, can contaminate soil, air, and water. In addition, many of these substances, as well as the chemicals used in e-waste treatment, are very hazardous

and health, and respiratory diseases, for example, are common among waste collectors in developing countries. Many of them are minor children. E-waste toxins can also cause a variety of birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and many other health hazards. [1]

COPPER & CRIMES

According to Goldman Sachs, copper and nickel will be found in the soil for another 40 years. [2] The depletion of natural resources is changing the integrated culture, practices, economy, geopolitics and climate conditions of the digital age. [3] An extensive criminal network has already been built around copper. There are motorcycle gangs, individual criminals and organisations like the Italian mafia involved. Thieves, for example, can take church roofs and grounded copper cable along railways and cause considerable damage. The origin of copper is being eradicated and it is often exported to Europe, e.g. For melting in the Baltic countries or chartering e.g. To China. China is the world’s largest producer of copper, and due to China’s high demand for copper, the market price of copper has risen sharply. In Finland, thefts have taken place at construction sites and the roofs of buildings have been stolen. [4]

NUMBER OF COPPER THEFT FROM RAILWAYS IN 2010

Belgium ………… .717 cases

Germany ……… .over 1000 (Jan-Oct 2010). PRICE LABEL: 12-15 million

France ……… 300. Price tag: approx. 35 million euro

Italy …………… ..1341. PRICE LABEL: approx. 4 million euro.

Great Britain …… 2000 (2006-2010) PRICE LABEL: 42 million euro [4]

Italian anti-mafia prosecutor Aldo de Chiara specialices in environmental crimes. He has been investigating an illegal waste management business in Italy in the hands of the mafia. . The most famous and widespread case is called Operazione Nerone where criminals burned waste to get copper.

Aldo de Chiara: These people are reckless and unscrupulous because they know that the criminal activity they are doing is a danger to public health. It is therefore important to point out that burning wires does not just release substances that are harmful to health into the atmosphere, which can cause respiratory symptoms. Combustible landfills also contaminate agricultural land, causing significant damage to the environment. [4]

HEAT AND ENERGY MANAGEMENT

Heat management plays a key role throughout the media production process. The need for temperature control begins already in mining and aggregate processing. The aggregate undergoes innumerable thermological processes before it is a usable metal. A suitable temperature is essential in the manufacture of the devices. Data transfer and data archiving will not work if the temperature is not correct. The wrong temperature in the print media process causes problems with printing papers, printing plates, and printing inks. Preservation of photographs, prints, films, and paintings requires an appropriate temperature. Libraries, archives and digital storage facilities need a suitable temperature. The stock market will collapse if the digital network overheats. [5]

According to several sources, one google consumes as much electricity as a 60-watt light bulb that is on for 17 seconds. The servers are assembled into large data centres whose electricity consumption has been compared to small states, just to mention few examples of energy consumption.

The carbon footprint of digital media is an issue we need to focus on in the future.

[ 1 ]  https://eetti.fi/vastuullinentekniikka/

[ 2 ]  https://www.is.fi/taloussanomat/art-2000001870184.html

[ 3 ] https://www.sitra.fi/artikkelit/trendit-kamppailu-luonnonvaroista-kiihtyy/

[4]  Minna Knus-Galan /Punaisen kullan metsästäjät käsikirjoitus, YLE, MOT

[5] Nicole Starosielski, “Thermocultures of Geological Media,” Cultural Politics, Vol. 12 (3), Duke University Press, 2016: 293-309.

[ 6 ] https://www.karhuhelsinki.fi/blogi/internetin-ilmastouhkat-miten-kayttaa-nettia-ymparistoystavallisesti

A cycle of plastic karma?

Today, we find plastic in almost everything, in our clothes, computers, phones, furniture, appliances, houses, and vehicles. Synthetic polymers are lightweight, durable, and can be molded in almost any shape. Some usage examples are Bakelite for mechanical parts, PVC for plumbing, electric gears and cases, nylon for packaging, and so on. Since synthetic polymers are durable, plastic takes 500-1000 years to break down. Hence, they often end up in landfills and oceans. More than 8.3 billion tons of plastic waste enter the oceans each year, according to a report by the World Economic Forum [1]. A study suggests that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.

Concentrations of plastic debris in the world’s surface waters. Credit: Cozar et. al. 

A cycle of plastic karma? Any plastic that is smaller than 5mm can be considered “Microplastic”. Microplastics mainly come from plastic exposed to UV in the ocean and deteriorate into small pieces, then are swallowed by marine species. Following the food chain, microplastic ends up in fishes, shrimps, crabs, and into our bodies. There are at least 269,000 tons floating in the ocean according to a study by 5 Gyres Institute. Microplastics have been found in food and water that humans consume on a daily basis. Although we need more research before panicking, a sagacious person would not be blithe about the possibility of a cycle of plastic karma to future generations. 

