I’m writing the day after the climate strike. With so many people taking to the streets, it made me wonder how much people actually know about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs)? Why is that important? Well, there are powerful interests seeking to misdirect people who want to do the right thing. If we go down the wrong path, irreversible harm will be inflicted in the name of “carbon trading,” “green” growth, “financial-inclusion,” and “resilient cities.”
In 2009 the UN advanced a Global Green Deal. The policy brief was prepared in the aftermath of the housing crisis with the intention of directing stimulus money into “green” economic activities managed through the World Bank, centering technology and innovative finance. 2009 was also the year the Global Impact Investment Network was founded, having been shepherded along by former University of Pennsylvania president Judith Rodin and the Rockefeller Foundation. It now has over 20,000 members.
Today, the United Nations Development Program is working in cooperation with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to set global standards for impact measurement that will drive investment, in part, into SDG projects. This effort, the Impact Management Project, has too many participants to list (2,000!) but includes Ronald Cohen’s Social Finance, Bain spin-off Bridgespan, and Larry Fink’s Blackrock, the largest asset manager in the world.
Clearly there is an endless supply of money to throw at the environmental crisis, but only if profit can be readily captured for those who already have most of the resources. Capturing that profit means data, and in today’s world obtaining, storing, and processing that data comes with its own immense environmental consequences, and that is something few are eager to discuss.
Above is only a selection of participants in the Impact Management Project. Source
In a previous post I touched on The Red Deal and explained my belief that the environmental movement is split. One path, grounded in right relations and the Indigenous sovereignty struggle, might begin to heal the planet IF the masses stand with the colonized people of the earth and reckon with the immense harm wrought by capitalism, especially racial capitalism.
The other path, grounded in technology, Internet of things, 5G, artificial intelligence and Big Data, will, through financialization, probably kill it. But before the final nails are put in the coffin Goldman Sachs and other financiers will have wrung out the very last drops of profit. The UN SDGs are of the second path.
Seventeen goals were adopted by the 193 member states of the United Nations in 2015. The stated intention was to eliminate poverty and protect the planet. They’ve essentially set the rules for the global hedge fund game that will run on data extracted from Internet of Things (IoT) sensors. There are two parallel programs of financialization: 1) people as human capital and 2) nature: carbon, energy, stormwater, etc. The sensor networks will be incorporated into smart city planning via programs of the type being hotly contested with Google’s Sidewalk Labs in Toronto.
I suspect folks might be surprised to find out twelve of the goals are human-centric. So, there are a dozen different opportunities where data can be used control populations: education, employment, health, and housing to name a few. Only four of the sustainability development goals are, in fact, climate and energy-focused. The final goal deals with implementation, picture public-private partnerships with social impact financiers.
These goals must be seen for what they are, an apparatus crafted by vulture philanthropists to maintain flows of transnational global capital at a time when growing wealth inequality renders the purchasing power of the masses woefully inadequate. Goals 4 and 8 also play into the results-oriented “evidence-based” techno-solutions being imposed on our education and training systems. Don’t get me wrong; poverty and displacement from environmental, economic and political upheaval are, and will continue to be, an immense humanitarian catastrophe. We must commit ourselves to caring for our neighbors, the land, and our non-human kin. What we must grapple with now is how to do that from a place of justice and caring rather than data-driven opportunity engineering that is fundamentally dehumanizing, disrespects the earth, and flies in the face of community self-determination, ceding power to the cloud bosses.
We know the game is on. The question this is how does it play out in the United States? Not many people seem to be talking about it. It’s puzzling.
There is much to commend in House Resolution 109: Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal. Public investment, creation of good jobs, an emphasis on frontline and vulnerable communities and Indigenous consultation are vital elements of any just transition program. Yet we must carefully consider if FDR’s New Deal, a deal designed to save US capitalism, preserve a fundamentally racist social order through select accommodations, and reign in radical labor, is the right conceptual framework. In this time of crisis, let the scales fall from our eyes, let the myths be disrupted. We need a new path.
My other concern is that House Resolution 109 will be vulnerable to cooptation by these predatory impact investors. Senator Markey who co-sponsored the resolution with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, spent his legislative career in Boston, home to Harvard, MIT and a powerful venture capital community. It is where many elements of of the pay for success program have been refined: Internet of Things, Blockchain, crypto-economics, and data-driven, neoliberal privatization policies. He will be lobbied hard to craft legislation that fulfills the desires of the Global Impact Investment Network. Digitally mediated social impact investing is the tool intended to save capitalism this around.
In 2018 Senator Markey lectures at MIT on “Combating the Climate Crisis From Regulation To Legislation.”
As the Green New Deal moves from aspiration to legislation we must be prepared to go toe to toe with transnational global capital interests to refuse to allow public private partnerships or outcomes-based contracting to be inserted into the legislation. We must not open the door to “pay for success” finance, an “innovative” abomination that would weave lives and lands into vast data-gathering networks to serve the rich. Bottom up organizing, outside the limits of electoral politics, must also continue, and we should be following those who have been resisting the longest, Indigenous people.
If we’re not careful, the outpouring of energy from these well-intentioned climate marches could be channeled to dangerous ends. If we don’t take the reigns from the Davos crowd, instead of healing the planet they’ll end up incentivizing things like monoculture genetically modified forests, Liquefied Natural Gas processing, and biometric monitoring of the poor. Worst case scenario we end up in an eco-fascist police state where the masses are forced to live off meager Universal Basic Income (UBI) allotments, farmed for data like aphids milked by ants.
