Judge Spotlight: Cennydd Bowles
Cennydd Bowles is a London-based designer and futurist with fifteen years of experience advising clients including Twitter, Ford, Cisco, and the BBC. His focus today is the ethics of emerging technology. He has lectured on the topic at Facebook, Stanford University, and Google, and is a sought-after speaker at technology and design events worldwide. His second book, Future Ethics, was published in 2018.
He recently offered us his perspective on the climate emergency.
Hey! Thanks for volunteering to judge The Climate Fixathon. What motivated you to get involved?
We’re on the brink of something quite big in the industry. Amazon staff are mobilising against the company’s continued climate injustices. Conference speakers and organisers are starting to realise their CO2 footprints are problematic. The Fixathon feels like a fine opportunity to put this burgeoning sentiment into practice.
How does the climate emergency make you feel and how do you deal with these feelings?
I think to be effective on climate you need to get through the mourning stage. We have to step through the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression before we get to acceptance. I still find myself occasionally gripped by climate dread, but more than anything now my primary emotion is resolve. We have to do what we can; I refuse not to.
Have you made any changes within your own life to help with the climate issue?
I’m trying to fly a lot less, and now offset all my flights with Atmosfair, who are one of the most stringent offsetting firms. I’m eating less meat (with a view to reducing this further). And I’m trying to do my bit to mobilise friends and professional colleagues to action, by setting a good example myself and talking openly about the choices I make.
You’re a designer, what advice would you give to other designers and developers who want to help fix the climate but aren’t sure how?
First, talk to your teams about hosting: globally, data centres create similar greenhouse gas emissions as the whole aviation industry. Try to convince them to switch to centres that use renewables.
Then, talk to your teams about everything else. Make sure that climate factors into all important decisions your company takes; the clients it works for, the meetings it hosts, the products it creates. Climate is a pervasive issue across all society — it should therefore pervade our business and technological choices too.
Are there any problems related to the climate emergency that you think we’re well placed to help solve with software and the web?
Technologists and designers have the power to make potential futures visible. Climate, like all moral issues, suffers from being something of a thought experiment: people have to try to anticipate what might happen, then make decisions based off that hallucination. No wonder the issue is abstract and hard to picture. But we can make that future more concrete, creating objects and stories that essentially prototype a world to come. Then we can share these visions with the public, and ask the powerful question ‘Is this really what we want? Because that’s where we’re headed.’
What is the biggest challenge you feel humanity needs to overcome if we are to successfully prevent earth’s climate breaking down?
Climate survival is incompatible with growth capitalism. While we are in thrall to ever-increasing GDP, profits, and other up-and-to-the-right metrics, systemic change will never stick. Ultimately, we have to recalibrate the axes by which we judge social and economic success.
What do you think is stopping people from doing more to fight climate breakdown?
Denial. There’s a sense that the problem will be solved with enough money or enough technology. It will not.
Do you have any recommended resources that helped you learn about climate breakdown?
The ClimateAction.Tech Slack is worth your time: some deep knowledge in that community, but it’s still open and welcoming to people stepping into climate issues for the first time.
David Wallace-Wells’s book The Uninhabitable Earth is a readable, but bleak, overview of our current trajectory.
Finally, what’s your advice to participants of the Climate Fixathon?
Be vocal about climate issues. It’s great that you’re taking them seriously: we now have to convince the whole world to do the same.