In his paper “Technofossils of the Anthropocene”, Taffel asks a key question:

“The key question is not if, but how, we arrive at collective decisions to attempt the rewilding, dispersion, protection, conservation, thinning, or removal of particular types of living and nonliving entities from specific ecosystems, while recognizing that the dynamism of ecological systems means that any certitude surrounding the deep-time impact of such actions is illusory.”

To elaborate on this question, I propose a specific approach: “How might we separate, prevent, remove plastic from the oceans, thus saving marine and human lives?”

—-

Reference:

Taffel, Sy. (2016). Technofossils of the Anthropocene: Media, Geology, and Plastics. Cultural Politics. 12. 355-375. 10.1215/17432197-3648906. 

Ballerini, Tosca & Pen, Jean-Ronan & Andrady, Anthony & Cole, Matthew & Galgani, François & Kedzierski, Mikaël & Pedrotti, Maria Luiza & ter halle, Alexandra & van Arkel, Kim & Zettler, Erik & Amaral-Zettler, Linda & Bruzaud, Stéphane & Brandon, Jennifer & Durand, Gael & Enevoldsen, Enrik & Eriksen, Marcus & Fabre, Pascale & Fossi, Maria-Christina & Frère, Laura & Wong-Wah-Chung, Pascal. (2018). Plastic pollution in the ocean: what we know and what we don’t know about. 10.13140/RG.2.2.36720.92160. 

Www3.weforum.org. 2020. [online] Available at: <http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf> [Accessed 3 October 2020].


Further Readings:

David Barnes, “Biodiversity: Invasions by Marine Life on Plastic Debris.” Nature, 6883.1 (2002): 808-809. Print.

Derraik, Jose G. “The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review.” Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44.1 (2002): 842 – 852. Print.

Cancer Villages in Vietnam

Cancer village is the word used in Vietnamese to refer to villages in Vietnam, where many people have cancer because of water pollution. According to the Ministry of Health, as of 2007, there are about 51 villages and communes scattered in 25 provinces/cities nationwide recorded as “cancer villages”. Focusing mainly in the North and Central – where high-intensity handicraft and craft village activities take place (Ha Tay, Bac Ninh, Nam Dinh), near old industrial zones (such as Thai Nguyen, Phu Tho) or near old plant protection warehouses (Nghe An, Ha Tinh) … [1]

Water sources in cancer villages in Vietnam according to the investigation are polluted by pesticides at drug stores, war poisons, graveyards, craft villages, domestic and industrial wastes, and public works. The analysis results of water samples being used for drinking in the “cancer villages” show that most of them are contaminated with microorganisms, some samples have Content of phenol, arsenic or manganese exceeds the permissible standard many times. 

The people of Thong Nhat village (Hanoi) mainly use water from drilled wells.

Image: Contaminated Nhue River (Hanoi, Vietnam) [2]


Case Thach Son Cancer village: The village is contaminated, in both air and water. According to a survey by the Ministry of Natural Resources, the atmosphere here is seriously poisoned by industrial emissions, especially in the area around Lam Thao Supe phosphate factories, Phu Tho battery factory. Besides, the breathing air in Thach Son must receive smoke from 90 brick kilns and the bad smell at the outlet of the wastewater of the Bai Bang paper factory to the Red River. Regarding water sources, both surface water and groundwater in Thach Son are toxic. All lakes and wells are polluted. [3]

From 1991 to 2009, Thach Son commune had 106 people died of cancer, most commonly cancer of the liver, lung, stomach, throat. 19 families with at least 2 people die from this disease (husband and wife, or father and daughter, mother and child), of which more than 3 people have died from cancer. In the Mom Den area, 15 years ago, 200 households had moved to another place by themselves because they could not stand the heavily polluted air from the Lam Thao Supe Phosphate factory. 70% of these families have died of cancer. [4]

— 

I would like to propose three levels of responsibility: Change starts from a systemic level to corporate responsibility and consumerism. The government has the power to gives permission for fabrications’ manufacturing activities on their homeland, hence, takes major responsibility for environmental and social impacts. Corporations must make ethical decisions that impact both the environment and humans. Consumers contribute to the scene by being mindful of everyday consumption, raising environmental concerns, and pushing for systemic changes.


Three levels of responsibility

References:

[1] https://nongnghiep.vn/viet-nam-co-51-lang-ung-thu-d5069.html Nong Nghiep VN. Accessed Sept 28th, 2020.

[2] Image: http://suckhoenguoiviet.org/danh-sach-10-lang-ung-thu-o-viet-nam.html Suc khoe nguoi Viet. Accessed Sept 28th, 2020.

[3] https://vnexpress.net/lang-ung-thu-thach-son-tu-dat-den-troi-deu-doc-2261643.html Vnexpress, accessed Sept 28th, 2020.

[4] https://www.vietnamplus.vn/noi-dau-dai-dang-o-lang-ung-thu-thach-son/21061.vnp Vietnam Plus. Accessed Sept 28th, 2020.

