Sustainable Computing: Reframing Our Relationship to Technology and the Environment

By Anushree Biradar, Aimun Khan, Lucy Li, and Annanya Chaturvedi

One of the defining features of the 21st century is our ever-growing reliance on technology. There were 4.39 billion Internet users in 2019, and that number is growing exponentially. As the Internet grows, so does its growing impact on our planet. For some, computation acts as a gateway to worlds that were not previously accessible. For others, it represents a rising fear of globalization and automation displacing their ability to work and earn a living.

The advancements in technology we have seen in the past century have enabled humans to live in ways that previously seemed impossible. Travel and communication have become much faster, and the rise of personal computers has given people the ability to access knowledge from anywhere in the world.

At the same time, tech companies have taken advantage of this new global space to create increasingly positive images of themselves by heralding themselves as advocates of green and sustainable devices while shutting out smaller businesses from being able to have a part in this space. While these advances in tech have allowed us to pursue renewable energy resources and discover ways we can reduce the usage of fossil fuels, energy consumption through the use of personal computers has simultaneously shot up. This isn’t going to go away anytime soon either—as individuals and companies rely more and more on technology for computing power and storage, our dependence on devices will only grow.

However, this isn’t to say that technology is all good or all bad. To be sure, techno-optimism to an extent can cause us to shift the burden of responsibility to technologies rather than our own everyday choices. Yet it also has the potential to promote hope and activism from a technological standpoint.

The invention of green technologies and advances towards sustainable computing, manufacturing, industry, etc. have the possibility of reorienting how we view ourselves in relation to technology and the wider environment around. Importantly, it can help us be conscious of our daily choices and how they contribute to environmental degradation. In the past, technological advancements have helped society but hurt the environment. Arguably, if we can properly harness technology and innovate smartly, it can help steer us towards a more sustainable future rather than the path we’re currently on.

Because of these complexities, rather than framing technology as inherently good or bad, it is more useful to approach the subject from the lens of how different technologies have shaped our worldview and how our orientation towards technology has changed over time.

Analyzing our relationship to technology can also help give us insight into how our relationship to the environment has also changed over time. Historically, technology has been used as a force to further globalized capitalism’s expansion without regard for the environment. However, movements away from pure techno-optimism show that technology’s disruptive ability to challenge status quo ways of life can be repurposed towards more sustainable alternatives to hyper-consumerism.

Our definition of radical hope:

Radical hope is the ability to imagine alternative futures that are dramatically different from the present. Hope is radical in that it uses the past and present to create potential for alternative paths that may not initially seem like options. Those options exist, we just have to look closer. From this point of view, technological progress is a tool used to bring imagined futures to life. The question then becomes: what futures do we want to imagine and progress towards?


Constructing a Sustainable Society:

Dargis, Manohla. “‘Who Killed the Electric Car?’: Some Big Reasons the Electric Car Can’t Cross the Road.” The New York Times, June 28, 2006.

Scofield, Jerri-Lynn. “Waste Not, Want Not: Right to Repair Laws on Agenda in Some States.” Naked Capitalism, January 29, 2017.

Stoekl, Allan. Bataille’s Peak: Energy, Religion, and Postsustainability. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2007. [If this is too long, the last two subsections are the most critical.]

Techno-optimism and Greenwashing:

O’Mara, Margaret. “The Church of Techno-Optimism.” The New York Times, September 28, 2019.

Schwab, Katharine. “Apple, Amazon, and the Rest of Big Tech All Have a Lot to Learn from the Green New Deal.Fast Company, June 27, 2019.

Cawley, Conor. “Big Tech and Climate Action – Real Change or Greenwashing?,”, February 18, 2020.

Room for Hope through Technology:

Green Computing: What Technology Services is Doing to Go Green.” University of Puget Sound. Accessed July 23, 2020.

Visser, Nick. “10 Green Technologies That Could Help Revolutionize Our Changing Planet.” HuffPost, May 7, 2015.

