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A climate toolkit for digital humanities scholars

Researchers in the School of Advanced Study have developed a toolkit that will help limit the environmental impact of digital humanities research.

When most people think about contributors to climate change, they tend to think of oil, construction, and transport. Yet a significant and growing proportion of emissions are due to digital technology. Each time we use a search engine, visit a webpage, or send an email, we use resources we might not think about, but which contribute to environmental degradation.

A new toolkit from the Digital Humanities Climate Coalition will help individuals and organisations make better digital choices and assist scholars in building more sustainable digital humanities projects.

The Digital Humanities Climate Coalition (DHCC) is a collaborative and cross-institutional initiative focused on understanding and minimising the environmental impact of digital humanities research. The School of Advanced Study is contributing to the DHCC through the Toolkit Action Group led by Dr Christopher Ohge, Senior Lecturer in Digital Approaches to Literature in the Institute of English Studies and the Digital Humanities Research Hub. The toolkit is designed to encourage digital humanists to adopt climate-responsible research practices.

“The DHCC toolkit is the result of a collaborative and international initiative to empower individual researchers and to influence university policy on climate-friendly technological decisions," Dr Ohge says. “So many of us want to support green initiatives but lack the practical knowledge about how to effect the change. This toolkit aims to help.”

Digital scholarship relies extensively on computer use and data transfers, which in turn require energy. The use of information communication technology is said to contribute 1.8% to 3.9% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, and this is projected to increase significantly. The manufacturing process of electronic goods used in research also impacts the environment. Transport is another significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and humanities research projects often require frequent travel to conferences and for fieldwork. 

“One of the issues with digital research and the sharing of data is that the process is so convenient, and the upfront costs so low. Sending an email, for instance, seems “free” – until you examine the unseen costs of data transfer.”

The toolkit provides guidance on a range of climate-related issues, from reducing the carbon footprint of digital practices, to designing research projects to be more sustainable and reducing day-to-day energy consumption, including communication and shared working, travel, and publishing and preserving data.

Dr Ohge and his colleagues officially launched the climate toolkit at an online event on 10 November, during which they reflected on the Coalition’s activities over the past year and laid out priorities for the future.

“We are very excited to launch the Toolkit, which hopefully will provide information on how we can each reduce our carbon impact as well as reducing power costs both for ourselves and our institutions.”

Find out more about the DHCC’s Climate Toolkit.