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Blockchain for the Planet

Overview: 

  • Environmental goals are now focused on how technology can assist in our planet’s restoration and sustainability.
  • Blockchain projects to extract green energy, geo-trace species and more are being trialled by industry experts.
  • Blockchain has the potential to revolutionise supply chains to ensure practises which are legal, ethical and sustainable for all.

 

The emergence of blockchain technology in the coming years will be the greatest opportunity in generations to revolutionise key economic industries such as financial services, manufacturing and healthcare. The promise of instant communication, immutable transactions and hyper-productive supply chains are all very enticing for the private sector, but nothing different than we’ve ever heard before in the capitalist industrial age.

However, to denounce blockchain as merely a platform beneficial for those few industries – or even existing to simply be the supporting act for the Bitcoin show – is an immense undervaluing of its potential. The technology will be certainty be harnessed in these sectors – for its unique features of decentralisation, immutability and cryptography – to completely alter their infrastructure for economic progression. But, perhaps the greatest use-case of using blockchain technology for our future society will be in the area that needs intervention most – our planet.

Our Planet

Ever since the dawn of big industry 50 years ago, our planet has been under stress. In fact, let’s put it correctly, its being dying. The exponential rise of population and economic growth have been at direct conflict with the humble needs of our environment. We cannot sustain quality of life at the current rate of 7.7 billion. Let alone at the projection targets of 10 billion mark by 2050. Alongside this, we have transformed our home into an economic powerhouse with no consideration of the capacity of its resources, or the impact we are leaving behind. As a result, we now find ourselves in what expert scientists call a climate emergency.

Author of Falter, Bill McKibben points out that “in the last 30 years, humans have witnessed the hottest 20 years ever recorded. This insane heat had rendered one-third of the Earth’s landmass unable to support animal life.” As a result of carbon emissions, one in five species currently faces the prospect of extinction, a figure that will shamefully rise – according to forecasts – to one in two at the end of this century.

The notion of finite resources seemed to somehow by-pass our thinking during the industrial age. Only in recent years has it become factual public knowledge that our process of extracting raw materials from the ground, natural ones from land and not recycling them will certainly result in the depletion of resources and a total imbalance to our planet.

The effect of our actions has become an existential threat to all life directly impacting the health of our planet and its diverse ecosystems. The Australian fires of late 2019 showed the world the severity of its actions in global trade and an urgent need for psychological reform on the model of economic growth.

Paul Ehrlich, biologist at Stanford University says that “we want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?”

As we begin to make our impact on the 21st century, I don’t believe it is correct to look back on the 20th century in despair because of the unintended consequences to our planet we now face from the pursuit of profit and industry growth. Hindsight is like reading a book, most people can do that. Foresight on the other hand is like writing one, which not many can do.

What we wrote into history in the books of the last century includes many collective triumphs of creativity and persistence for truth. As a society we achieved connected globalisation and invented technologies of their time such as factories, fuel refineries, aircrafts and automobiles to name a few.

Scientists, committees, as well as most world leaders have now turned their attention to the problems discovered from these industries and begun to debate ideas and invest resources into researching and developing solutions. Our mission for society in the 21st century must be to create a new type of economy – a circular one which prioritises health of the environment and people first, rather than profit.

In this article, I will discover ways in which an emerging technology called blockchain is currently being used and will continue to be as a platform to re-establish and then sustain the biodiversity and life of our planet for future generations.

Natural Resources

Our vision for a carbon neutral world can only be achieved if we work in harmony with nature – what is referred to as a bio-economy. Technology gives us the best opportunity to continue our pursuit of economic growth, whilst crucially sustaining the health of our planet. However, to achieve this vision we must transition away from industrial ideologies of extracting planetary resources for single businesses or governments and move forward with the idea of collective growth. In certain areas of the world, concepts of this thinking are already in action.

Brooklyn Microgrid is a company which utilises blockchain as a platform for a solar-powered microgrid collective. They provide residents of Brooklyn, New York who have solar installations on their buildings with an online collective marketplace to sell their excess power to other residents in the network.

Brooklyn Microgrid

Tokenisation of the blockchain – which was introduced by the emergence of Ethereum network – enables a decentralised system of users to contribute towards a common goal whilst getting rewarded fairly for their input. Unlike traditional systems, residents do not have to interact with a 3rd party, governing body, or wait to be rewarded for their work at a later date. In fact, they get paid in cryptocurrency immediately following their transaction of work. Tokenisation became a trending topic in 2017 and has since been used in a wide-range of projects from online advertising in Basic Attention Token, to computer power in Golem network, through to the application of smart contracts.

The Brooklyn initiative enables this same concept where members of the community are ‘prosumers’ of natural resources and thereby promoting a circular economy of shared value. Data from each user input and output is stored and tracked on the distributed blockchain network to establish an efficiency in production and ensure a fair transparent experience for all.

This circular economy of using natural resources and recycling excess or waste back into the grid is something that must be adopted in our future society. Moving away from factory models and beginning to create initiatives for cities to self-power from the infinite natural resources of our planet will be the strategy to enter a state of carbon neutrality. Similar blockchain-based projects can also be introduced to track and store data from wind and hydro renewable energies. This shows that the potential impact of this technology reaches across the whole spectrum of green energy. But this is not all blockchain can provide.

Supply Chains

The distributed ledger feature of blockchain opens up new possibilities for global trade. Traceable and transparent supply chains is a growing discussion in the food industry, especially those organisations within interests around animal welfare such as WWF.

