Also on the panel was Isla Myers-Smith, whose research crew, Team Shrub, has been studying the greening effect in the Arctic tundra over the past dozen years. But green, as Myers-Smith pointed out, isn’t always good: More vegetation means more insolation, and more insolation means a warmer ground—thereby melting the permafrost and releasing carbon into the air. How much carbon? “It’s somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 petagrams,” she calculated. “If you imagine a coal train, the train would be 200,000 miles long.”
Whether it’s microplastics or the thawing Arctic, Steve Allen reminded viewers, “We often forget we live on a ball and that ball is inside a bubble. So whatever we do in one area affects everybody else.”
Matt Mitchell, the founder of CryptoHarlem and a tech fellow at the Ford Foundation, then spoke with Sidney Fussell, a senior writer at WIRED. Mitchell told Fussell he launched CryptoHarlem in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial to help educate activists on cybersecurity. His free courses are geared to disrupt what he calls the digital stop-and-frisk. “It’s the criminalization of Blackness online instead of on the streets,” he explained. As for white people who think this is an issue that doesn’t involve them, Mitchell pointed out that our marginalized communities are the canaries in the coal mine. “When it comes to surveillance, they’re the ones who are targeted first. They’re the beta testers,” he said. “It begins in Black communities and brown communities and in marginalized communities. They are the canaries in the coal mine, and they are screaming, but we’re still alive.”
Maria Ressa, the CEO of Rappler and the final guest of the day, is intimately familiar with staying alive in a despotic system, as she explained to WIRED’s editor at large, Steven Levy. With eight arrest warrants for “cyber libel,” tax evasion, and securities fraud, she’s been the victim of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s attack on the press and faces a possible jail sentence of almost 100 years. Ressa and Levy’s conversation covered Duterte’s legal gymnastics to achieve convictions, Facebook’s ongoing efforts to “duck the responsibility of being a publisher,” and the world’s tragic backslide into fascism 75 years after the formation of the UN. Even if Ressa feels like Franz Kafka’s Josef K., though, she still maintains an upbeat spirit and sense of “gallows humor.” Her trick, she said, is to “embrace my fear, and if I hold it tight, then I can rob it of its power over me.”
Shifting that power dynamic today, as WIRED’s editor in chief, Nick Thompson, said in his closing remarks, is crucial.“When something starts to move in one direction, it starts to move ever faster in that direction,” he added. Whether that direction is positive or negative is up to the global community.
To meet some more of the superheroes of 2020 working to push humanity in the right direction, join us for the final day of WIRED25 next Wednesday, September 30, at 12 pm Eastern Time. Speakers will include—among others—Anthony Fauci, Taiwan’s digital minister Audrey Tang, journalist Patrice Peck, and a timely segment on the wildfires now raging through the American West.
More From WIRED25