Does blockchain technology have the potential to steer us away from environmental ruin and towards a more sustainable future, or is it just another energy intensive proposition? Groups like Blockchain for Climate Foundation and the World Economic Forum seem to believe that the potential positive outcomes far outweigh any negatives. Looking through “Building Block(chains) for a Better Planet“, the report put together by the World Economic Forum, it is easy to see viable uses that could lessen our impact on the planet. Services that offer to exchange goods, money, or cryptocurrency are slowly growing and creating incentives for the collection of single use cans and bottles. Plastic Bank, in particular, not only offers to trade or pay, offering above market rates for plastic, but they also help local business leaders set up shops where plastic can be traded by the public for goods in store. Other incentive based systems, dubbed “crypto-conservation”, are focused on agriculture;preserving land by giving local farmers and business owners a crowd-funded monetary reason to conserve. The report altogether boasts 65 use-cases that can potentially make a positive impact on the environment including tracking ocean fishing, peer-to-peer water trading, and enhanced emergency response times.
On the other side of the argument, blockchain systems take a huge amount of energy to maintain, especially when it comes to cryptocurrency, consuming about 22 terwatt-hours per year. This is due to the idea of an immutable ledger, a history that cannot be altered, that is essential to blockchain technology. Dr. Jonathan Foley believes these systems would be better for the environment if the resource guzzlers were shut down entirely. Do we really need these secure systems in place to better our environment? In the words of Dr. Foley, “No one has ever said, ‘Gosh, we could give the world sustainable forest products and food, environmentally-friendly materials, and a low-carbon energy system, but we can’t because our databases aren’t secure enough’.” The same can be said about the social aspect of blockchain technology that has the potential to cultivate collective efficacy, like crowd-funding and peer-to-peer trading.
While we may be better off focusing on solutions that expend less energy, if blockchain technologies grow into an inevitable future, it is good to know that there are already ideas and plans in place to capitalize on this technology for the betterment of the environment.