The Leap Manifesto Revised as Though Information Technology and the Internet Matter

Posted on April 25, 2016

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The Leap Manifesto is an important document and one that is having significant impacts at the moment in certain political areas. The document as an attempt to link an environmentalist approach to a broader social and economic critique and a statement on ways forward, breaks new ground in the Canadian context and presents significant challenges to the various elements of the status quo.

There is however, one quite notable gap in the document which bares examination and that is the absence of any reference to the Internet or to digital technologies (I’ll summarize by using the term ICT—for Information and Communications Technology) in general, as potential resources and supports for the overall thrust of the document.  Of course, to some degree the digital is implicit and in the background as anything contemporary must be, but it would be of considerable value I believe to foreground ICTs to a significant degree given the overall very substantial contribution which the Internet and digital technology could make in realizing the broad vision of the Manifesto. Also, the Community Informatics perspective from which my comments are addressed would be very much in alignment with the Leap perspective by looking to enhance opportunities at the local and community level through the use of ICTs (which in turn would provide support to other of the Leap objectives.)

While for many ICTs are simply supports and enablers, in fact with their judicious and creative use they could in this context promote the values of local community sustainability and self-sufficiency including in the agricultural sphere, provide means to enhance and make more effective and efficient the transportation options which are being discussed, while overall providing at least some of the glue and interactivity which the Leap proposals are presenting.  To some degree the ICT elements in these will arise naturally out of on-going activity but to an over-whelming degree by highlighting and foregrounding the ICT element from the beginning the real opportunities which these present may be captured and optimally realized.

The early vision of the Internet as the foundation for a distributed economy, as a platform for an egalitarian society and as the means for structuring a broad-based participative democracy directly parallels (and to a degree I would suggest influences) the Leap Manifesto vision. Regrettably, overpowering commercial forces have to a very considerable degree over-powered and largely obliterated that vision, but the technologies themselves still are such as to afford and even promote such possible outcomes.

It is notable and of some significance I think, for the Manifesto that the group which appears in certain locales to have most effectively realized this initial vision are aboriginal peoples who early on recognized the manner in which ICTs could allow them both to retain their connection with their land while at the same time participating as equal members in the larger society.

In the below, I’ve begun a longer term process of re-configuring, through an interspersed commentary, the Manifesto in the context of an ICT component and vision.  This work is only partial and would be valuably extended through a closer dialogue with the Manifesto and its creators and with a broad range of technologists assisting in the rethinking.

P.S. (added May 8, 2016).  A colleague reading my blogpost reminded me/drew my attention to the work of Calota Perez an internationally recognized Economic Historian of Venezuelan origin who has worked at the interface of Development Economics, Economic History, Technology Analysis and applied Economic Policy for many years.  She is widely quoted particularly in a “development” context for her work on technology and innovation.  Leap Manifesto colleagues would, I think, benefit greatly from taking a close look at her work and particularly her most recent work where she is pointing to the role of Information Technology both in ushering in a new economic paradigm and moreover one which has as its core the reconstruction of Developed Country economies to respond to the opportunities (and particularly “good job” opportunities) of the “green economy”.  Linking the Leap Manifesto work with Perez’s thinking in these areas would I think go quite a long way to counter many of the least thoughtful responses which appear to be based on an unquestioning acceptance of TINA (There is No Alternative) to the current neo-liberal paradigm).

 

The Leap Manifesto

A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another

We start from the premise that Canada is facing the deepest crisis in recent memory.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has acknowledged shocking details about the violence of Canada’s near past. Deepening poverty and inequality are a scar on the country’s present. And Canada’s record on climate change is a crime against humanity’s future.

These facts are all the more jarring because they depart so dramatically from our stated values: respect for Indigenous rights, internationalism, human rights, diversity, and environmental stewardship.

Canada is not this place today— but it could be.

We could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.

