[Numpy-discussion] Proposal to add clause to license prohibiting use by oil and gas extraction companies

John Preston gizmoguy1 at gmail.com
Thu Jul 2 17:05:44 EDT 2020

Thank you all for your input on this proposal. I am very grateful for
the time you have all spent to provide such well reasoned critiques
and I'm especially glad to see that this thread has triggered
discussion of other, more pragmatic, actions that the community can
take in pursuit of climate justice. 🙂

I found Stanley's analogy of this proposal being a "backwards
incompatible [legal] API change" particularly insightful, and Daniele
has illustrated exactly the kind of chaos this would create
downstream, threatening both NumPy itself (due to the packaging
requirements of distributors like Debian and Fedora) and its dependent
packages like Conda. Fundamentally I see this issue as a philosophical
one around how we define, and the importance of, 'free software' and
'open source software'. From a principles-based perspective, I agree
with Ryan that "equal rights except" is not truly equal, and that
changing the definition(s) of F/OSS would damage the movement by
making it much less clear what is and isn't F/OSS. On the other hand,
from a pragmatic perspective, I care less about if software I use is
strictly F/OSS, and more about if I can do what I want with it, and
who else gets to enjoy those privileges -- I choose the word
'privilege' here specifically to highlight that the core of F/OSS is
rights, which are unconditional, whereas this proposal would make
those rights contingent on conditions that cannot be met by all
actors, and therefore they would be privileges, not rights. So
essentially, this proposal is asking "are there some uses of NumPy
which are so ethically wrong, that it would be better for NumPy to be
non-F/OSS in order to prevent those uses, than for NumPy to be F/OSS,
and advance the F/OSS movement, while also allowing those uses?"

Answering this question requires an awareness of the broader context
within which NumPy sits. Ilhan has pointed out that O&G companies
cannot be coerced by more restrictive licensing of NumPy because there
are commercial options that they could use instead. Therefore, without
evidence that NumPy powers a significant chunk of the analytics at
major O&G companies, and that relicensing NumPy would cause
significant disruption to those companies and their ability to carry
out their operations, it is much more likely that any negative effect
on O&G, and therefore any positive effect on the climate, would be
outweighed by the harm caused to downstream packages.

I agree that the first term is particularly vague, and I would love to
see input from lawyers on how the software community can adopt rigid
clauses in licenses for software that needs this, because although
F/OSS may be "good by default" in that for most software, most of the
time, releasing as F/OSS will be good, this does not mean that there
is no software which requires stricter licensing. I would draw an
analogy with responsible disclosure of vulnerabilities: vendors are
provided with a window of time to fix a vulnerability before
researchers publish their findings, on the basis that immediate
publication of the findings presents more of a threat than a benefit,
because malicious actors could weaponise and abuse the vulnerability
before it is patched. In other words, as software creators, we have a
responsibility to weigh the potential and actual uses of our software
to determine if we are in a position to prevent harm by licensing or
relicensing our software appropriately.

I do not think the second clause is vague or unenforceable, as it
should be demonstrable by any company what its primary revenue sources
are and if any of those activities constitute fossil fuel extraction.
However, the second clause by itself may not be sufficient to prevent
use of software by O&G: Shell could form a company Shell Analytics,
which carries out all analytical work for the other departments, and
thus the primary business of that company would be "numerical

Regarding other political agendas, as an advocate of
responsible/ethical/political/... software licensing (where
appropriate), I would like to see a set of lawyer-vetted clauses that
could be plugged into base licenses and combined in a compatible way.
While there are many other causes (arms manufacture, animal rights,
...) which are more controversial than the climate emergency which
could be discussed in the context of software use and software
licensing, I do not think that it would be a bad thing for these
discussions to be able to take place.

Regarding companies migrating their business models, this is a great
point but I have no ideas how I would structure a clause that could
allow this without potentially opening an unwanted loophole. I suppose
any company that wished to pivot like this could incorporate a new
entity which would be permitted to use the software, effectively the
inverse of the Shell Analytics example.

I believe I have addressed all of the issues which have been raised.
In the interest of keeping discussion here focused on NumPy and
actions that this community can take towards solving the climate
emergency and achieving climate justice, I would ask that any further
non-NumPy-specific criticism of the proposal be directed towards the
Climate Strike License repo at GitHub [1], and I am very happy to
continue discussing these issues via email or in another public forum
of people's preference. 🙂 I think the most critical blow to this
proposal is the lack of evidence that relicensing NumPy would
significantly frustrate the operation of major O&G extraction

I think Juan's suggestion of a "Pythonistas for Climate Action" sounds
fantastic and I'm really glad to see Inessa Pawson has started another
thread for establishing a "Python for Climate Action" session at
SciPy'20. It is disappointing to hear of the sponsorship of the
conference by Shell. 🙁 Perhaps we should call on the organisers to
drop Shell as a sponsor? I am happy to draft a petition letter if
anyone is willing to sign, and very open to other suggestions.

Finally, I would like to point everyone towards ClimateAction.tech
[2], "a global community of tech professionals using our skills,
expertise and platforms to support solutions to the climate crisis".

