Yesterday, I was representing Protei and the Open_H2O community in TEDxVilaMada in Sao Paulo. The theme of the conference was “nosso planeta agua” (our planet water), and thanks to the sponsorship of Unilever, the event was able to fly me to the event. The line-up of speakers was pretty spectacular including Kaka Wera or Izabella Teixeira the Minister for the Environment in Brasil. As she was on stage, answering the questions of Natalia Menhem -one of the organisers of the event- 2 demonstrators came in front of the stage and deployed banners : “Salvem os Rios”, “Novo Codigo ruralista”, “Liberta Rio Xingu”. 2 demonstrators, than 4, than 6, so much that they totally masked the stage with their colourful banners. They stayed silent there with their arms raised reclaiming environmental justice in front of an audience that was definitely sold to the cause – awkward. Eventually they voiced their concerns to the ministry representative, everyone agreed and I was personally pleased that both faces of environmentalism – namely governmental and activists – could take the stage. They finally left. TEDxs are no political events ; that “incident” was not curated by the organisers, but consequent to the presence of a government representative that has to deal with extremely controversial issues. The TEDx organisers did their very best to maintain a climate of peace and dialog and have all parties respected and heard.
Building immense dams, interrupting or deviating rivers often have dramatic consequences on the environment and indigenous groups settled for sometimes thousands of years on these rivers. Many will argue that this is the cost to have “clean energy” and not having to develop a dangerous and costly nuclear infrastructure in Brasil where hydro and and deep water drilling for oil and gas have powered a spectacular socio-economic growth in recent years.
What struck me is that both the demonstrators and the politician had a common goal : environmental protection and social inclusion through abundance (of food, energy, money, place to live). What they argue about are certainly socio-economical issues, leading to displacement of population, but what everyone need is a common understanding of the situation. One of the main cause of dispute is water pollution. The government is making measurements and observations that the population disagrees with, the population makes their own observations that the institutions ignore. It is basically the government working for the population failing at communicating what motivates their decisions in the democratic process ; it is the population failing to present their request in an intelligible and structured way. Angry yet silent protesters in front the frustrated government environmental representative, both defending the same cause is a perfect illustration of that.
But here comes “Hardware Livre” (Open Hardware in brazilian) that I see as a place of convergence of interests :
- Government : the government to make decisions, needs to have environmental instruments that are cheap, reliable and transparent. Currently operated by professionals, they could also be operated by academics and local residents -including those affiliated with environmental groups (citizen science). It would be cheaper for the government, it would include the residents at the very source of the decision making process and legitimate their decisions.
- Activist (residents, environmentalists) : activists will be satisfied to have affordable open source tools that can be recognised by the government, an environmental monitoring system they can partly control and generate content for.
We can add to these groups :
- Academics : alike residents, academia is always looking for affordable, reliable, easy to calibrate and maintain tools. Tools that would make them competitive, accelerate research and publication.
- Industry : making money building these instruments. Everyone being able to start manufacturing open hardware technology, we should see a healthy and thriving concurrence on providing governments, activists and researchers high specification tools.
So not only governments and activist can find a space of communication, but this discussion can be supported by both an established or newly generated academia and industry : Open Hardware for the Environment.
Open Hardware technology, in the context of environmental sensing comes to its full potential when used by all parties for it’s quality of
- Transparency and verifiability of both data produced, and the instruments used to produce data.
- Accountability of all parties, both government and environmentalists
- Fast technology development by the community
- Affordable, Inclusive and Scalable tools for everyone.
Open Hardware is one of the key to the “Next Industrial Revolution” and it is our responsibility to make sure that next industrial revolution is not even more harmful than the previous one. Open Hardware can lead to the proliferation of unequal incompatible standards , as well as it has the potential to raise each technology to the best that collective human intelligence can generate in a wikipedia’s style incremental improvement.
I personally see the development of Open Hardware for the Environment as vital shift of the next manufacturing revolution in harmony with nature, and that could be understood perhaps, as a political message.
At this same conference, another brilliant speaker was Apolo Lisboa. Lisboa was forced to exile from Brasil and for many years, he obtained political asylum in Chile, Argentina, Belgium and Algeria. I took a few quotes from him (from Brazilian to English – uncertified translations) :
- “Humans shares the ecosystem with many other animals”
- “We cannot dissociate natural and cultural history”
- “All systems : aquatic, atmospheric, energetic, human, animal, transport, cultural are part of the same complex ecosystem.”
- “This way of system thinking became a political project”
- “A political system that connects everything”
- “Politics cannot be only about elections and power”.
Although I respect his views and perceives this as a relatively coherent perception of the world, I can see how a “total system” that defines macro and micro aspects of Life, could be intimidating and potentially oppressive (total as in totalitarian). I personally do not want to change the system by enunciating the general rules by which I think it should be governed, but rather re-designing small key elements of this system.
My point here is that Open Hardware had it a political dimension, I refuse to transform it into a political proposition, or system. In fact, pretending Open Hardware is a political movement, would discredit and weakens its capacity to transform our societies, loosing it’s neutrality and credibility.
My conclusion is : Open Hardware has political relevance, but is not a political proposition. The Next Industrial Revolution may be largely powered by the Open Hardware movement but would harm the environment if the Environment is not at the heart of this deep society transformation. Open Hardware for the Environment is a necessity but is validated only if used, improved and profits the environment, citizens, academia, industry and governments.