Friends of the Earth articles - Chain Reaction #125

From Chain Reaction #125, November 2015.

Greening the Internet

Felicity Ruby

While it was invented in the universities and Defence Department of the USA, the Internet has very quickly become a global commons upon which financial, media, education, health and government systems rely. Because it is a backbone for communications, transportation and governance, it affects everyone; the 3 billion people who have access and the 4 billion who do not.

The Internet is the greatest global information sharing tool and library in history. The freedom to connect has led to information sharing, scientific and technical innovation and the formation of global civil society networks that are extraordinarily valuable. It can provide carbon- and jet-lag free conferencing, telecommuting work patterns and smart cities.

The tech utopian picture sure is pretty, isn't it?

Some of our rose-coloured glasses about the Internet were shattered by Edward Snowden, who confirmed that entire populations are under dragnet surveillance, compromising rights to privacy, freedom of association and expression. Backdoors into software and hardware have rendered much online infrastructure – from cell phone devices to server stacks and email clients to payment mechanisms – vulnerable to attack. Browsers are infected. Encryption standards have been deliberately weakened. Submarine cables are tampered with. Even offline devices can be 'illuminated' and their data read.

Campaigners promoting responsible e-waste management and against genetically modified seeds lost their innocence about the power of the Internet early on, given the counterstrategies deployed by corporations to identify, neutralize and influence debate.1 However, Snowden revealed technically optimised tools for political control in sharp and shocking focus, which is relevant to everyone who uses the Internet to organise, educate, communicate and take action in environmental campaigning. To defend our democratic rights and responsibilities, Friends of the Earth recently co-sponsored a series of crypto trainings that have seen 400 activists around Australia begin the journey towards better security hygiene and use of legal and open source encryption tools.

Online economic and content monopolies have enormous resources and ability to influence how cultural activities and projects evolve. With the dominance of some cultures and languages currently online, the potential exists for culture and news from one part of the globe to dominate all else. This is in part a reflection of the fact that the 3 billion people online are predominantly in the global north.

Energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions

Yet another danger arises from how the Internet is powered.

If the Internet is powered by coal, oil and gas it is simply not sustainable and will be a major driver towards catastrophic climate change. Mark Mills of the Digital Power Group calculates the IT ecosystem represents around 10% of electricity consumption, "… about 1500 terrawatt-hours of electricity annually, equal to all the electric generation of Japan and Germany combined – as much electricity as was used for global illumination in 1985."2 The International Energy Agency estimates that digital culture will use 30% of residential energy supplied globally by 2022 and 45% by 2030.

One source of this energy drain is the millions of data centres worldwide – air-conditioned rooms full of buzzing servers that store and disseminate information. Their number doubled between 2000 and 2005. A large data centre has the capacity to use as much electricity as a small town. According to government sources, in 2013 data centres consumed 3.9% of Australia's national electricity consumption3, and in late 2014, the International Data Corporation predicted the total number globally will peak at 8.6 million in 2017.4 In 2013 in the US, according to the Natural Resources Defence Council, data centres consumed the annual output of 34 large (500-megawatt) coal-fired power plants, projected to increase by 2020 to the equivalent annual output of 50 power plants, at a cost of $13 billion annually in electricity bills and emitting nearly 100 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year.5

Another source of the energy suck is our devices. Small electronics account for the same carbon emissions as the airline industry. The average tablet or smart phone, if used to watch one hour of video a week, consumes more electricity than two new refrigerators. Internet data is growing by 20% per year. Hourly Internet traffic will soon be more than annual traffic in 2000. As the carbon footprint of the Internet grows, as more devices and users, share, stream, send and store data, the urgency to power the Internet by renewable sources also grows.

Electric cars are rather large devices connected to the Internet, and the International Energy agency predicted in 2013 that there would be 20 million on the road by 2020. If Elon Musk of Tesla has his way, the transition to sustainable transport will happen a lot faster, all powered by renewable energy. The solar filling stations that dot the US, and Tesla's lithium ion battery gigafactory in Nevada are all running on 100% renewable energy. Not all electric manufacturers are committed to using renewables.

In the US, Greenpeace has driven a campaign to get Internet giants to commit to 100% renewable energy for powering their data centres. In some states, this has changed the electricity grid. The Clicking Clean report6 indicates that Apple is leading in powering its corner of the Internet with renewables (given their US$53 billion profit in the last financial year, translating to $6.1 million per hour, they'd want to be). The Greenpeace campaign to win a 100% renewable commitment from Amazon is welcome, but still lacks transparency, so may remain simply aspirational or a clever PR gimmick.