From Green Living to a Green Death

By Noe Godinez

We have yet to collectively live a better green life. While we have achieved some small steps towards this noble objective, we should not be confined to a tunnel vision focused solely on our actions during this life. We need to consider environmentally-friendly ways of being dead as well.

Contemporary approaches to burial can be traced to Victorian-style burials where caskets are buried in communal spaces, often within city districts. Prior to this, burials were usually conducted outside the “living” spaces of the city due to health concerns. Even though burials came close to living spaces, we still tended to separate life from death. In nature, death is not the end of the cycle. For example, the leaves or fruits of trees are not wasted. They are still of nutritional use to other plants and animals once they cease to be utilized by the trees.

A riverbank cremation center in India. Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash.

There is a slow-growing movement for a more nature-friendly approach to burial. The goals of a green burial are to reduce or even eliminate the harmful practices or effects of current burials. Cremations are a primitive version of green burials. They do not require the harmful chemicals or resources of standard burials; however, they do rely on the burning of fossil fuels. While cremation is far from perfect, it goes to show we are capable of greener approaches to death.

One such approach is natural burial. This eliminates the use of coffins, prohibits harmful embalming chemicals, and challenges our current vison of a cemetery. Andy Clayden et al have detailed the positive impact of such an approach. Cemeteries could go from heavily-maintained static areas to spaces that actually provide benefits to the ecosystem. The Capsula Mundi project provides an effective case-study of this approach. This project aims to have burial pods replace current coffins. Bodies are then allowed to decompose naturally, feeding groves of tree planted in their vicinity. In addition to coffin-focused projects such as Capsula Mundi, there is research into other aspects of burial practices. For example, there has been significant work on how to re-think clothing for burials, ensuring bodies are covered in easily compostable, non-plastic, non-metal attire. If we can try to manage every aspect of our life to be greener, it is entirely possible to consider every aspect of our death.

My definition of radical hope:

Radical hope is the desire to obtain the unobtainable once it sparks an interest. Hope is just a lit matchstick and it could only become radical once it falls in the tinderbox. Radical hope is the sudden change that galvanizes the individual to desire an improvement.


Clayden, Andy, Trish Green, Jenny Hockey, and Mark Powell. “Cutting the Lawn − Natural Burial and Its Contribution to the Delivery of Ecosystem Services in Urban Cemeteries.Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, Cemeteries as green urban spaces, 33 (June 1, 2018): 99–106.

Michel, Gwendolyn M., and Young-A Lee. “Cloth(Ing) for the Dead: Case Study of Three Designers’ Green Burial Practices.” Fashion and Textiles 4, no. 1 (December 2017): 4.

Qureshi, Huma. “Woodland Burials Are Not Only Eco-Friendly: They’re Cheaper Too.” The Observer, October 7, 2007.

Kelly, Kim. “How To Recycle Your Body After You Die.” Refinery29, April 16, 2015.

Natural Burial.” The Order of the Good Death, Accessed July 23, 2020.

Lovens, Anselma and Visconti, Luca. “Consumer Environmental Legacy: Body Disposal and Innovative Market Burial Practices.” 2018.

Rashmi AS, Vangara Namratha and P Sahithi. “Capsula Mundi: An Organic Burial Pod.European Journal of Advances in Engineering and Technology, 2015, 2(8): 49-53.

Inspiring Collective Action?

By Sarah Freytag, Aimee Morales, Amy Akins

Inspiration can only get us so far. For a novelist, inspiration provides the idea, but without the writer’s hands on the keys every day there is no novel. To achieve any goal, a combination of motive and follow-through are required—environmentalism is no exception to this rule. For this unit we asked how, in regard to protecting and sustaining the environment, we could progress from inspiring sympathy to inspiring action. What are the ingredients in a successful social and scientific movement? How does a movement inspire significant collective action? Does it appeal to a collective conscience or the conscience of every individual? What role do inspirational public figures in the media play, and do they spur on effective action? What can we do to participate in collective action? Because this is a unit of many questions and debates, our unit theme itself is not only a topic but an open challenge to think critically. 