 

Thermocultures of Geological Media – A summary

The article by Nicole Starosielski examines thermal manipulation in transforming the earth’s raw materials into media and maintaining those materials as media. Examinations include the extraction and refining of Earth’s raw materials into pure materials for media usages, the utilization of air conditioner for even temperature for media productions, and thermal infrared imaging.

Purity of elements: One set of thermal practices is transforming geological matter into the circulation of mass media. Especially refining raw minerals into media materials, where the temperature is used to ensure purity and consistency of materials across media objects. However, it is impossible to reach an entirely pure state of minerals. Mary Douglas defines purity as the designation of one set of phenomena as clean (specifically copper and silicon communication circuits in Nicole’s article) which integrally tied to pollution as a result of a systematic order of elements while rejecting inappropriate ones.

Even temperature: The invention of the air conditioner (1902 by Willis Carrier) was with the intention of standardizing media rather than cooling humans. The reason being the dynamic relationship of pure elements with their surroundings despite an attempt to control their internal composition and limitation of interactions. Nicole takes a look at the fluctuated temperature issues with the printing and lithography industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, which are external climate and excess heat produced during press productions. Air conditioning systems since then has been used in ensuring the precision and efficiency in many other forms of media productions. Eventually, after the standardization of temperature regulation, the thermosensitivities of media persisted. Some examples mentioned are the preservation of analog media like magazines, films, microchips, libraries and archives, architectures, factories; as well as digital media like ensuring the operation of large data centers and computational devices.

Productive variation: In this part, Nicole argues that environmental control is incomplete as the temperature remains a force that affects all thermosensitive bodies despite expansive thermal infrastructures. Temperature variations in the productive ends for the expansion of media and capital, for example, the extractive industry with the increasing use of fiber-optic and thermal infrared image technique in the mining industry.

Thermocultures: The study of thermocultures set light to how matters take shape and circulate through the world and offer a branching path to the geology of media. Thermal control and manipulation are underlying operations of differentiation and homogeneity of contemporary media, and the process of controlling the environment in which materials are reactive or stable and in which transformations can occur.


In this course, we aim to investigate media culture under the belief that there is no nature, but the Earth has already been transformed into a mass body of media. The geology of media investigates the state that makes it possible to transform the Earth into media. This perspective leads to a more important question: What can we change in our system to save the planet Earth?

Reference:
Douglas, Mary. (1996) 1984. Purity and Danger: An analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. NewYork: Routledge.
Parikka, Jussi. 2015. A Geology of Media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Starosielski, Nicole. 2016. Thermocultures of Geological Media. Cultural Politics, Volume 12, Issue 3. Duke University Press.

On the borderline

Standing in the borderline of land and the water with salt water splashing on my face, the words that were discussed during the first Media&Environment -lecture are echoing in my head: ”THERE IS NO NATURE.” There is no nature because everything is mediated -ocean, forest, nature is mediated.  To me who love the sea and feel like home in the forest  it´s quite a provocative line. But what is the behind the line?

In 2000, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Paul Crutzen noted that the Earth has moved into a new geological era, the anthropocene, or human time. In 2016, naturalists defined the starting point of anthropocene as 1950, when the effects of nuclear experiments are visible in the soil. the beginning of the anthropocene era depends on who is asked. If it is considered to have started in the 1950s, the effects of industrialisation on the environment are ignored. From human kinds impact to the planet there`s no turning back. The footprint of humankind on the planet is far smaller compared to the impact of Ice Eras or asteroids. 

Jussi Parikka is describing the current state of Anthropocene: ´The anthrobscene, referring to the obscenities of the ecocrises.  [1] The impact of humankind is divided into five categories: climate change, mass extinctions, ecosystem loss, pollution, and population growth and overconsumption.

There is no such thing as wild nature. Pollution – including marine plastic waste rafts, microplastic particles, the deposition of composites in the soil and changes in the atmosphere – extends to the point where man does not physically reach himself. Wildlife makes up only three percent of the planet’s megafauna biomass. Everything else is people and cattle.  The wireless network is present almost everywhere, internet cables and gas pipes slice through the seabed,  the atmosphere is full of harmful small particles and microfibers are everywhere; natural resources are used ruthlessly all over the planet.  If the latest geological strata of the country were ever studied, the bones of production animals — broilers, cattle, pigs — would be found en masse among concrete, asphalt, glass, and plastics.

Historian Tero Toivanen points out that: ´Wild nature  exists only in advertisements where the car is sold with the impression that the car enters the wild nature.´ [2].

