On the RightsCon agenda: technology in the time of climate crisis

Today, millions of people around the world are taking to the streets for the Global Climate Strike. The strike – projected to be the largest environmental protest in history – comes ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York, and marks the culmination of a broad-based, youth-driven movement to bring the demand for climate justice to the highest halls of power.

As the organizer of RightsCon, we recognize the power of convening and stand in solidarity with those striking. This is a pertinent time for us to also reflect on our role and our responsibility in a time of climate crisis. Since it began, RightsCon has been a space to connect, strategize, and move forward our human rights in the digital age. Over time, the program has adapted and expanded to include new issue areas, reflecting the growing convergence of technology with every aspect of our lives.

Now more than ever, it is our collective responsibility to put climate crisis on the agenda. Every day brings new, dire warnings about the state of our planet. Global carbon emissions are on the rise. The Arctic and the Amazon are burning. Instances of forced migration due to climate change continue to escalate. Environmental defenders are being targeted and killed at alarming rates.

Technology is part and parcel of the monumental task ahead of us. From e-waste to the energy powering internet infrastructure to online platforms as a tool for environmental advocacy, technology drives both the problem and the solution. We cannot afford to think of environmental justice as a niche issue, outside of the sphere of our work. The consequences of the climate crisis are universal and interconnected. Failing to approach our issues with an intersectional lens is as dangerous as taking no action at all.

In 2020 and beyond, RightsCon is committed to sustainability and environmental justice, both in program and in production.

Over the past nine years, RightsCon has brought together a diverse, global community of activists, industry leaders, technologists, policymakers, creatives, journalists, and academics. We’ve hosted sessions on creating a sustainable internet, supporting the digital empowerment of the natural world, and other pressing topics at the intersection of technology and environmental rights. Still, we recognize there is more to be done to address the human cost of climate change and lighten our ecological footprint.

The ninth iteration of RightsCon will be held in San José, Costa Rica on June 9-12, 2020. Our host country is one of the most biodiverse in the world, and home to a rich tapestry of indigenous cultures and communities. There is no better place to center the intersecting work of environmental defenders and indigenous activists, and push for sustainable approaches to technology and human rights across our program.

Growing the community: building sustainability into the program

As we plan for RightsCon Costa Rica, we’re expanding existing partnerships and forging new connections with members of the environmental movement. Those who are on the front lines of the fight for a green future have a distinct and much-needed point of view, especially when it comes to the human rights challenges embedded in our digital landscapes.

When our Call for Proposals opens on October 23, we hope to see session proposals that build bridges between environmental sustainability and digital rights. Tell us about climate mitigation and adaptation, renewable energy, and corporate environmental responsibility. Challenge our perceptions of green design, sustainable infrastructure, and the future of work. Make us think about food security, disaster prevention, health care, and migration and connectivity in the digital age.

This is hard work and we recognize that there’s no silver bullet that will solve the climate crisis, but we believe the RightsCon community has a responsibility – and an opportunity – to consider the environment as we work toward a more rights-respecting digital future.

Looking inward: responsible and sustainable production

Our program is a critical part of the sustainability equation, but so too is our production. Convenings of our size produce a heavy carbon footprint, expend huge amounts of energy, and leave behind an immense amount of food and product waste.

In 2020, we’re excited to hold our summit at the Costa Rica Convention Center, a venue unique for its bioclimatic, eco-friendly, and sustainable design and architecture. Using this setting as inspiration, we’re thinking up strategies to offset carbon emissions, reduce the use of single-use plastics on site, provide low-impact dining options, track our energy usage, and foster green industry and activism in our host country.

This is just the start. Our team will continue to update you on our sustainability efforts in the coming months, but what happens next is, in part, up to you. The success and longevity of the RightsCon summit series today, tomorrow, and ten years from now depends on our community. As we reflect on what we can do differently, we want you to consider how you can contribute, collaborate, and do your part. Whether it’s joining a strike today or next week, submitting a “certified green” session proposal, or even bringing a reusable coffee cup.

We want to hear from you. Feel free to contact us at [email protected] with any questions or ideas you may have. We have ten years to avert climate catastrophe. We’re committed to doing our part to rewrite the script and redefine what’s possible. We hope you will join us.

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