Ok, so that last one might a bit sound extreme, but people DO sense something is not right. There is palpable feeling of anxiety. While not everyone can pinpoint the source, a growing number of communities are on the right track, opposing the imposition of “smart” surveillance technologies and the roll out of 5G cellular networks needed to scale the coming Internet of Things (IoT), mixed-reality world. They need this infrastructure to capture the impact data for the financiers.
To get a sense of the imperative pushing 5G deployment you can watch this 2016 press briefing with FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, puppet of the cable and telecommunications industry and Obama bundler. We will be told we need IoT to fight climate change and solve poverty (more data!), when in fact the technocrats want it so they can turn people and ecosystems into a cybernetic bonanza of signals intelligence to be tapped for manipulative investment schemes and social control as required. We can look to the “Smart Nation” policies of Singapore and China’s social credit scoring protocols for a preview.
Many people know about the kind of sensors that track pollution, storm water run-off, and air quality. Those are sort of things most people imagine technology will be used for in order to achieve “green” outcomes. What people are probably NOT prepared for is the Internet of Humans. The European Union and the Institute Electrical and Electronics Engineers are already planning that out with fair trade data markets and harmonized digital citizens. The push towards single data markets and self sovereign identity systems seems to be the logical conclusion for the GDPR privacy regulations. We are our data. We own it, but most of us, the poor, will have to sell it to survive. It is the new global currency. When I stumbled upon this I really wondered if perhaps the EU had been set up with this in mind all along.
For years we’ve been groomed to accept the primacy of STEM, the imperative of closing the digital divide. Now as our precious actual world is flooded and burned, they’re planning to scale up their fictitious worlds where digital people will be easier to manage. They’re also going to have to maintain it and police it. It takes a lot of people to build a parallel universe. Why do you think Microsoft is pushing Minecraft in schools? They need workers. What? Did you think Ready Player One was just a book / movie? And while this may seem a bit over the top, I have been reflecting on a panel discussion hosted by Atlantic Magazine I attended in Philadelphia during the 2016 DNC.
The topic was “Teaching for Tomorrow in the Creative Economy,” and it was all about video games and IoT. There was nothing about actual education. During his portion of the panel president of Epic Games, Paul Meegan, emphasized how crucial it was for him to have access to talent to build out his video games. Epic Games, in case you aren’t aware, developed Fortnite with capital from Chinese company TenCent.
The next phase of capitalism is virtual, gamified worlds in which avatars consume digital products and earn and transfer value through crypto-economic systems. It will take awhile, but we’re definitely baby stepping our way there. And to make that transition, the tech oligarchs need masses of kids to be funneled into coding and cyber-security career pathways, humanities be damned. Reduce your carbon footprint, spend your life in a video game!
While the mirage of high-paying coding jobs remains out there, the reality is for every hoodie-wearing tech executive playing foosball, there are many, many poor people doing the soul-sucking sweat shop work of annotating photos and cleaning and organizing the training data for the robots with whom they intend to replace us. These are the hidden “Task Rabbits” that do the work of teaching the autonomous vehicles how to move.
Increasingly those are going to be high school kids doing “work-based” learning, houseless people earning their keep in “pay for success” shelters, or refugees in detainment camps. Bottom line is we’ve been pitched faux digital liberation, one that if embraced will ultimately render us fuel for a “smart” world where human labor, human contact, human relationships are digital and disposable.
Fake worlds are not the answer to climate change.
IoT social impact markets are not the answer to climate change, either.
Under the auspices of a climate emergency, one so many have unthinkingly demanded, the technocrats will have free reign to ensnare the earth in digital webs of sensors and EMF radiation. They’ll have our blessing to “count what matters” as the IXO Foundation video says. And count it they will in the most brutal, Orwellian ways. Given the present imbalance of power and growing militarization of police, whose interests are going to be served through such a declaration? Sounds like an excuse for martial law to me. I have seen nothing to convince me elected officials favor the interests of regular people over those of Google and Goldman Sachs. I guess all of this is to say be careful what you ask for; you might get it.
In this pending augmented reality, digital surveillance future each person will be expected to be an entrepreneur of the self, curating a digital brand, interacting with sensors in the world around us. Probably even our encounters with nature will be fed into some damn data channel. These sensors will monitor our behaviors and nudge us to make the “right choices,” so investors can achieve the success metrics that will allow them to siphon profit from the public trough.
That’s what those dozen UN SDGs are really about. That’s the reason Ideas42 was developed out of Harvard, to leverage research in behavioral economics to force compliance in a world of precarious employment and environmental devastation. Behave or starve, technology as enforcer. Behavior change, or else. But that change is always individual change, not the structural change that could lead to actual redistribution of resources and the healing that is needed.
At the next march, it is vital to understand what the demands are.
To be prepared to make the vision of the Green New Deal one for the people, not GIIN.
We must be vigilant that the right vision is advanced, that collective power is not diverted to bitter ends.
We demand a future grounded in right relations not financialization.
The change we need doesn’t come from a line of code.
It comes from the work being done face to face. Keep going.
If you haven’t looked over The Red Deal, check it out.
I’ll spend more time talking about this map later. But if any of this seems to come out of left field, it didn’t. It’s real. You’ll find it in here.