Written by Sofia Perez
Edited by Bobbie Renfro & Evan Quinter
At the core of all society is an invisible glue which binds us together. It has allowed us to evolve sophisticated financial and geopolitical systems and to cooperate with strangers we may never see face to face. From the most anonymous and professional ties to the most intimate bonds, this glue is at the center of every interaction: trust.
But before we get carried away with our bonds to each other, let’s talk about our bond to nature. This relationship between humanity and the world around us has been the object of perhaps the most unique and unconditional love of history. Right from the beginning of our lives we are surrounded by the hallmarks of the many places we call home, whether it be waves lapping on the shore of a beach or ruddy leaves falling from the trees in autumn. Above even our trust for other people, there is trust in these natural rhythms.
Nature will continue to give because that’s what nature has always done, anonymously and quietly, without asking for anything in return. We trust this tie because in reality, the world isn’t separated into mankind and nature. Rather, mankind is a subset of nature, one species of intelligent apes which are part of a grander system of oceans, mountains, plants, animals, and microorganisms. Nature is not a resource to be plundered, but a relationship to be nurtured. Trust is at the center of this, too.
But how does society go about establishing trust with deteriorating coral reefs and melting ice caps? The answer can be found by turning back to the concept of trust with each other- not only trust with friends and family, but also with the public.
Blockchain technology offers a solution to the problem of distrust. Through transparency and traceability, bureaucracy and fraud can be reduced in the name of a more straightforward relationship with the world we share. With this new view into the impacts of our actions, supply chain management could reduce waste inefficiencies and criminal behaviour. This has knock-on effects to nature, as consumer interests and company promises are more likely to be acted upon. This in turn makes it easier to track and mitigate the harmful effects which an organization’s actions might have on the environment.
Furthermore, blockchain technology would enable the public to track compliance to environmental treaties as well as the progress of nonprofits. Keeping promises in a personal relationship is much the same. Making a promise insinuates good intentions, but it is proof that the promise was acted upon that shows whether future promises are valuable. Blockchain technology has the potential to bridge this divide between the promises organizations make to consumers and the execution of those promises. But what is blockchain, this mysterious miracle pill for all our problems? For a concept that only emerged in 2008, it has gained quite some traction. Each time a block of data is recorded in a distributed ledger system, the block’s information is time-stamped and linked to the existing blocks. This creates a chain of blocks, each assigned to a unique signature, hence the term ‘blockchain’.
To understand this better, let’s imagine you open a Word document on your laptop to write an article titled How Blockchain Technology Will Save Coral Reefs. You type away many words with intermittent sips of peppermint tea in between, squirming because you are using an autobiographical example. This is all very well, especially the tea, except for the fact that in order for someone else to see this document, you must go through the hassle of attaching it to an email and sending it off for others to edit. In this case, it is always clear exactly who has made changes to the document, and the document being edited is only ever accessible to one person at a time. Now let’s imagine something slightly different. In this parallel universe, your article How Blockchain Technology Will Save Coral Reefs, is not written on a Word document. Instead, it is written on Google Docs, which is shared with five other people. Now the dynamics are different because all five people can make changes somewhat anonymously, at any time they want, and everyone can see the changes they make. This kind of transparency but simultaneous anonymity allows everyone to edit the article more efficiently and seek out any problems much faster. This is how blockchain works, except with a ledger system rather than a Word document.
Indeed, similar to how the Internet was the first digital medium for information, blockchain is said to be the first digital medium for value. It stands apart from traditional mediums, as it is decentralized, meaning that it runs on millions of devices in a distributed network, like our hypothetical Google Docs article. This creates transparency, which creates- you guessed it- trust.
Trust, that key ingredient to a healthy relationship with our planet, is at the core. In practice, however, this technology is already being used to support ocean ecosystems like coral reefs. One example is through Reef Coin, a blockchain cryptocurrency that aims to aid in the restoration of coral reefs. Similarly, blockchain technology can be used to improve supply chain and resource management, recycling, energy systems, incentives for carbon taxes, and circular economies. The reason this kind of technology can be so useful is because it works to expose environmental exploitation for all to see. When an organization’s reputation is at stake in this way, everyone tends to be on their best behaviour, planting the trees they say they will plant and saving the reefs they say they will save.
This is crucial for ecosystems like coral reefs, as mass bleaching events are becoming more common and increasing in severity. However, the obstacles coral reefs face are multi-faceted and come from many places. To name a few, corals must face ocean acidification, overfishing, deoxygenation, biodiversity loss, chemical pollution, eutrophication, and temperature increases. With a distributed ledger system such as blockchain, scientists would be better able to track and understand the full story, thus providing them the information necessary to mend the damage created by the current veil of lethal secrecy.
Moreover, the access to knowledge such as this will help scientists to fill the research gaps that currently exist in the understanding of coral responses to climate change. Answers in the scientific community enable solutions to be created, once again reinforcing our relationship with the world we live in.
So could blockchain technology, the revolutionary new ledger system for value, truly repair the disconnect between nature and her humans? Alas, you’ll just have to trust me.
“A Game to Restore Coral Reefs.” Possible Future, http://www.possible-future.com/en/projets/cryptocorals-le-jeu-qui-restaure-les-recifs-coralliens/. Accessed 18 Oct. 2021.
Author, Guest. “Blockchain and Environmental Sustainability.” Environment + Energy Leader, 28 Nov. 2018, http://www.environmentalleader.com/2018/11/blockchain-and-environmental-sustainability/. Accessed 18 Oct. 2021.
Coin, Reef. “Reef Coin: Where Preservation of Marine Ecosystem Meets the Blockchain Cryptocurrency Technology.” Medium, 25 Apr. 2018, firstname.lastname@example.org/reef-coin-where-preservation-of-marine-ecosystem-meets-the-blockchain-cryptocurrency-technology-c7774280af1d. Accessed 19 Oct. 2021.
https://www.facebook.com/wearefuturethinkers. “7 Ways Blockchain Can Save the Environment and Stop Climate Change.” Future Thinkers Podcast, 24 Feb. 2018, futurethinkers.org/blockchain-environment-climate-change/.
Kawabata, Toyo. SCIENCE DIVISION Blockchain Technology and Environmental Sustainability. 2020.
Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. “Coral Reefs.” Our World in Data, 2021, ourworldindata.org/coral-reefs.
“SEA – Blockchain Solutions to Environmental Problems.” Www.seatoken.org, http://www.seatoken.org/. Accessed 18 Oct. 2021.
“The World Economic Forum Sees Blockchain as a Solution to Environmental Problems.” Navms.com, 18 Nov. 2018, navms.com/the-world-economic-forum-sees-blockchain-as-a-solution-to-environmental-problems/. Accessed 18 Oct. 2021.
“What Is Reef Coin? – Wallet Creation + How to Mine ReefCoin (X16S).” Coin Guides, 25 May 2018, coinguides.org/reef-coin-wallet-mining-specifications-insights/. Accessed 18 Oct. 2021.