Microsoft is worth a closer look, given that Bill Gates recently pledged $2 billion to green energy, while admitting that in the absence of a substantial climate tax incentive, the private sector is too selfish and inefficient to deliver climate change action.7 Microsoft has made some progress in recent years, introducing an internal carbon fee and purchasing large amounts of wind energy to power two of its data centers, but perhaps Bill could do more with the $22 billion profit Microsoft made in the last financial year.

According to the Greenpeace report, Microsoft's commitment of 'carbon neutrality' just doesn't go far enough, when the company operates 19 regional data centres in the US with the capacity for nearly 12 million servers, "primarily reliant on the purchase of unbundled renewable energy credits and carbon offsets, which have little if any impact on the energy powering its data centres. The continued lack of a meaningful strategy to guide its rapidly growing fleet of data centres with renewable energy leaves Microsoft falling further behind Google and Apple, and on a path similar to Amazon not only in terms of its growth, but also in its being predominantly powered by dirty sources of electricity."

Australian ISPs, data centres, technologists, and companies could feel more pressure from environmental campaigners to green our Internet. A good place to start would be for our National Broadband Network (NBN) to get off copper entirely as fibre optic cable is much more energy efficient. Instead the current government is spending $14m to buy 1800 km of additional copper, having abandoned the vision of NBN fibre to every home and now investing in the inferior fibre to the node model.

Techies for Climate Justice marched in the "solutions" section of the New York climate march because we believe the tech sector has a role and a responsibility to clean up our own act by plugging our devices and our ideas into renewable energy. Techies in Australia will be marching again in November because we hold the keyboards, and some of the keys, to a low carbon and smart economy.

Felicity Ruby is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. Her research is focused on transnational political movements against mass surveillance. She has been a member or supporter of Friends of the Earth since 1991.


1. The 2012 Pluto Press book by Evaline Lubbers, "Secret Manoeuvers in the Dark: Corporate and Police Spying on Activists," examines these issues at length and his highly recommended reading.

2. Mark P Mills, August 2013, Digital Power Group, 'The Cloud Begins with Coal: Big Data, Big Networks Big Infrastructure and Big Power',

3. Energy Rating Website co-sponsored by Federal, state and New Zealand governments:

4. The full text of the International Data Corporation November 2014 forecast costs over US$6,000 but this figure appears in their press release

5. America's Data Centers Consuming and Wasting Growing Amounts of Energy:

6. Greenpeace, May 2015, Clicking Clean: A Guide to Building the Green Internet

7. The Atlantic, November 2015. 'We Need an Energy Miracle'

A spoonful of sugar is not enough to help the TPP go down

Sam Castro and Kat Moore

At the most recent Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations in Atlanta, Georgia, delegates agreed in principle to the provisions of the secret deal. In order for the TPP to be signed, it now needs to be ratified by each of the 12 participating governments.

While Minister Andrew Robb and others in the federal Cabinet remain enthusiastic about Australia's involvement in this secret deal, many Australians have very serious concerns about a deal by corporations, for corporations. The lengthy process that must still be complied with is a blessing for the growing community campaign for transparency, corporate accountability, and fair trade.

The TPP will be more powerful than the World Trade Organisation; it is effectively NAFTA on steroids and a Trojan Horse that threatens our democracy. A decade and a half on, the legacy of The North American Free Trade Agreement is one of lost jobs in the USA and offshoring to Mexico where unions are often threatened and working conditions are often intolerable. Why does the TPP have this dubious reputation? Let's take a look.

The secret TPP negotiations excluded our elected representatives and community stakeholders from any serious participation while enabling six hundred corporate insiders to effectively draft chapters of the text in their own interests. Members of Parliament who have asked to see the text have been told they can only see it if they sign confidentiality agreements preventing them from warning Australians about the risks.

When it comes to the TPP, Minister Andrew Robb is effectively telling Australians "trust me." While Minister Robb may wax lyrical about the benefits of the TPP, leaked information shines a light on whom it will benefit and what's really at stake.