Reference

[1] The Anthrobscene Jussi Parikka University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis

[2]  Kansanuutiset, Villiä luontoa ei enää ole, Tero Toivanen, interview Katri Simonen

Thoughts and trembling while reading Thermocultures of Geological Media by Niclole Starosielski

Media runs on perfection. One of those perfect pillars needed for communication and power transmission is copper. After copper sulfide is mined, crushed and grinded a compound containing 25% copper is left. Useless in the eyes of technology. Only after heavy treatment with thermal techniques a 99% copper substance will remain. Still pathetic in the realm of purity. Another stage of electrolytic refining is needed to generate 99.99 % pure copper. Perfection at last. All that was needed for the blessing of ten pounds of pure copper is the vanity of a single ton of ore and a trail of pollution guarding every step of the way.

The purity that is needed for technology to function is both fascinating and scary. But in this ever-changing world perfection is never lasting. Humankind doesn’t run on perfection, we strive on defects and diversity just like every ecosystem we so desperately try to destroy.

J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, once wrote: “You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.” When we look at such a feeble and imperfect species such as ourself, the desire for purity is understandable. I just don’t think it’s worth everything.

Not Seeing

The idea behind Jussi Parikka’s essay The Anthrobscene is a natural continuation of the overall obscenity of human beings. Parikka’s comment, “To call it “anthrobscene” is just to emphasize what we knew but perhaps shied away from acting on: a horrific human-caused drive toward a sixth mass extinction of species”,[1] made me think of the general discussions about climate change and how immediately seeing (or in this case especially not seeing) the consequences of one’s actions affects the behaviour.

Piling up all the space junk we as humankind have left to float around space on your own yard could help give some perspective. Also making your important calls with your smart phone while looking out from your window and seeing for example all the miners (possibly children) working to provide the materials for your devices could help in at least not taking everything for granted. Maybe you could ask Siri, Alexa or who/whatever to play some music from Spotify on the yard too to keep the workers entertained?

This quote also reminded me of one example where even seeing the truth wasn’t enough. People seem to be pretty nostalgic and driven by their feelings when it comes to their own living environment. While doing my photography BA thesis work in 2015 I ran into Ton Lemaire’s philosophical writings of landscape and through him also a research from 1980’s France conducted by DATAR, the Delegation for Planning and Regional Action, where the participants were asked about the landscapes of their living environments.

Cultural anthropologist Ton Lemaire wrote about the 20th century urbanisation and its affects to landscape and how in 1970’s and 80’s people were already aware and discussing about the “environmental crisis” and the spreading of urban infrastructure but despite of that the answers DATAR got for its survey were far from the truth. People seemed to ignore the growing urbanism around them and were describing (very natural) landscapes that no longer really existed around them.[2] Those visual ideas of natural landscapes had not exited people’s minds even though the world around them had changed. If the urban infrastructure didn’t match the dream image of the living environment, its existence seemed to be surprisingly easy to just forget. 

From the human rights perspective I could easily claim that urbanism in the form of motorways, bus stops, apartment buildings etc. is a lot smaller problem and source of anxiety than the non-human working conditions that many people are forced to cope with in their daily lives. But for most of the westerners enjoying the global infrastructure built with human right violations the latter one is nearly invisible. And if the visible urban landscape was so easy to crop out from people’s thoughts, how easy is it with something nearly invisible? 

Not seeing, just feeling whatever we want to, ignoring the truth, re-imagining the natural, forgetting the work done for us by so many others are all too easily done. How to make it harder? That should be asked more often and hopefully somehow answered too.

 

1. Parikka, Jussi. The Anthrobscene. University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

2. Druckrey T., Gierstberg F., de Graaf J., Lemaire T. & Vroege B. Wasteland: Landscape From Now On. Haag: Fotografie Biennale Rotterdam & Uitgeverij 010 Publishers, 1992.

The Anthrobscene

The beginning of Anthropocene epoch could date back as far as the beginning of the agricultural revolution to as recent as the start of the big technology development in the 1960s. It is connected with the effects of humans on the well being of our planet/the environment and they are getting more and more evident as years pass by.

Back in the 18th century, in the era of colonialism, the raw/unspoiled nature was seen as something that needs improvement, something that doesn’t contribute to the enhancement of our daily lives. Humans fanatically tried to redesign the environment to give it a different, unnatural purpose. Hence began the irreversible influence of mankind on the environment or the era of mankind.

As time passed the increasing numbers of the human population, the advance in technology and the needs of the consumers started to affect the environment and nature more and more heavily. We developed from society needing a pretty restricted list of materials (“wood, brick, iron, copper, gold, silver, and a few plastics”) into a society in which a computer chip is composed of “60 different elements.” [1]

The excavation of those materials presents a great danger to our planet, especially because we need to “dig deeper and deeper” to obtain the desired elements that are slowly running out. The discarded waste and scrap metals from the production of multimedia devices or the discarded devices that are ready for the afterlife are piling up because most of them are either not being recycled or not recyclable at all. That presents an even bigger threat to the environment than the process of obtaining the elements.