Our Definitions of Radical Hope

Each of us have included our own definitions of radical hope as a means of demonstrating that true collective action begins with an appeal to each individual’s understanding of true hope. This is what makes collective action so tricky – one message must reach not only all but each

Sarah Freytag: 

            Radical hope to me means striving for a better outcome despite the odds. It means persisting with change and innovation, not giving up when things seem dark. It is a continuous awareness that the fate of our world may be bleak, but that we can still resist that fate. 

Aimee Morales:

I believe that people are interconnected and powerful when organized. If we cannot control the world around us, then we can at least control ourselves and our impact on our environment. Radical hope, to me, is an action plan that results in structural change. My plan has three steps. It is customizable, and its main objective is to create opportunities for mindfulness which could then cause individuals to think about their impact on the environment, in turn fostering positive environmental habits. This process begins by reclaiming minority voices. These previously marginalized voices can then assess their daily environments in order to determine which structural institutions have caused them environmental inequalities, through inaction or action, in order to try and hold those institutions accountable. The final step would be to ensure individual voices are heard by those institutions via systematic change of their policies. I live in hope that one day individuals will stand together for the improvement of everyone’s life. 

Amy Akins: 

I believe radical hope lies within the transformation of a heart and mind. For true change to happen, it will take everyone doing their part—whether you’re a student making sustainable decisions in your day-to-day or a CEO doing everything you can to reduce your company’s ecological footprint. Activists can’t force people to make change, but a force within people can make them change. 

How does radical hope play out in our case study?

Radical hope is found in the fact that a 16-year-old girl in school has created an environmental movement which has inspired and called to action people from around the globe. Greta Thunberg has created meaningful hope to enact environmental change—what some call the “Greta Thunberg Effect.” Social media continues to be a critical tool creating this collective movement towards a more sustainable future. With this movement, Greta is doing more for the environment than most adults—a fact she explicitly pointed to in her famous ‘How Dare You’ speech to the UN. Greta is a modern-day example of how to not just inspire, but also call people to action towards a greater good. 

Social Movement/Collective Action Resources: 

Milan, Stefania. “When Algorithms Shape Collective Action: Social Media and the Dynamics of Cloud Protesting.” Social Media + Society 1, no. 2 (July 1, 2015): 2056305115622481.

Rupolo, Marisa. “Social Media and Society: A Generation Transformed and Transforming Consciousness and Culture.” Undergraduate Honors Thesis, SUNY, 2019.

Duit, Andreas. “Patterns of Environmental Collective Action: Some Cross-National Findings.Political Studies 59, no. 4 (December 1, 2011): 900–920.

Greta Thunberg Case Study Resources:

TIME Person of the Year 2019: How We Chose Greta Thunberg.” Time, 2019.

“Greta Thunberg is Leading a Global Climate Movement.” Great Big Story, 15 April 2019. Video available below:

Johnson, Stephen. “The ‘Greta Effect’: Can Thunberg’s Activism Actually Change Policy?,” Big Think, October 1, 2019.

Thunberg, Greta. “How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood.” UN Climate Action Summit, 23 Sept. 2019. Video available below:

Anxieties & Activism: Using Action To Cope

By Danielle Castillo and Jared Stilwell

While conversations concerning climate change continue to ritually concentrate on the consequences we face and the action needed in order to ensure sustainability, we often disregard the mental health effects that natural disasters and fear-dominated rhetoric pose towards individuals today. Whether it be extreme flooding in indigenous communities in South America or viewing a Facebook post detailing the overwhelming effects of oversea fishing from the comfort of your apartment in California, experiencing symptoms of anxiety and worry has become common in discussions of climate change. Unfortunately, this frames environmental efforts as hopeless and the consequences of climate change as inevitable. It is this model of hopelessness that has caused the mental health of communities around the world to suffer. It is thus more than necessary we include strategies of dealing with despair in conversations of hope towards a sustainable future.