Over the course of the past five years of the TPP negotiations, all that is known about the agreement has been published by WikiLeaks. The leaked information includes draft copies of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)1, Environment2 and Intellectual Property3 chapters, as well as recent publication of internal communication regarding State-Owned Enterprises4.

While media reports of negotiations suggest the sticking points have included sugar, dairy, automobiles, patents and biologic medicines, the more ghastly and long-term destructive components of the TPP have been completely ignored. Leaked chapters of the TPP indicate there is a litany of clauses inserted into the agreement that are fundamentally designed to override domestic law and that fail to safeguard our already fragile democracy, public health, environment and human rights, instead empowering corporations with undue sway over public policy.

Minister Robb is pushing a TPP fairytale in which the only risk to farmers is that they will not be allowed to export as much sugar and milk to the US as they would like. In reality, the risks for farmers are much greater and the destruction to our agricultural land may be devastating. A recent Friends of the Earth briefing document, 'Fracking the Planet: How the Trans Pacific Partnership will expand fracking in Australia and around the globe'5, explores the effects the TPP will have on the ability of community to oppose the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) industry. The analysis would trouble farmers across the country.

The inclusion of the ISDS clause in the TPP provides foreign corporations with the ability to sue the Australian government for imposing regulations that impact that company's projected future profits. As has already been witnessed through other more localised trade deals, such as NAFTA, ISDS is most commonly utilised to combat laws enacted for environmental protection. If the Australian government was to come to its senses and attempt to move us away from extractive industries towards renewables, then foreign corporations may sue our government under the TPP for implementing moratoriums or bans on fracking, as has already taken place as in the case of Lone Pine Resources vs. Canada.6

It is clear that the federal government is feeling the heat on the issue of the ISDS clause. Given the fears held by many about the possibility of transnational corporations suing Australia simply for making decisions that might protect consumers or the natural environment, the Trade Minister and others assure us that there will be 'exceptions' for Australia. When no one outside the negotiating room has seen the text, how would we know?

Environmental crimes

As noted recently by Friends of the Earth US, an analysis of US initiated trade agreements in recent years has done nothing to protect the environment or halt environmental crimes like illegal logging.

Australian farmers not only face the risk of the TPP potentially opening up prime agricultural land to unchallenged fracking or coal mining, but corporations such as Monsanto, under the Intellectual Property chapter, could have complete market control over the types of seeds planted, pesticides used and therefore the methods by which our food is grown. Farmers will effectively be held hostage by Monsanto on one side and the fossil fuel industry on the other. The message from the big corporations writing the TPP is clear: enact legislation that we agree with or be prepared for us to sue the government via the taxpayers' wallet. Not only will farmers, and the rest of us who rely on their produce to survive, be answerable to corporations, our government will be powerless to stop them.

Now that the text has been agreed in principle, from the time that President Obama notifies Congress of the secret deal, he must wait 90 days before signing it. For 60 of those days, the text must be made public. The latest intelligence from Republican and Democratic aides suggests that this will not be set in motion until after the 2016 US election. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has come out against the agreement in its current form, creating a complex dynamic in the lead-up to the election.

Every day there is a delay in signing this corporate deal, the global opposition becomes stronger. Here in Australia, community groups and unions have joined forces (representing over three million members) calling on the Australian government to release the TPP text or withdraw Australia from the secret negotiations. Ten years ago no-one would have believed farmers and environmental groups would have joined forces to fight unconventional gas and fracking, but the Lock the Gate movement has cemented this relationship across eastern Australia. Will the TPP see our farmers now join with unions, environment groups, and community, to become the next powerful alliance to stand up for the future of our democracy and our right to food security, clean air and water?








Sam Castro and Kat Moore are members of Friends of the Earth's Economic Justice Collective.

Inside Friends Of The Earth's Yes 2 Renewables Campaign

Leigh Ewbank is the Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth's renewable energy campaign – Yes 2 Renewables (Y2R). Y2R partners with communities all over Victoria to win strategic battles that will speed-up the roll out of renewable energy. Interview by Lisa de Kleyn.

What is a typical day at Friends of the Earth (FoE)?

A typical day at FoE begins at home. It's about getting up really early, jumping on social media, and putting on Radio National to see what's going on – whether there are any key announcements relevant to renewables or climate that we need to be aware of. Once we hit the office, we respond to those developments.

We have well-defined campaigns and we are lean and mean at FoE. There'll be between three and seven people in the office every day. It varies because the campaigners are always out on the ground, in the community. I'll often be in a community that is exploring how to go 100% renewable.