We could be exploring the opportunities that a comprehensive and universal broadband platform could provide to us for reducing the need for travel; enabling and enriching remote and universal access to education, social, health and public services; enabling for a de-concentration of productive activity away from densely populated cities and into more sparsely populated areas thus eliminating the need for relocation for employment.

 

We know that the time for this great transition is short. Climate scientists have told us that this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer get us where we need to go.

This digital platform can make a significant contribution to reducing global warming by substituting connection at a distance for face to face connections in a variety of areas.

 

This leap must begin by respecting the inherent rights and title of the original caretakers of this land. Indigenous communities have been at the forefront of protecting rivers, coasts, forests and lands from out-of-control industrial activity. We can bolster this role, and reset our relationship, by fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous peoples globally have been among the earliest and the most creative in recognizing how digital technologies can allow them to become integrated members of society while still retaining their close and necessary connection to the land.

 

“Small steps will no longer get us to where we need to go. So we need to leap”. Moved by the treaties that form the legal basis of this country and bind us to share the land “for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow,” we want energy sources that will last for time immemorial and never run out or poison the land. Technological breakthroughs have brought this dream within reach. The latest research shows it is feasible for Canada to get 100% of its electricity from renewable resources within two decades[1]; by 2050 we could have a 100% clean economy[2].

Digital technologies can help enormously in this process by providing access to accurate and real time information on energy use, production and distribution and managing energy deployment to achieve the maximum efficiency from energy production.

 

We demand that this shift begin now.

There is no longer an excuse for building new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future. The new iron law of energy development must be: if you wouldn’t want it in your backyard, then it doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard. That applies equally to oil and gas pipelines; fracking in New Brunswick, Quebec and British Columbia; increased tanker traffic off our coasts; and to Canadian-owned mining projects the world over.

This of course, does not mean that the extending out of the Broadband infrastructure should not proceed as this will most enable many of the local initiatives responding to these energy infrastructure initiatives.

 

The time for energy democracy has come: we believe not just in changes to our energy sources, but that wherever possible communities should collectively control these new energy systems.

One way in which they can effectively organize to control these new energy systems is to have control over their community broadband system. By doing this they will have the necessary communication, sensing and remote management instrumentation at hand to under taking these kinds of controls on energy systems.

 

As an alternative to the profit-gouging of private companies and the remote bureaucracy of some centralized state ones, we can create innovative ownership structures: democratically run, paying living wages and keeping much-needed revenue in communities. And Indigenous Peoples should be first to receive public support for their own clean energy projects. So should communities currently dealing with heavy health impacts of polluting industrial activity.

The extension and elaboration of the existing community based networking model from First Nations communities in various parts of Canada and elsewhere will facilitate the keeping of revenue in local communities and as well provide the necessary infrastructure and supports for the decentralization of various types of employment to dispersed communities thus providing them with a necessary local revenue base.

 

Power generated this way will not merely light our homes but redistribute wealth, deepen our democracy, strengthen our economy and start to heal the wounds that date back to this country’s founding; and when linked to effective broadband access for these communities will allow them to be productive members of the larger society enjoying access to the range of social and education services while still maintaining their connection to the land.

A leap to a non-polluting economy creates countless openings for similar multiple “wins.” We want a universal program to build energy efficient homes, and retrofit existing housing, ensuring that the lowest income communities and neighbourhoods will benefit first and receive job training and opportunities that reduce poverty over the long term. We want training and other resources for workers in carbon-intensive jobs, ensuring they are fully able to take part in the clean energy economy. This transition should involve the democratic participation of workers themselves. High-speed rail powered by renewables and affordable public transit and with high speed broadband networks linking these communities together and to the world, these can unite every community in this country – in place of more cars, pipelines and exploding trains that endanger and divide us.

And since we know this leap is beginning late, we need to invest in our decaying public infrastructure including digital infrastructure so that it can withstand increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

Moving to a far more localized and ecologically-based agricultural system made more efficient through the selective application of e-Agriculture techniques would reduce reliance on fossil fuels, capture carbon in the soil, and absorb sudden shocks in the global supply – as well as produce healthier and more affordable food for everyone.

