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For digitalisation to be sustainable: 2,500 participants at the ‘Bits & Bäume’ conference

Opening panel ‘A different digitisation is needed!’ at the conference ‘Bits & Bäume’ on 30 September 2022 with: (from left to right) Friederike Rohde (IÖW), Christiane Rohleder (State Secretary at BMUV), Hendrik Zimmermann (Germanwatch), Franziska Brantner (State Secretary at BMWK) and Henriette Litta (OKF) (Photo: Silke Mayer, Bits & Bäume 2022)

“Bits must not cost us trees.” This demand brought more than 2,500 participants to the ‘Bits & Bäume’ conference for digitalisation and sustainability in Berlin last weekend. At the invitation of 13 organisations from the fields of environmental, climate and nature protection, digital policy, development cooperation and science, including the Institute for Ecological Economy Research, scientists, activists and politicians met to discuss political demands and approaches for sustainable digitalisation. In times of climate change, energy crisis and state confidence crises, digital technologies must above all serve socio-ecological change instead of further increasing the crises through exploding energy demand and resource consumption and more and more surveillance.

With more than 60 demands for a just and democratic digitalisation within planetary boundaries, the organisers of the ‘Bits & Bäume’ presented a counterdraft to the digital strategy of the German government. In the development of political framework conditions for sustainable digitalisation, environmental and network policy actors should be much more involved in ongoing strategy processes.

“The digital economy must take on ecological and social responsibility along the entire value chain,” says Thomas Korbun, Scientific Director at the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW). “Digital companies must be held accountable to produce and operate information technologies and infrastructures in a climate-neutral way without compensation and oriented towards a circular economy.” The demands also address increasingly widespread automated decision-making systems, as these raise many questions from the perspective of sustainable development. Korbun: “We demand that co-determination and fundamental rights are respected in the data and algorithms on which the decision-making is based. Review commissions under civil society supervision should be able to ensure this, impose requirements and sanction non-compliance.”

“The 'Bits & Bäume' conference shows the contribution that civil society makes to solving major questions of contemporary society. Values such as learning from each other and a holistic perspective are essential for political action. Politicians would do well to rely on the expertise of civil society actors in shaping sustainable digitalisation,” says Dr. Henriette Litta, Executive Director of the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany.

How digital technologies can advance the energy transition

Developing strategic framework conditions so that digital technologies can serve nature, climate and resource protection as well as the quality of life of all people is a task for generations.

Numerous contributions at the conference were dedicated to current topics such as the energy transition and the discussion about heating. Among other things, digital tools were presented to decarbonise and democratise the energy system, as well as digital methods for significant savings in heating energy.

“The assumption that more digitalisation will automatically alleviate problems such as the climate crisis or social injustice turns out to be an illusion. In order to develop smart ideas for solving societal crises, environmental and network policy must be thought together much more than they have been so far,” says Professor Tilman Santarius from the Technical University of Berlin and the Einstein Center Digital Future. “The German government's new digital strategy does not aim to systematically use digital technologies to achieve socio-ecological goals. So, the ‘Bits & Bäume’ conference came just at the right time: 2,500 people showed in countless events how this can very well be done!”

‘Bits & Bäume’ movement networks activists in numerous places in Germany

Numerous regional initiatives bringing together self-organised activists and interested people and organising events prove that the idea of ‘Bits and Bäume’ has reached the centre of society. There are groups in Berlin, Dresden, Hanover, Cologne, Nuremberg, Osnabrück and Dortmund. The next regional conference of ‘Bits & Bäume’ in North Rhine-Westphalia has been announced for June 2023.

“The conference has made it abundantly clear that there are plenty of excellent ideas and approaches. A key challenge is to raise awareness of the problems and, above all, to bring expertise to places where it is obviously lacking: to administrations, parliaments, companies and the wider society. This has to happen in many places at the same time and in a network,” says Dr. Carsten Knoll, co-founder of the ‘Bits & Bäume’ branch in Dresden.

Considerations are currently underway to set up a coordination office so that the movement can continue to grow and become more stable. Through this, regional initiatives and organisations in the network can be supported even better and the integration of their goals into political processes can be promoted. According to the 13 organisations behind ‘Bits & Bäume’, the stabilisation of the network is necessary so that there is a strong voice for a sustainable design of digitalisation in the political and public discourse alongside the omnipresent short-term self-interests of corporations and governments.


About ‘Bits & Bäume’:

‘Bits & Bäume’ is the largest Germany-wide civil society alliance at the intersection of digitalisation and sustainability. It consists of 13 organisations from the fields of environmental and climate protection, digital policy, development policy and science, as well as a growing community. They bring together environmental, digital and climate movements and put the issue on the public and political agenda.

The 2022 conference was funded by the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU) and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV). The work of Germanwatch and the Forum InformatikerInnen für Frieden und gesellschaftliche Verantwortung (FIfF) in the context of the ‘Bits & Bäume’ Conference 2022 is funded by Stiftung Mercator.

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