Currently, these chains are complex and largely untraceable as they either communicate via multiple different channels, or exist entirely offline. In a 2018 report about the seafood supply chain, WWF explains the current supply chain route: “A fish caught in one part of the globe might change hands dozens of times and undergo multiple forms of processing and packaging before reaching its ultimate destination – or destinations – thousands of miles away.”

As a result of the stagnant and often incorrect data sharing, the system becomes vulnerable to over-exploitation of both workers and animals, fraud and other illicit, unethical practises. There has become no trust in the food supply chain because activity accountability from each member is so low.

With the demand rising for ethically and legally sourced food, blockchain technology offers a solution to provide each member of the chain with a trusted ledger sharing geographical and descriptive data points on the origin of their goods and its future destination. This will increase efficiency and accountability in the system and ensure customers are satisfied with the path of their produce from source to stores.

A pilot project in 2018 conducted by WWF in partnership with start-up Viant tracked a shipment of tuna fish in Figi using blockchain technology. Fish caught from the ocean were immediately geotagged as an asset by the onboard crew and that data was recorded via a mobile app and sent to the blockchain ledger. Once back on land, each of the fish were verified using this information and given a unique QR code. Several production companies transported the produce further through the supply chain using the ledgers data for accurate guidance.

Blockchain Seafood Supply Chain

Once the produce reached local markets, customers were able to purchase the fish and see a unique QR sticker attached to the packaging. Using a mobile device, they could scan the code and perfectly trace their food right from source, having no doubts as to the ethicality or legality of the process. In this sense, blockchain can be a storyteller of global produce. WWF commented: The current project partners are pursuing expansion into a more standardized delivery into an export market to further prove the viability of the technology.

This pilot project proved the technology works on a small scale, the challenge moving forward will now be focused on its scalability and trials in other areas.

Blockchain in supply chains is not just limited to trace tuna from the ocean, or avocados from Mexico, but every item that we create, grow or manufacture. Instead of a centralised database of information which encourages greed, misuse of information and unaccountability, imagine a trusting system for the collective which ensures fair-trade, correct pay and ethical, sustainable practices throughout. That is what blockchain can introduce to our society.

Digitised Assets

Only by digitizing the offline world and tracking every resource we create and use, will our planet stand a chance of revival back into the flourishing state it once was. “8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been created in the past century, more than 70% of which is now in waste streams.” “20% of the Amazon Rainforest has been cut down, reducing its ability to absorb CO2 and curb climate change.” Scientists predict that rainforests may become entirely desolate areas on Earth in 40 years if we don’t collectively change our actions.

Using blockchain technology, we have the capacity to change the ecology of our planet for the better. Earth Bank of Codes is a project designed to make “nature’s biological and biomimetic assets visible and accessible to scientists and innovators around the world”. By partnering with the World Economic Forum and Earth Biogenome Project, they have voiced the ambition to genetically sequence the entire Amazon rainforest, species included and distribute the learned data onto an open public blockchain ledger.

The World Economic Forum whitepaper states: “When value is created from accessing these assets, smart contracts would facilitate the fair sharing of benefits to the custodians of nature and for its protection.”

Global scientists, researchers, journalists, as well as any member of the public will have access to this information on a real-time, immutable ledger which gives full transparency in an operating system unlike we have never seen before in industry. For example, using this information, we will have the ability to track deforestation rates in the Amazon basin and calculate the exact rate of restoration and regrowth needed to balance planetary atmosphere rates. We will also be able to geo-tag species to ensure their reproduction survival rate remains net-positive.

Our curve of knowledge about the natural world will exponentially increase as we learn more the behaviours, habits and nuances of creatures, animals and other life-forms. This information will aid society in areas ranging from medicine, to education, to psychological wellbeing and more. Likewise, the correction of some of the problems we have created such as ocean plastics and orbital debris using digital tracking on the blockchain in combination with other emerging technologies, we will be inherently beneficial for our society in this century’s progression.

As shown in the Brooklyn Microgrid initiative, the Fijian fishery pilot and the Amazonian genome project, origin to destination accountability using digital technology of what we create and use as humans is a vital step in adhering to a fairer economy which respects scientifically informed environmental standards.

The United Nations report of Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) for 2030 includes improving healthcare, education, inequality and tackling the climate crisis through government and corporation alliances. To help do their part to realise this goal, WWF – under the name Panda Labs – partnered with Consensys, an Ethereum-based blockchain developer to create a philanthropy funding platform for SDG called Impactico.

As a result of this collaboration, social impact projects such as Future Cities Challenge and Innovation for Wildlife and People were born which were able to bring entrepreneurs, experts, funders and new technology including blockchain together to create solutions for the future of our environment.

Conclusion

In the past, we have associated the word ‘data’ as something that is extracted from citizens by corporations and government for personal gain. This also applies to raw materials from the earth, animal species and generally anything valued as an asset. If we continue with the strategy of progress over people, then we will progress no further in society than increased productivity. The downsides though will certainty result in unprecedented and irreversible changes to the spheres (atmosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere) that make up our ecosystem.

However, if we set our goals towards collective good and see continued innovate collaborations, then blockchain technology can truly revolutionise industry and ignite an efficient, cohesive and trusting bio-economy. Blockchain will still have to prove its worth when asked to scale world-wide and be trusted to contain the privacy of millions of user’s data, but all signs look encouraging so far.

The only way to truly harness the power of the fourth industrial revolution of technology will to use it in combination with nature, not against it.

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