As Maria Ojala explains, worry and anxiety can cripple potential critical actors in climate change movements. If we do not address what is directly stunting action, how can we move forward? This can be more closely observed in India where there has been documented high rates of farmer suicides as a response to crop failure due to extreme droughts (See Padhy, Sarkar, Panigrahi, & Paul, 2015). The effects of climate change extend beyond the immediate environment that surrounds us, we must therefore acknowledge how climate anxiety functions in order to find hope at all.

Ojala further outlines that climate change education has to produce a way to tackle this anxiety. By understanding, learning, and applying coping mechanisms for the preservation of people’s mental health, the hope for fighting climate change becomes viable. These methods include learning how to engage local communities through messaging—as seen with the High Water Line initiative. Even when reflecting on the emergence of young climate change activists it was found that their mental health actually improved as a result of them taking action in order to save our planet (4 Activist Girls). Interestingly enough, by understanding the social, spiritual, and the emotionality of climate change they were able to develop their own treatment to cope with their mental health issues. Emotional reckoning thus enabled activists to find hope both for themselves and for the world at large.

 Our definition of radical hope:

            In order for hope to be truly radical, we need to recognize our anxiety and actively push against its strain. We can do this by gaining an emotional understanding of where we stand in relation to hopelessness. This method of thinking forces the individual to look internally first and evaluate before addressing worldly issues, thus providing an alternative method of mobilization which can be truly radical within itself. In this case, every act you make—from classroom discussions, changing daily consumption habits, to calling representatives to push for local policy change—becomes inherently radical because taking action becomes a form of internal and external healing. Radical hope is the process of acknowledging the symptoms of anxiety and worry, processing how despair fuels you, and choosing to hope in spite of the circumstances. Hope can take many forms, but to radically hope means to believe in the preservation of your life and the life of the world.


Kamentz, Anya. “You Need To Act Now’: Meet 4 Girls Working To Save The Warming World.” NPR, January 19, 2020.

Ojala, Maria. “Facing Anxiety in Climate Change Education : From Therapeutic Practice to Hopeful Transgressive Learning.” Canadian Journal of Environmental Education 21 (2016): 41–56.

Cunsolo Willox, Ashlee, Sherilee L. Harper, James D. Ford, Victoria L. Edge, Karen Landman, Karen Houle, Sarah Blake, and Charlotte Wolfrey. “Climate Change and Mental Health: An Exploratory Case Study from Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Canada.” Climatic Change 121, no. 2 (November 1, 2013): 255–70.

Fritze, Jessica G., Grant A. Blashki, Susie Burke, and John Wiseman. “Hope, Despair and Transformation: Climate Change and the Promotion of Mental Health and Wellbeing.” International Journal of Mental Health Systems 2, no. 1 (September 17, 2008): 13.

Padhy, Susanta Kumar, Sidharth Sarkar, Mahima Panigrahi, and Surender Paul. “Mental Health Effects of Climate Change.Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 19, no. 1 (2015): 3–7.

Palinkas, Lawrence A. “Climate Coping,” from “One of the most overlooked consequences of climate change? Our mental health.” Environmental Health News, December 2, 2019.

Ro, Christine. “The Harm from Worrying about Climate Change.” BBC Future, October 10, 2019.

Mosher, Eve. HighWaterLine: Visualizing Climate Change.

Trendy Environmentalism

By Cameron Ayles, Ajah Davis, Sarah Roytek, and Taryn Shanes

Trendy environmentalism complicates the environmental narrative. Sustainable products have come onto the scene in recent years as ‘green’ and ‘ethical’ alternatives to the products all around us. Companies large and small promote their environmental image as a way to attract customers. The drive to adopt sustainable trends is thus, at least in part, rooted in a deeper interest in expanding the consumer base—a potentially troubling development for the environment at large.