We call for an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects and which impose neo-liberal governance structures on the Internet so as to prevent localized and non-corporate control. Rebalancing the scales of justice, we should ensure immigration status and full protection for all workers. Recognizing Canada’s contributions to military conflicts and climate change — primary drivers of the global refugee crisis — we must welcome refugees and migrants seeking safety and a better life and use the variety of digital and other technologies as a means to enhance and accelerate their integration into Canada’s social, economic and political life.

Shifting to an economy in balance with the earth’s limits also means expanding the sectors of our economy that are already low carbon: caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public-interest media. Following on Quebec’s lead, a national childcare program is long past due. All this work, much of it performed by women, is the glue that builds humane, resilient communities – and we will need our communities to be as strong as possible in the face of the rocky future we have already locked in recognizing that information technology provides a significant set of on-going tools and resources to support these initiatives.

Since so much of the labour of caretaking – whether of people or the planet – is currently unpaid, we call for a vigorous debate about the introduction of a universal basic annual income. Pioneered in Manitoba in the 1970’s, this sturdy safety net could help ensure that no one is forced to take work that threatens their children’s tomorrow, just to feed those children today with high speed Internet access ensuring that all have full access to the range of society’s information and service resources whatever their domestic circumstances or physical location in Canada.

We declare that “austerity” – which has systematically attacked low-carbon sectors like education and healthcare, while starving public transit and forcing reckless energy privatizations – is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on earth. Meanwhile such an “austerity” approach is mirrored in the stance of Internet providers treating Internet access as a scarce and costly good when in fact a relatively modest amount of resources could ensure universal access for all.

How we can pay for all of this? Read “We Can Afford The Leap” by Bruce Campbell, Seth Klein, and Marc Lee

The money we need to pay for this great transformation is available — we just need the right policies to release it. Like an end to fossil fuel subsidies. Financial transaction taxes. Increased resource royalties. Higher income taxes on corporations and wealthy people. A progressive carbon tax. Cuts to military spending. Effective controls on the use of foreign jurisdiction for tax evasion and transfer pricing. Localized application of taxation on Internet activity and e-Commerce. All of these are based on a simple “polluter pays” principle and hold enormous promise.

One thing is clear: public scarcity in times of unprecedented private wealth is a manufactured crisis, designed to extinguish our dreams before they have a chance to be born and this includes high speed access to information and communications capabilities.

Those dreams go well beyond this document. “We call on all those seeking political office to seize this opportunity and embrace the urgent need for transformation”. We call for town hall meetings across the country where residents can gather to democratically define what a genuine leap to the next economy means in their communities along with digitally enabled regional and national conversations to discuss how local initiatives might reinforce and be reinforced by regional and national ones.

Inevitably, this bottom-up revival will lead to a renewal of democracy at every level of government, working swiftly towards a system in which every vote counts and corporate money is removed from political campaigns and where electronic and digital means enhance opportunities for effective participation, for information access around issues, and enabling on-going transparency and feedback from and to the governed and the governors.

This is a great deal to take on all at once, but such are the times in which we live.

The drop in oil prices has temporarily relieved the pressure to dig up fossil fuels as rapidly as high-risk technologies will allow. This pause in frenetic expansion should not be viewed as a crisis, but as a gift.

It has given us a rare moment to look at what we have become – and decide to change.

And so we call on all those seeking political office to seize this opportunity and embrace the urgent need for transformation. This is our sacred duty to those this country harmed in the past, to those suffering needlessly in the present, and to all who have a right to a bright and safe future.

Now is the time for boldness.

now is the time to leap.

 

[1]Sustainable Canada Dialogues. (2015). Acting on climate change: Solutions from Canadian scholars. Montreal, QC: McGill University

[2]Jacobson, M., et al. Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials. Energy Policy 39:3 (2011)