[1] https://github.com/climate-strike/license
[2] https://climateaction.tech/

Many thanks again for all of your responses,

On Thu, 2 Jul 2020 at 18:19, Dr. Mark Alexander Mikofski PhD
<mikofski at berkeley.edu> wrote:
> Thank you everyone. This is a fascinating thread, and very interesting to see how it has transformed into constructive discussion of positive action. Along that line I think it could be useful to curate a list of Python (and OpenSci) packages using Numpy, SciPy, or any part of the Python scientific stack.
> For example I know there are several clean, renewable energy packages that depend on Numpy, etc, especially in solar energy. The lead maintainer for pvlib python presented a list at our annual IEEE PV Specialists conference 2 years ago, it's on GitHub here https://openpvtools.readthedocs.io/en/latest/
> In particular pvlib python and rdtools are two widely used tools that depend on Numpy, SciPy, etc. (Disclaimer, I am one of the maintainers for pvlib.)
> I think we could pull together projects from the journal of open source (JOSS), OpenSci, and NumFOCUS. Then we could host/link/highlight examples, case studies, and projects that use Numpy to combat climate change. There is already a separate thread started by Inessa Pawson (Re: [Numpy-discussion] Python for Climate Action session at SciPy'20) following up on Juan's idea for BoF at SciPy to highlight climate change action by the Python scientific community. We could try to encourage more climate change and clean energy projects to participate in SciPy and PyCon. Conversely, we could even promote Numpy with climate and clean energy scientists at their conferences like AMS and IEEE PVSC. For example, next year we are planning to host a Python tutorial at PVSC as part of the tutorial program that preceeds the conference, but we need support with logistics. (Thanks already to Yuvi Panda for help with mybinder & TLJH.) This could be the opportunity for the Python scientific community, clean energy & climate scientists, academic, & national labs to collaborate and synergize.
> I volunteer to participate in whatever capacity I can to develop this collaboration if folks think it is useful. I'm not sure how to proceed, but whatever the result I believe some momentum is forming here, so there's an opportunity to carpe diem.
> Cheers,
> Mark
> On Thu, Jul 2, 2020, 3:35 AM Ilhan Polat <ilhanpolat at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Ralf basically wrote the email that I was about the send in a much more structured way so thanks for that. I'd like to mention also that oil&gas industry practically cannot be cornered by these restrictions. So even the cause is very noble and I wholeheartedly agree, forcing this type of exclusions only will make their hand stronger in going to other commercial software (they can really afford even acquiring whole companies) and forcing their employees using it and finally boomeranging back to the reduction of the potential contributors to open source who would have otherwise contributed back just because they liked it (like most of us did back in the day). For example, Shell and Intel are corporate level collaborators. Should we ban also usage of MKL? Of course not, because this is not about driving Shell and others to software starvation but actually forcing them to take concrete steps towards the climate crisis. This is not to say we are desperate, quite the contrary, however this strategy seems dire against the possible outcomes.
>> I really would like to take a more concrete approach that Ralf outlined. Again, it is not a crusade against commercial software, I truly think all have different shoes to fill in. However, making the switch from commercial software to open source as smooth as possible would actually emit the message that we are not bound to conglomerate structures to achieve noble goals. Thus this would make a bolder statement as far as what software can manage to display. Signal processing can make fuel consumption notebooks, stats can display bicycle usage results and their impact etc. Again it is a mentality that we are trying to build so it shouldn't be up to the level of annoyance so that everyone can hop on the bandwagon.
>> On Thu, Jul 2, 2020 at 12:14 PM Ralf Gommers <ralf.gommers at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> On Thu, Jul 2, 2020 at 10:58 AM Juan Nunez-Iglesias <jni at fastmail.com> wrote:
>>>> Hi everyone,
>>>> If you live in Australia, this has been a rough year to think about climate change. After the hottest and driest year on record, over 20% of the forest surface area of the south east was burned in the bushfires. Although I was hundreds of kilometres from the nearest fire, the air quality was rated as hazardous for several days in my city. This brought home for me two points.
>>>> One, that "4ºC" is not about taking off a jumper and going to the beach more often, but actually represents a complete transformation of our planet. 4ºC is what separates us from the last ice age, so we can expect our planet in 80 years to be as unrecognisable from today as today is from the ice age.
>>>> Two, that climate change is already with us, and we can't just continue to ignore the problem and enjoy whatever years of climate peace we thought we had left. Greta has it right, we are running out of time and absolutely drastic action is needed.
>>>> All this is a prelude to add my voice to everyone who has already said that messing with the NumPy license is absolutely *not* the drastic action needed, and will be counter-productive, as many have noted.
>>>> Having said this, I'm happy that the community is getting involved and getting active and coming up with creative ideas to do their part. If someone wants to start a "Pythonistas for Climate Action" user group, I'll be the first to join. I had planned to give a lightning talk in the vein of the above at SciPy, which, and believe me that I hate to hate on my favourite conference, recently loudly thanked Shell [1] for being a platinum sponsor. (Not to mention that Enthought derives about a third of its income from fossil fuel companies.) Unfortunately and for obvious reasons I won't make it to SciPy after all, but again, I'm happy to see the community rising.
>>>> Perhaps this is derailing the discussion, but, anyone up for a "Python for Climate Action" BoF at the conference? I can probably make the late-afternoon BoFs given the time difference.
>>> Thanks for this Juan. I don't think it's derailing the discussion. Thinking about things we *can* do that may have a positive influence on the climate emergency we're in, or the state of the world in general, are valid and probably the most productive turn this conversation can take. Changing the NumPy license isn't feasible, because of many of the pragmatic reasons already pointed out. That said, the "NumPy is just a tool" point of view is fairly naive; I think we do have a responsibility to at least think about the wider issues and possibly make some changes.
>>> One thing I have been thinking about recently is the educational material and high level documentation we produce. When we use data sources or write tutorials, we can incorporate data and examples related to climate issues, social issues, ethics in ML/AI, etc.
>>> Another thing to think about is: what do we, NumPy maintainers and contributors, choose to spend our time on? Not each issue/PR opened deserves our time equally - we're (almost) all volunteers after all. A PR that for example improves the classroom experience of teaching NumPy may be prioritized over a PR that helps fix an issue for <insert big corp framework that's not contributing back in any way>.
>>> I'd be interested to hear if others back thought about this before or have any ideas.
>>> Cheers,
>>> Ralf
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