On the one hand, the products consumers prefer to buy and the enhanced reputation of brands and businesses as “good” and “ethical” can further humanity’s sustainability goals. Even the most incremental steps and small habits – foregoing the plastic packaging on produce, opting for biodegradable bamboo silverware, reducing your animal product consumption, or bringing along your reusable grocery bags – can serve as a gateway into more drastic action. Such value-signaling may serve as an indicator to businesses and policymakers that climate change and sustainability play a critical role in spending habits and decisions.

Yet, while this has its benefits, the promotion of sustainable trends can also be deeply detrimental. Trendy environmentalism opens the door for individuals and corporations to write off more structural change or abandon positive progress altogether. For instance, the building industry has seen a surge in sustainable building techniques. From the use of certain building materials to the building’s design, consumers place a great deal of value on sustainability. Over the years, sustainable design and building trends have proven to generate higher returns for real estate investors and building professionals. Thus, in the building industry, as is the case with many corporations, sustainability has at times become a marketing ploy to generate greater profit.

In order to truly induce tangible change, there must be a collective effort on the part of our designers, producers, investors, consumers, and politicians to stay true to environmental trends. From the straws through which we sip to the buildings we build, it is important for a product to respond to contemporary and future environmental and social needs, not just to private capital.

Our definition of radical hope:

Radical hope can be found in the motives and results of trendy environmentalism. If trendy environmentalism results in a greater understanding of the overall problem, then perhaps it will lead to a value shift and long-term change. For example, a teenager who experiences the trendiness of ditching plastic straws might be compelled to understand more about the impact of her choices.

On the other hand, trendy environmentalism can be discouraging at times. For example, when small changes in individual habits (the use of plastic bags, for example) allow an individual to write off greater action—hope isn’t renewed or spurred forward. If a corporation is monitoring their carbon footprint to simply keep up with the competition or win consumer approval, there isn’t much hope in true transformation of values and understanding. In our eyes, hope has the possibility of being lost in both the reasoning behind and the effects of such trends.

Radical hope is made manifest when social and environmental capital take precedence over, or at least align with, profits. Our hope is that future environmental trends, whether that be in relation to the products we use or the places we inhabit, will not be exploited merely for the sake of capital gains, but instead be used to further humanity’s pursuit of progress.


1. An Introduction to Trendy Environmentalism

“The Evolution of the Sustainability Mindset.” Nielsen, November 09, 2018

Truelove, Heather Barnes et al. “Positive and negative spillover of pro-environmental behavior: An integrative review and theoretical framework.” Global Environmental Change, vol. 29, 2014, pp. 127-138. Science Direct.

Myers, Todd. “Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism Is Harming the Environment.” Seattle, Washington Policy Center, 2011.

2. Trendy Environmentalism and the Consumer

Toussaint, Kristin. “Metal straws, mason jars, bamboo forks: do you have to buy more stuff to go zero waste?Vox, May 14, 2019.

Goldstein, Eric. “Will Shifting to Reusable Straws Really Make a Difference?NRDC, August 01, 2018.

3. Trendy Environmentalism in the Corporate Realm

Horovitz, Bruce. “From the Rooftops, Big Box Stores Are Embracing Solar.” New York Times, October 7, 2019.

Anderson, Ray. “The Business Logic of Sustainability.” TED2009, February 2009.

4. Trendy Environmentalism, Greenwashing in the Building Industry, and a Call to Action

McGarry, Miriam. “Architects Declare a Climate Emergency But Can They Avoid Real Estate’s Greenwashing Tendencies?Future Failure, February 13, 2020. Failed Architecture.

Waldman, Katy. “In Elvia Wilk’s “Oval,” Earth, Capitalism, and the Human Species Sink Toward Doom.” The New Yorker, May 21, 2019. (Oval is well worth the read)

T-A-L Statement on the Green New Deal.” The Architecture Lobby, 2019.