In my opinion, the biggest issue is the human’s tendency to adapt and avoid the problem instead of tackling it and changing the way we live to resolve the issue before it starts to haunt us. Technology spoiled us and in a way we keep on playing Russian roulette with our planet. We refuse to be the losers of the climate change issue, but many are just postponing the solutions, passing the problem on to the next generation. But where does it end? Are we able to go back and step out of the luxury of modernisation? Is there enough desire to change things for the better?

In conclusion, the media technologies present a big threat to our planet; consequently to humanity. Our ways of consumption will have to change to efficiently extend the life span of our planet. Instead of doing our best to find a different inhabitable planet, we should focus on preserving this one.

References:

1. Jussi Parikka, “The Anthrobscene”, University of Minnesota, 2015

2. Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, documentary, Canada, 2018

3. Sophie Yeo, 2016, “Anthropocene: The journey to a new geological epoch”, viewed 11 September 2020, https://www.carbonbrief.org/anthropocene-journey-to-new-geological-epoch

Archaeology of Media Infrastructures – Spring 2020

Course Summary: The course provides a framework of archaeological exploration of media infrastructures. It allows students to think beyond a single media device and design for broader media ecologies. Tracing the emergence of contemporary media infrastructures from early instances in human and media history, it examines both hard infrastructure (architecture, mechanical and computing systems) and soft infrastructure (software, APIs and operating systems). What are the breaks, the discontinuities and ruptures in media-infrastructural history? What has been remediated, in what form, in what characteristics? The course prepares students for the follow-up course: ‘Media and the Environment’ in Fall 2020.

Wednesdays 13.15 – 15.00 / Starting 5.2.2020 / until 1.4.2020

The course is filed under Media Art and Culture / https://into.aalto.fi/display/enmlab/2020-2022+Advanced+studies

Register: weboodi.aalto.fi  

Infragraphy Volume 1, Spring 2019

This first volume of Infragraphy is a compilation of critical student writings and photo essays about media, infrastructure and the environment. These texts are outcomes from the “Archaeology of Media Infrastructures” Master of Arts course in the Spring of 2019 at the Department of Media, Aalto University Finland. The course examined media infrastructures including the concept of deep time, the materialities of the Internet, Artificial Intelligence, digital labor, water, energy, and critical infrastructure.

Download PDF: Infragraphy_Vol1_Spring2019

An Increasing Need of Electricity and a Decrease of Biodiversity

I got interested to study a bit more about the idea that birds’ magnetic compass orientation would get disrupted by electromagnetic noise. There has been a debate on does electric and magnetic fields affect biological processes and human health and when the article was written, in 2014 there hadn’t been any scientifically proven effects.

Svenja Engels, Nils-Lasse Schneider, Nele Lefeldt, Christine Maira Hein, Manuela Zapka, Andreas Michalik, Dana Elbers, Achim Kittel, P. J. Hore & Henrik Mouritsen performed controlled experiments in the University of Oldenburg and found out that European robins lose their ability to use the Earths’ magnetic field when exposed to low-level AM electromagnetic noise between around 20 kHz and 20 MHz, the kind of noise routinely generated by consumer electrical and electronic equipment. The birds gained the ability back to orient to the Earths’ magnetic field when they were shielded from electromagnetic noise in the frequency range from 2kHz to 5 MHz or tested in a rural setting.

I found a European Commissions’ Guidance for Energy Transmission Infrastructure from 2018. This is only a guidance in a sense that I am not sure if these are actually taken into account when making decisions about energy infrastructure. What I found interesting in this guidance is that they address that biodiversity is an important element and nature provides important socio-economic benefits to society. It seems that they have a very agricultural, anthropocentric view on nature even though this guidance is made to protect endangered species.

In the guidance for energy transmission infrastructure projects the listed impacts are through clearance of land and the removal of surface vegetation: the existing habitats may be altered, damaged, fragmented or destroyed and the indirect effects could be much more widespread especially when projects interfere with water and soil quality. Also when building the site there will be increased traffic, presence of people, noise, dust, pollution, artificial lighting and vibration and the risks of collision with power cables.

Electrocution can have a major impact on several bird species, and causing the death of thousands of birds annually.

source: https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/planning-can-help-prevent-renewable-energy-surge-harming-wildlife

There is a strong consensus that the risk posed to birds depends on the technical construction and detailed design of power facilities. In particular, electrocution risk is high with “badly engineered” medium voltage power poles (“killer poles”) (BirdLife International, 2007).

By acknowledging the loss of thousands of birds annually because of the energy infrastructure can we say that they are part of energy infrastructure?

source:http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/management/docs/Energy%20guidance%20and%20EU%20Nature%20legislation.pdf

Dirty mining and clean data – a story about Swedish industry

I remember very well when in 2013, Facebook opened its first data center outside of the US in Luleå, a northern city in Sweden. It was in all the big news channels. One of the largest and most impactful social media corporations chose Sweden!

