Blockchain Can Help us Combat Climate Change. Here's How.
Climate change meets us on multiple fronts — from damage to our food supply to harmful gases. Blockchain technology may aid the fight against climate change.
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In the late 1970s, British meteorologist Jonathan Shanklin noticed ozone levels started to drop. By 1984, the ozone layer over Antarctica's Halley Bay research station had lost a third of its thickness compared with previous decades, forming a hole in the earth's natural buffer between harmful UV rays and us. During these years, scientists developed an awareness of climate change and how humans accelerate it.
Over 40 years later, climate change meets us on multiple fronts — from food waste to plastic pollution, deforestation and air pollution. Luckily for us, the growing number of tech and otherwise solutions built to fight on these fronts is just as diverse. Flashy ideas, such as technologies that literally suck carbon dioxide out of the air as well as electric cars produced by the company of a certain Twitter-loving billionaire, gain the most attention from the general public, and for a good reason.
The Department of Energy under Joe Biden launched a $3.5 billion program to scale up Direct Air Capture (DAC) tech in May in a bet on a technology that could make a significant dent in the quest for carbon neutrality without requiring people to consume less. Under the leadership of Elon Musk, Tesla promises a future in which electric cars will be both cool and affordable.
Not as often, however, do we hear about the subtler technologies working behind the scenes to make our production and supply chain management greener — the AI video annotation tools used to separate recyclable materials or the fully recyclable wetsuits for surfing. A company called Grace Breeding is among the first to leverage Nitrogen Fixation Technology (NFT) to boost grain yield by 18% during wheat production.
This brings us to the biggest challenge facing everyone in the fight to combat climate change. It's not that we're lacking green tech development — the market is expected to grow 21.6% annually, amounting to $417 billion by 2030. As climate catastrophes become more common and the urgency for action mounts, it's not outlandish to predict that number might rise even more over the coming years. The problem more so lies in coordinating national and global efforts effectively, a process known as climate governance.
How do elected officials focussed on near-term successes — or the appearance of such successes — mobilize countries to leverage tech for combating long-term climate and sustainability challenges? How do countries with competing interests cooperate toward this goal?
Interestingly, the solution to the first problem partially lies in the second. Especially as it relates to what we know as The West, agreements and commitments between countries tend to live longer than domestic initiatives. The big exception came in the form of Donald Trump's exit from the Paris Climate Accords just a year after Barack Obama entered them. Of course, President Biden's reentry into the agreement signals the U.S. is serious about making long-term commitments with other countries to fight climate change.
Replicating such an agreement with Russia — especially now — or China, the only country in the world that produces more carbon emissions than the U.S., will undoubtedly be a much more significant challenge. Such an agreement will inevitably come if we are serious about reducing emissions globally. And the Paris agreement is an excellent first step.
Moving away from geopolitics and more toward Silicon Valley, another important step is embracing blockchain. Yes, that's right — the very technology that has gotten a bad rap for emitting too many emissions in its mining process. To be clear, that doesn't mean supporting probably 95% of blockchain projects that aren't doing anything meaningful. It means the blockchain as a technology offers particular advantages in improving climate governance.
Blockchain offers a transparent ledger that effectively tracks donations to climate causes. With blockchain, governments and watchdog groups can easily ensure money is legislated to fund climate technology projects efficiently. Governments are known for inefficiency and a lack of accountability, and blockchain can work toward solving that. Its immutability makes it virtually tamper-proof minus a significant hack, and blockchain is known for being tough to hack.
It's already being utilized in the private sector. Climate-investment platform Bitgreen, which raised $5 million in Reg CF crowdfunding on Republic, is building its layer-1 infrastructure on the famously green Polkadot network. The idea is to work toward closing the sustainability gap by empowering climate-action initiatives to enjoy the benefits of blockchain.
For those still concerned about blockchain's overall reputation, even the Ethereum blockchain itself, infamous for its emissions, is upgrading to a proof-of-stake model that will reduce its emissions by 99 percent. With the exception of the uniquely rigid Bitcoin, the entire industry is moving in this direction.
It would be foolish of governments not to leverage blockchain to boost innovation and address the climate governance challenge. As governments continue to rely on tech in the fight against climate change and crypto regulatory frameworks blossom everywhere, we can expect that they will.