So early on it's media and social media, and once we've addressed that, we move into actions, events and community support.

What are some of Yes 2 Renewables achievements?

Y2R has had several achievements over the last two years.

We helped the King Island community respond to an anti-windfarm campaign. The debate came to a vote on whether or not to pursue a feasibility study for a wind farm, and the community returned a yes vote, which was the final verdict on that campaign. We're linked to that outcome.

We helped a community in Trawool in Central Victoria respond to anti-windfarm activity in their region. Subsequently, the Cherry Tree Range Windfarm was approved by VCAT with visible community backing.

Last year Y2R took the lead on the campaign to repeal the anti-windfarm laws in Victoria established by the former Liberal state government, and we're really pleased that the new Premier Daniel Andrews has delivered on that commitment already. That will allow the Woodend community to follow in the footsteps of Hepburn Wind and build their own community project.

How would you define your approach?

It is strategic, considered and pragmatic. We set campaign objectives, develop strategies to meet those objectives, and identify the multiple pathways that we can take to achieve them.

We're collaborative. Friends of the Earth's philosophy is to partner with communities. To do this, we listen to what the community's needs are, and what their vision is. We're not there to tell communities what they should be thinking about and what they should do. We're here to serve the community. That's how we've managed to be effective and keep doing this for 40 years.

What actions do you take?

It's always multi-staged, with a range of tactics. We do what's effective depending on the issue at hand.

When we're facing a new campaign and figuring out our strategy and what tactics we're going to use, we evaluate those tactics. We're not going to say – let's just do a rally. Is a rally needed to win? Do we need a rally to achieve our objectives? We don't discriminate against tactics, but we evaluate them and find what's going to work.

As an example, in the lead up to the state election in 2014, Y2R held meetings with the Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group and we figured out that there was an alignment between their push for a community windfarm, which had been killed off by the Coalition's anti-wind laws a few years ago, and the broader mission that Y2R has.

We embarked on a multiple month campaign that included:

  • Open letters to all of the candidates in the seat to give them all the chance to tell the public where they stand on the issue and to engage with us.
  • Letter writing campaigns to the MPs and candidates.
  • Supporting public events that demonstrated that the communities wanted this law changed so they could achieve their vision of a community windfarm.
  • Holding a Meet the Candidates forum once the candidates had locked in their positions so the community could hold them to account and,
  • On the doorstep of the election, we produced a scorecard for where the candidates stood on the issues to make sure that there was good community awareness.

What would you most like Australians to understand?

They have so much power. They have more power than they probably realise. When you get together with your community and you start to explore the issues and put heat on your politicians to actually deliver what you want, you'd be surprised with what can be achieved. I'm absolutely committed to helping people realise how much power they have and to exercise that power.

Abridged from The Switch Report,

FoE's campaign to stop whaling 1976-78

Bro Sheffield-Brotherton

The bike wheel had been so mangled it look like it could make one of those impossible skid marks you see on "Slippery When Wet" signs. For several years it hung on the wall of the Environment Centre of WA, captioned "In memory of three Friends of the Earth who ran into each other 25 km north of Albany, 26 January 1976". It being my bike wheel, I remember that Australia Day much more clearly than my then lack of patriotic fervour would normally permit.

The three spectacularly-collapsing cyclists were part an 800 km return protest ride from Perth to Albany, port of Australia's last whale-killing fleet. It was one of many actions undertaken by Friends of the Earth (FoE) until Australia stopped slaughtering whales in 1978.

FoE began in Australia in the year following the landmark 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment at which the Great Whales became the unofficial symbol of humans estrangement from the planet. The initial concern over the plight of the whales came from population after population and species after species being hunted to commercial, and in a few cases actual extinction. However, as the campaign developed worldwide, this was profoundly buttressed through growing understanding of the majesty and intelligence of these extraordinary creatures.

The first time I heard the sounds on the radio I had know idea what they were, but the longer I listened I grew more convinced that their utterer was communicating in an incredibly complex way. Upon learning that it was a Humpback Whale I knew I had to do something to help whales swim free of human tyranny (h dear, not another one of those early 70s hippie conversion experiences!).

