Astronaut in Tesla car in space
Astronaut in Tesla car in space

For Future Generations

Platform Visions on Humanity, Nature and the Role of Technology in the Climate Crisis
1 September 2020 until 1 August 2024
Project member(s)
Riemens, R. (Rianne)
Project type

This research takes place at the intersection of two global developments of our time: the climate crisis and the platformization of society. It develops a framework to understand the role of digital platforms — operated by big tech companies — as shaping actors in our thinking about the environment. Despite their association with virtuality, digital platforms rely heavily on products such as raw materials and have a high energy demand. Looking at the wider discourse on the role of technology in the climate crisis — the tech-on-climate discourse — the research aims to better understand the ideological underpinnings of this discourse. Central to the research is a textual and visual analysis of sustainability reports, commercial videos, webpages and keynotes produced by tech companies.

Within the tech-on-climate discourse, companies such as Google, Amazon, and Apple acknowledge the climate crisis and the responsibility to act, but do so by presenting an optimistic vision on economic growth, planetary control and the future of humanity. This discourse relies on particular rhetorical strategies that emphasize how technological tools can help ‘others’ to become more sustainable and highlight long-term solutions such as space colonization (as promoted by a.o. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos). The research places these tendencies within a historical perspective, relating it to romantic visions on nature and techno-optimistic thinking as represented by Silicon Valley. Finally, the research explores how ecological critiques on digital technologies, for example developed in art works, can help to develop a new understanding of the notion of ‘platform ecosystem’, that acknowledges the intricate, infrastructural relations between technology and ecology. In short, the goal of the research is to understand how digital platforms shape the debate about the climate crisis, and to highlight counter narratives that challenge this techno-optimistic vision.


European Research Council (part of ERC project Platform Discourses, led by Dr Niels Niessen)

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