Accessibility and Inclusivity: How Radical Hope Requires Radical Acceptance, Accommodation, and Understanding

By Jared Stilwell

Many activists are deeply engaged in creating movements and spaces that are more diverse and inclusive. Most still come up short as it is incredibly difficult to draw in every voice and make sure each is heard. Nevertheless, the barriers to inclusivity should not mean we put any less effort into creating a truly accessible and inclusive space.

The articles and pieces assembled for this unit aim to address some of the ways in which the environmental movement continues to struggle with issues of accessibility and inclusivity. They also highlight some of the ways the movement has endeavored to address these issues. They each examine a different issue when it comes to the idea of accessibility or exclusion. Gibson-Wood and Wakefield discuss the idea of accessibility as it plays out in a case study on the Hispanic Community in Toronto. They tackle the economic accessibility of the environmental movement, as well as the idea of what it means to be ‘green’. An accessible or inclusive definition of how environmentalists—including, more importantly, people who do not self-identify as an activist or environmentalist—should act cannot be monolithic. The idea that people have their own strengths to bring to environmentalism is universal, so too should be the idea that people cannot and should not participate in saving and protecting the environment in an identical manner.

Other sources delve into the questions and purpose of the theory of environmental criticism within the movement to preserve the world as it can certainly box people out or ‘other’ them due to the inaccessibility of an education on such matters. Activism and environmentalism should not require hours of theory and graduate courses, although these of course have their place. It is vital to include those who have not had the opportunity to engage with the theory and provide spaces and movements where activists or environmentalists can work regardless of their backgrounds. Werner strives to resolve the purpose of ecocriticism and eco-speak, as well as discuss the importance of pragmaticism and acting alongside theory. Theorists and movement leaders can certainly learn a lot from those that cannot join organizations or attend rallies due to the economics of their lives but embody clean and environmental living, those who need not be lectured on the footprint of driving to work every day as public transport has always been a necessity. Solnit also speaks on the not uncommon matter of looking down and excluding those who place themselves against environmental movements and discusses the importance of not counting people out due to their current circumstances or beliefs. The experiences that made environmentalism accessible to activists are not universal and the exclusion of those in the mythic south, or who simply don’t have the education available, is counterproductive to a movement of radical hope. 

Finally, I have included Eve Mosher’s High Water Line as an art piece designed to craft and spread an incredibly accessible message—an often elusive quality in environmental art. This project has even gone on to live through other artists, each performing in a new place in need of the message. Environmentalism and environmental education are increasingly conceived with accessibility and inclusion in mind, but there are still leagues to go. The question of how to better include all voices and actors will remain an important issue as more people take up the torch of environmental activism.

My definition of radical hope:

Perhaps it goes without saying, but exclusion is thoroughly not radical. Radical Hope as an idea is one that should involve a radical willingness to not only fight for the world but to also fight to include those whose voices are often unheard or ignored. Hopeful movements should be galvanized by the idea that there are people not being informed, included, or respected. They should, in turn, demand that there be true representation in the fight for the environment.


Gibson-Wood, Hilary, and Sarah Wakefield. ““Participation”, White Privilege and Environmental Justice: Understanding Environmentalism Among Hispanics in Toronto.Antipode 45, no. 3 (2012): 641-62.

Werner, Brett Alan. “Pragmatic Ecocriticism and Equipments for Living.” PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 2010, pp 1-51.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie., and Jacqueline S. Palmer. Ecospeak: Rhetoric and Environmental Politics in America. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.

Solnit, Rebecca. “One Nation Under Elvis: An Environmentalism For Us All.” Orion Magazine, March 1, 2008.

Caulfield, Sean. The Flood. Art Installation (2016) and accompanying video:

Mosher, Eve. HighWaterLine: Visualizing Climate Change.

Credit: HighWaterLine NYC