Blockchain: Potential to Redefine Climate Change Activism

At a time when we know climate change action needs to be a transformational force across the world, we have so far seen only incremental change. Code Red means that global citizens must look around to use every means possible to drive carbon emissions down to limit catastrophic global warming over the next decade. In this respect, emerging cyber ethical blockchain technologies have unprecedented potential to transfer some of the power over climate change action into the hands of individual global citizens.

​Cryptocurrency and blockchain smart contracts are being developed as new processes for commerce. They are distributed systems that offer unprecedented security and transparent structure. The “green” problem has been the extremely high use of electricity, a problem that applies to AI systems as well. Eco ethical blockchain technology, that is blockchain using Proof-of Stake (POS) uses a tiny fraction of energy compared to most current algorithms for blockchain. If that problem is solved, along with enabling improved scalability for the technology, we have a system of huge potential coming up for global citizens wishing to be involved in climate change activism at a targeted, global level. The “ludicrous eco-costs” of blockchain technology identified by digital artist Memo Atkin earlier this year will be past. Instead, using low carbon cost blockchain we could see decentralised, fully transparent automated transactions that do not rely on traditional banking systems, but offer reliability and the ability to create specific incentives for selected actions.

​The system would bypass corruption, unwieldy bureaucratic processes and political hindrances, becoming a potential game changer for global citizens wishing to take up the cause of climate change action across the world. Already, working examples such as the Green World Campaign’s regenerative agriculture project AIRS (Automated Incentives for Regenerative Stewardship) has been set up. This system uses a hybrid smart contract application (software programs that run on blockchain networks and securely connect to non-blockchain data and systems) that uses satellite data to automatically dispense financial rewards to people who successfully regenerate designated areas of land. Smart contracts using blockchain and cryptocurrency could enable global citizens to make major changes through individual or group actions. Fast, transparent and scalable, the transactions could create millions of actions that could facilitate change in limiting carbon emissions and supporting emerging climate positive technologies.

​Companies using blockchain could be eco audited through immutable systems of record that would track emissions data provenance, so that double counting of offsets or fraud could be ruled out, and global citizens could invest with confidence. Carbon markets would similarly benefit from the technology for the same reasons. Regenerative agriculture and more trees are undoubtedly a key use of blockchain smart contracts. But the potential is for far more applications, some of which could be perceived as political and financial game changers.

​Take the climate justice movement. With the field of climate change law moving quickly, United Nations backing on climate change as a human rights issue, and with successful legal actions on the basis of climate change impacts being reported around the world, there is opportunity for smart contracts that would fund climate change based legal action. This could quickly elevate the movement to another level of effectiveness, in taking on and shutting down big coal, gas, and oil, the very same entities that are currently successfully lobbying governments to ensure their own survival. Legal action is expensive, but an injection of guaranteed money from global citizens could enable many more cases to be developed across the spectrum of climate justice activities.

​Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources would need to occur hand in hand. Cutting down old forests could be made uneconomic. Global citizens could devise automated financial penalties using blockchain hybrid evidence based parameters for non-compliant nations or industries continuing to contribute to global warming.Blockchain enables deals to be made in areas without banking reliability, meaning that renewable energy technology could be set up in developing countries, and paid for with cryptocurrency. Sustainable agriculture practices and new models for emissions reduction and eco ethical commerce could be quickly developed and actioned. Support of those impacted by climate change, for example small Pacific Island nations, protection of environmental human rights defenders, predictions of water and food shortages and displaced people – all are areas of concern that could benefit.

The world has become familiar with the popular emerging market in NFTs (Non Fungible Tokens) specifically, digitally generated unique artworks that use blockchain technology to provide immutable ownership. Some of these artworks have achieved extremely high prices, but the market also has an ethical dimension. It is possible that NFT artworks may be sold and the profits generated be passed on in the form of climate change action smart contracts.

​This field is changing quickly, and global citizens should put in the effort and investment to develop blockchain smart contract technology that will create the scale and breadth of essential transformation in climate change we need. If governments will not act quickly enough, or at the level of profound global change that is necessary to cut carbon emissions, global citizens must find ways to get the job done. Blockchain and its speed, reach, and integrity of structure should be front of mind now, as nations gather for COP26 and we wait to find out how they will move forward with climate change action. New strategies may be necessary to back up good actions, harass backsliders and to shine a light on industries and practices that the world cannot afford.