For Luleå, the deal with Facebook was a great advertisement for the city. One of the world’s most influential corporations chose to put its facilities there. Data as a product has the appearance of modernity, innovation, high-technology, creativity and in this case, green energy. It goes well with the way Sweden as a nation wants to market itself. Most news articles were written in a weirdly proud manner. The primary reason stated by Facebook was the natural cooling of the servers, provided by the cold climate, and the science magazine Forskning och Framsteg wrote an article jokingly named “This is where your likes are cooling down” (1). I remember spontaneously feeling proud as well. We Swedes are raised with a hate/love relationship to the USA. We love to feel better than the Americans, to look down on them for their capitalist, openly class dividing society structure. But we also watch mostly TV series and movies from Hollywood and think that English is much cooler than Swedish. Secrectly, we all want to move to New York, LA or San Francisco and pursue the American dream. We are sold the idea of a service society, where machines do the dirty work and we can sit back and enjoy our touch screens and fancy clothes.

That dream, however, soon fades if one leaves the big cities. Up until a few decades ago, Sweden was an industrial country, with people working in factories, farms, forests and mines. And even though we are pushed to believe that the industrial society died to give birth to the service based society, Sweden’s economy is still based on those old industries. Facebook and other IT companies make a good front page, but the dirtier industries supplying them with material and energy still exist. And this is where Luleå’s history as an industry city becomes interesting.

Luleå has largely flourished because of the iron mines in Malmberget close by, where Luleå has served as the harbour for exportation of iron goods since late 1800s. The municipality now consists of 77000 people and the city hosts one of Sweden’s leading technical universities. In the meantime, the mining town Malmberget is literally collapsing. The mine has created a 200 meter hole in the ground, constantly growing and swallowing buildings and roads. This has caused the city to expand in new directions and buildings are being moved away from the hole’s edges. In the future, Malmberget will not exist in the place where it is today.

The hole in Malmberget municipality, called Gropen in Swedish.

The mine is utilised by state owned corporation LKAB, which also runs the world’s largest underground mine in the inland city Kiruna (see map below). There, the effects of the mining are even bigger. The whole city of Kiruna is now being moved to a new location since the current one is collapsing. Some buildings are moved, but most of the city will be built completely from scratch to house all the mine workers and other citizens. The new city is said to be financially, socially and environmentally sustainable (2).Kiruna’s new city center in the front, with the mine visible in the far left.

Meanwhile, the ecological impact of the mining industry next door is non-reparable. Mining disrupts the landscape and leaves open wounds in the ground. There is always a risk of toxic contamination of fresh water and lakes. The mining industry in Sweden stands for 10% of the CO2 emissions of the country. The indigenous people of the Nordics, the Sami people, have historically and in the present fought against the mining industries since the effects for them can be loss of land, contamination of fresh water and reindeer routes from summer to winter pasture land being cut off (3). Still today, Sweden’s liberal mineral laws permits foreign companies to exploit land without the owner’s permission. The UN have critiqued Swedish governments for not doing enough to protect the indigenous people and their rights to their land (4).

Kiruna at the top and Luleå at the lower right on Google Maps.

Facebook is now planning to double the size of their data center in Luleå, making it 100,000 sqm. The center is purely driven on water energy, according to Facebook. It directly or indirectly gives full time work for 400 people per year, compared to LKAB who employs around 4000 people in Sweden, with a majority working in the northernmost regions, and indirectly provides work for thousands more through related industries. Sweden’s iron mines jointly produces 90% of the iron in Europe.

Some journalists raised the concern that data centers wouldn’t be able to replace the traditional industries, such as mining and forestry, when it comes to employing large numbers of people. Others have claimed that Facebook is just the first of many data companies that will open centers in northern Sweden, thus leading the way for more work opportunities in the future. But how many jobs can this sector actually produce, and especially in relation to its high energy consumption? Will it be possible for all those data centers to run on water energy? Probably not.

As stated previously on the blog, new media infrastructures are often built on top of existing infrastructures. The data center is no exception. In 1910-1915, a large power plant was built in Lule älv, a river ending in Luleå, to be able to replace some of the coal imported from Europe. But the water flow was too high during Spring. Eyes fell on the newly inaugurated national park surrounding Stora sjöfallen, at the time one of Europe’s biggest water falls. The decision was taken from the government to exclude the water fall from the national park so that it could be dammed, with the consequence that the water flow in the river could be controlled like a tap. The Sami people who fished in the area, and who’s reindeer lands would be put under water, were not asked for permission. If the same decision was taken today, it would lead to massive demonstrations from the public (5). I have been at Stora sjöfallet myself. It is a large silent lake with a small flow of water coming down the water fall.