FoE established its whales campaign under the banner of Project Jonah. At quite an early stage it was recognised that there were some people passionately concerned about the plight of the whales who weren't, unfortunately, in the least bit passionate about some of our other major campaigns, such as anti-uranium. The game plan was to establish Project Jonah as a separate single-issue group, while FoE would continue to work on the issue as part of its broad suite of campaigns. I acted as coordinator for a couple of years while that transition occurred.

Over the next few years we did all the things you'd expect in an activist campaign: picketing whaling nations' consulates, dawn services outside the Albany whaling station, displays and (limited) dialogue in the Albany Town Hall, media, education, petitioning, lobbying, bike pranging and so on. By 1977/78 polls were showing around 90% of Australians opposed to whaling, although it was only about 50:50 in WA – a long way from vehement pro-whale sentiment there now.

The Fraser Government announced an 'Inquiry Into Whales and Whaling' in 1978, and FoE was among the handful of official Major Parties to the Inquiry. Members of FoE Perth and then Chain Reaction Editor Barbara Hutton were there in Albany on the freezing opening day of the Inquiry when the whaling company announced it was going to shut down by the end of the year.

A major campaign goal achieved completely − hadn't seen that happen much before 1978. We checked our pulses and finding them there (if racing) waited for the alarm to go off.

It got even better. FoE continued its active participation in the Inquiry as it moved to other cities, pursuing our other goals of declaration of a whale sanctuary within Australia's territorial waters, a ban on importing whale products and for Australia to pursue with vigour the protection of whales internationally. The inquiry reported strongly along these lines and successive Australian Governments have adopted a pro-whale stance.

As witnessed at the recent International Whaling Commission meeting in Adelaide the last vestiges of the commercial whaling industry are being clung to tenaciously in Japan, Norway and the North Atlantic and the arguments seem to have changed not at all in 20 years. Distressing indeed, but I'm just optimistic enough to believe we can see the end of this industry from bygone centuries sometime in the next 20 years, although I fear it may be towards the end of that period.

Reprinted from the FoE Australia History blog, June 2015:

Black Hole documentary review

Phil Evans

The coal movement came into maturity with the Leard Blockade camp set up mid-2012 to fight Whitehaven Coal's Maules Creek mine in the Leard State Forest. Too often important moments in social movements are not documented and are forgotten in the winds of time, destined to become stories told in activist circles – and nowhere else.

Thankfully film-makers like Joāo Dujon Pereira are willing to make huge personal sacrifice to come and tell the story of the activists, the farmers and the Gomeroi people who shaped this movement. That our story can be told to a wider audience and help grow this movement is so important at this juncture in time, and to Dujon, I know, many are eternally grateful.

Dujon embedded himself within the Leard Blockade camp for much of 2014, sleeping rough and living and breathing the adrenaline rush that comes with a sustained campaign of nonviolent direct action.

I was living in camp for much of the time that he stayed with the camp. I watched him adjust to the difficult circumstances of the camp, which had recently moved from the Leard State Forest to Maules Creek farmer Cliff Wallace's property called Wando. Dujon arrived just as the campaign hit fever point and captured exciting campaign highs like the crucifix barrel lock-on (including Rev. John Brentnall − Liverpool Plains Uniting Church Minister) and rugby union superstar David Pocock's infamous 10-hour lock on. Dujon was also able access footage taken by people before his arrival, and there is footage dating back to 2012 on show.

Black Hole captures not only the action, but the human element of the story which so often is lost in the media's obsession with arrest numbers and economic framing. Dujon's candid interviews (he sifted through over 700 hours of footage to make the 104-minute documentary) and dedication to telling all sides of the story is not only compelling viewing, but also served as a kind of catharsis for the many players in this story: an ear that was so willing to listen to their tale.

The film tells the story of the camp, but also pays special attention to the plight of the Gomeroi, so often lost in the sea of noise that was the campaign. It captures the drama as Whitehaven Coal attempted to drive a wedge between the traditional custodians and the activist camp – in divide and conquer tactics all too familiar for anyone that has ever been involved in a campaign that has fought the mining industry.

Bob Brown described the movie as 'must see' for any Australian who cares for the natural environment, but I know that many more in board rooms and in the halls of power will be watching. And surely a cold fear will descend as they glimpse into the background story of what people, city and country, organised and united look like.

Black Hole is currently showing nationally via Tugg requested screenings. Check out to see how you can organise a screening in your area.

Phil Evans works with Friends of the Earth, Melbourne.