James Singleton is an independent software developer, author, engineer and entrepreneur. His background is in electrical/electronic engineering and he’s worked professionally in software development for over a decade. He’s the author of ASP.NET Core 2 High Performance, a book about creating fast, scalable, and high performance web applications with .NET Core (an open-source and cross-platform framework from Microsoft) that also includes a big collection of general tips and experience applicable to making web apps perform well with any language or framework. You can read his blog at unop.uk.
James is one of our judges and we recently had the chance to chat with him about the climate emergency and how developers can help.
Hey! Thanks for volunteering to judge The Climate Fixathon. What motivated you to get involved?
Hi, thanks for asking me! It’s an honour. I’ve been involved in environmental projects for quite a while and attended plenty of hackathon events. The combination of the two seemed like a great opportunity to get people engaged so I wanted to help out.
How does the climate emergency make you feel and how do you deal with these feelings?
It can get you down at times but every problem is an opportunity in disguise and taking action makes you feel better. So get involved, it will make you happier! I’ve been part of this movement for some time but I feel that recently there has been a genuine groundswell in momentum and now is the time to capitalise on it. We may be at a tipping point in more ways than one and action is the only reasonable response. Who wouldn’t want to be on the side that saves the world!
For the next 12–18 months the focus needs to be on demanding significant action from politicians, especially in countries where they haven’t woken up yet.
Have you made any changes within your own life to help with the climate issue?
Yes. The main change required is political/economic but there are personal actions that can also help (just remember to tell people about them to raise awareness).
Some of the things I’ve been doing include:
- Talking about it more and getting politically involved (e.g. adding a section to the end of my tech talks)
- Radically cutting down on meat and dairy consumption (particularly red meat and especially beef)
- Planning my next holiday by train (using seat61.com)
- Walking / cycling to the shops (frequently rather than a weekly big shop)
- Purchasing products in bulk to cut down on packaging per unit
- Buying loose items and taking canvas bags to the shops
- Switching to tech services that run on 100% green power
- Blocking ads to reduce consumerist messages and energy usage
- Replacing liquid soap pump bottles with bars of soap
- Turning the shower off while lathering
- Using an electric pressure cooker
- Growing fruit and vegetables
- Keeping things for longer and repairing them
- Washing clothes at the lowest temperature needed
- Drying clothes outdoors using the sun and wind
- Giving money to tree planting organisations and charities
- Switching to a 100% renewable electricity and carbon offset gas supplier (Octopus Energy — £50 credit referral link)
- Monitoring power usage and switching devices off
- Running appliances at low carbon intensity times
- Working remotely
The small things don’t really do much in isolation and there are no perfect choices, so don’t feel guilty. It’s just good to lead by example and test how it can be done. The main themes are consuming less and being more thoughtful about external impacts.
What I’ve learned in this experiment is that none of these things are sacrifices but in fact net benefits. They make you healthier, happier, richer and it’s very rewarding.
This is a lot to digest, so I’ll expand on it in a post on my blog.
You’re a developer, what advice would you give to other developers who want to help fix the climate but aren’t sure how?
Make something people want and that can scale. Start simple and build the core of an idea to test first. Don’t skimp on the research and think about how you will market it in order to get people to use it.
Your new thing should be an improvement on the current situation but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Run the numbers to make sure things add up and don’t just make assumptions.
Think holistically. Everything is connected. How can the problem be approached from a re-wilding, conservation, air quality or plastic pollution perspective?
Empower non-technical individuals to take action, get involved and contribute with no-code technologies. There are lots of people who want to help.
Are there any problems related to the climate emergency that you think we’re well placed to help solve with software and the web?
For the next 12–18 months the focus needs to be on demanding significant action from politicians, especially in countries where they haven’t woken up yet. We need a large public mobilisation to apply sufficient pressure and get the right people into power. Create tools to enable this necessary action to organise. Software is perfect for this.
The emissions reduction implementation will mostly happen after 2020 if a global plan is committed to by then and software may have a more minor role to play in that. However, software is everywhere and is a component of solutions in every sector.
What is the biggest challenge you feel humanity needs to overcome if we are to successfully prevent earth’s climate breaking down?
Create the political consensus for an economic solution that makes destroying the climate unaffordable in the short term. We basically have until the end of 2020 to get this in place so that we can then get on with the emissions reduction in time to avoid the worst effects. If we can triple the proportion of the economy that is fighting climate breakdown then we’ll be in a better place.
What do you think is stopping people from doing more to fight climate breakdown?
Lack of social validation and simple achievable goals are some reasons preventing people from acting. People can be afraid of starting a task due to the perceived enormity and complexity of the challenge. Or in other cases, they may not understand how dangerous and urgent the problem is.
To counter the procrastination you need to encourage people to just start doing something simple and it will grow from there. If they see what others are doing then they are more likely to take action. Make this peer data obvious.
People can be overwhelmed by information, which makes it hard to make good decisions. There is mixed messaging that makes everything seem bad. Teach people how to estimate impact and choose the least worst option.
It’s a complex issue but it’s not that complicated. We need to break down the problem, not the climate.
Are there any climate projects or movements that have impressed you or you’d like to draw attention to?
Yes, here’s a small selection (but there are many more):
- Impact Makers
- Extinction Rebellion
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- Committee on Climate Change
- Carbon Intensity API
Do you have any recommended resources that helped you learn about climate breakdown?
Yes, in no particular order:
- Sustainable Energy — without the hot air
- Books by Mike Berners-Lee
- What can a technologist do about climate change
- Warming Stripes
- The State of Data Center Energy Use in 2018 doc
- Outrage and Optimism podcast
- IPCC special report summary for teachers PDF
- Drawdown solutions
Finally, what’s your advice to participants of the Climate Fixathon?
Think about the psychology behind what you are trying to achieve and how you can motivate people into action. Learn what dirty tricks the bad guys use and try to pre-empt them. Too much fear can paralyse some people so try to be optimistic but still motivating.