Surely it isn’t Facebook’s fault that those precious nature resources were destroyed a hundred years ago, and one can argue that the mining industry is necessary for providing the world with minerals. But the societal structure that killed Stora Sjöfallet at the beginning of the century is still working its magic, but now on a global scale. With a promise of work opportunities, multinational corporations are allowed to exploit land and energy resources not just in developing countries, but also in Sweden, whether they are producing minerals or data. Only a tiny portion of the capital produced goes back to the local inhabitants, and even less to the indigenous people. Those mines provide material that is necessary for computers, phones, cables, etc to exist in the first place. So Facebook’s “clean energy footprint” is not so clean after all. But perhaps, if we continue down this path of environmental destruction, the world will look much like the inside of a data center in the end. Lots of blinking machines, but no life.

Facebook’s data center in Luleå, Sweden.

Further readings in English:

http://samer.se/4623

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/dec/02/kiruna-swedish-arctic-town-had-to-move-reindeer-herders-in-the-way

Sources (in Swedish):

https://fof.se/tidning/2017/1/artikel/har-svalnar-dina-likes

https://hallbartbyggande.com/det-nya-kiruna-en-hallbar-modellstad-tar-form/)

https://www.naturskyddsforeningen.se/nyheter/gruvindustrins-gruvligaste-effekter

https://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=2054&artikel=4289211)

http://ottossonochottosson.se/blog/reportage/historien-om-ett-vattenfall/

https://www.lkab.com/sv/SysSiteAssets/documents/publikationer/broschyrer/det-har-ar-lkab.pdf

Deep time and Gossip

While reading the chapter on “Deep time of Media infrastructure” by Shannon Mattern, I started thinking of other texts I’ve read about how civilisation started. The traditional western way of telling history is that “civilised manners” such as advanced hierarchies and communities built of hundreds of people, were born out of agriculture and settlements. Abandoning the original way of life, Homo sapiens in several places in the world suddenly went from hundreds of thousands of years of being nomads, to settling down and starting agriculture.

However, newer research shows that people who led nomadic or half-nomadic lifestyles, could have very complex group dynamics and belief systems. Instead it might have been the other way around – humans slowly developed more and more complex societies and ways of manipulating or taking control over large groups of people, and this in turn led to the ability of developing agriculture, which in its turn led to permanent settlements.

When I was reading Harari’s book “Sapiens”, it really struck me again that the notion that humanity became complex creatures once we settled down and stopped being nomads, is completely false. The only thing that we can know for sure is that these cities and infrastructures that we have today, would not have been possible without settling down.

On the other hand – what infrastructures did and does nomadic people have, that we do not? And even more striking – has the way that we intuitively develop infrastructure over the millennia, even after the vast majority of the world’s population aren’t nomads anymore – been influenced by the way we inherently are nomads as a species?

Harari brings up something else that he sees as crucial for peaceful coexistence in large groups: Gossip. He claims that all apes are intensely interested in social information and that Homo sapiens’ way of speaking developed from gossip. Since we weren’t large and effective predators, cooperation was the key to survival even early on. It’s much more important to know who’s sleeping with who, who hates who, who is honest and who is a trickster, than in what direction the lions are.

This mean of communication – spread from person to person throughout large groups of people – must have influenced the way media infrastructure developed right from the start. Even though the word “gossip” has a bad connotation in today’s society, it’s still taking up a vast amount of space, energy and time in our lives. Gossip is often something that women are considered doing, perhaps because women traditionally have taken care of the home sphere and the relationships of the family. But if this is the force that actually holds us together as a species – why do we then despise it so much?

A large portion of today’s media is taken up by pure gossip, whether there is truth behind it or not. Most of the stories are impossible for us to fact check ourselves. News articles, social media posts and blog posts tell us the latest weird thing Trump did, what the Kardashians are up to and that Jay-z has cheated on Beyoncé again. Most of us don’t know these people personally and have no direct link to them. We have to trust the source or find other sources. This is the strength and the weakness of human societies today. Shannon Mattern again:

Overlooking the way gossip and other ways of communicating has shaped media infrastructure, is perhaps one of the reasons we’re in such a hot mess today. It’s called “social” media for a reason – its primary task is not to offer the truth, but for humans to be social, to gossip. If we took this inherent human trait into account – how would we want to change the infrastructures of media then? And how can we develop trustful ways of tracing the source of information?

Hydropolis & Cybercity

Infrastructure used to refer to roads, tunnels and other public works. In Signal Traffic, Shannon Mattern points out how words “architecture” along with “telecommunications” and “media” began to trend in the 1960’s, approximately at the same time. “Infrastructures made human settlements possible”, Mattern continues, and this indeed the case with the Salpausselkä ridges spreading across Southern and South-Eastern Finland: a national highway number 12 follows the Salpausselkä I ridge, along with a railway and some major cities and towns. The formation itself does not stand out very much from the landscape, save for a few steep quarries revealing the moraine and materiality of the ridge. According to Mattern, an area in which human settlements gathered, also forms an infrastructure — “an area of local intercourse”. What are examples of these areas and what kinds of local intercourses do they entail?

Considering the various urban forms: topography, transportation, cosmology, philosophy, defense… Everything intertwines and services merge to one another. An example could be a case of postal services piggybacking in the cargo compartment of a vehicle intended for commuting. Decreased commuting may mean changing timetables and thus affecting the time when the postal service is able to do their work. That means people receive their mail less frequently or later during the day — how will everyday habits be shaped by such a trivial change in society?

How are cities mediated or unmediated? Was there an unmediated era, and what did it look like compared to today? What were the visual characteristics of an unmediated city: unpainted surfaces, human-sized buildings? We can now access overviews of areas more easily with drones or with the aid of Google Earth. Has it already changed views of how we construct neighborhoods or new suburbs?

The intermingling of temporalities: old and new form interfaces with one another, sometimes leaking into one another. New technologies are introduced, old are discarded, but not entirely. During the implementation of mobile network technologies, analog television broadcasts were phased out. If you listen to amateur radio, unused bandwidth frees up space in the “spectrum” for other purposes and transmission of data. Listening to the various signals nowadays (conveniently with the help of an online SDR), aside from voice communication, one may find out there are people out there still communicating with morse code; planes transmit some of the flight data as continuous signals to airports without manual human reporting; remote weather stations send weather data, all this without the help of internet connection that the contemporary human is so dependent on.

It is evident the Salpausselkä ridges are natural formations that have supported human activity for thousands of years: their affordances have allowed convenient ways to arrange defense, logistics, trade routes, services and other industrial endeavors. The formations are an obvious location for erecting radio/TV/telephone masts and water towers. Some buildings and sites have been built on top of the ridge to highlight their presence in the area, or to offer the visitors an outlook to enjoy.

Lauttasaari water tower was taken down in 2015. In an article by HSY about constructing a new water tower instead of trying to preserve the old one, it is stated that repurposing old water towers is an expensive and difficult feat, depending on the way the tower has been originally constructed. A study conducted in Romania points out how many of the old water towers have been converted into sites for preserving cultural artefacts or sites for cultural activities. In many cases, radio towers and antennas are located on top of a water tower. What is the relationship between the hydropolis of water and waste with an electrified and communicative cybercity?

The Salpausselkä ridges contain majority of the groundwater reserves of the area. The gravel within the ridge filters the water — some of this water is bottled, and the water can be bought from Finnish supermarkets. What is the future of water system when faced with challenges such as drought? How are these very essential and invisible infrastructures and related ecosystems designed to prevail?

(Image: Jari Laamanen, Wikipedia)

 

On Infrastructures, Media Spectacles and Archeology: A Hypertext

For my MA thesis project I’m having a look into online video streaming services in the context of contemporary video art. From the viewpoint of media infrastructures, it would be interesting to examine the amount of bandwidth currently allocated for video streaming – the possible effects that can be seen, felt or measured. What does it require to keep video streams operational? How about the quality of service? TV broadcasts used to (and still do, to some extent) affect people’s feelings and behavior. But does it make people stay collectively in their homes during a broadcast they are looking forward to seeing, such as concerts, serializations, or sports? Does this happen in the age of video streaming, or are there new established patterns of behavior that effect the environment?

Currently there are several big construction projects going on in Finland, perhaps megalomaniac in nature and seemingly conducted without much feedback from the communities that surround them. Thus it would be interesting to have a look at one such project, examining the implications of these emerging constructs, which reach far beyond  their physical realm.

Despite the increase of popularity in e-commerce, several shopping centres have been constructed during the recent years (Redi in Kalasatama, opened in 2018). The construction of such centers are still underway (Tripla in Pasila, to be gradually opened in 2019–2020). Prior to Redi’s completion there existed brief public discourse expressing fears of the smaller brick-and-mortar-operated businesses’ disappearance. Despite the crowd’s initial interest towards the new shopping centre, it would appear the popularity of Redi is has failed to fulfil the expectations. What kind of concepts were these shopping centers initially proposed as, and when were they planned? In what ways were they supposed to integrate into and communicate with their surroundings, physical as well as psycho-social? Why do buildings like Oodi bask in the attention of the crowds instead?

One example of a stark contrast between a past and future state of an environment is the KymiRing project, constructed in the Kymenlaakso region in Finland. Prior to the project, the area of Tillola was quite empty – only some outdoor sports paths, earth-moving activities and minor industrial facilities have existed in the area for past few decades. The area has been a natural gateway throughout the history of humankind, from the water-pathways of the Stone Age to the settlements of Bronze Age, up until trade routes of the contemporary human and the present day. Because of the KymiRing project and the number of existing relics or ancient monuments in the region, the area was charted for possible new archeological findings prior to KymiRing’s construction.

How will such an international project affect the environment and the surrounding area? What kind of media infrastructures must be established in order to be able to transmit such a media spectacle to the rest of the world? What kind of a layer does the world of motor sports introduce to the coniferous forest growing on a ridge left behind the last ice age?

(Photo: Auri Mäkelä. Trees growing in Tillola, ca. 2006)