5 ways blockchain can save the environment

Blockchain technology is primarily associated with cryptocurrency, smart contracts, fintech and so on, but there are ways in which this new technology can solve environmental problems, and could potentially reverse climate change.

Blockchains they are particularly interesting for environmental causes, because they make it possible to track and verify transactions and interactions without a centralised authority. We can use this to increase transparency, accountability, and efficiency of environmental projects.

Here are five examples of how it could be used.

  1. Recycling

People are often not incentivised to participate in recycling. And, as most cities are responsible for their own recycling programmes, there is no way to compare their effectiveness. A recycling program on the blockchain could encourage participation by giving a financial reward in the form of a cryptographic token in exchange for depositing recyclables like plastic containers, cans, or bottles. These schemes already exist in some parts of Europe.

  1. Energy

Traditional power grids are centralised, which can create inefficiencies in energy distribution, like having unused surplus. A peer-to-peer blockchain based energy system would reduce the need to transmit electricity over long distances, and thus reduce loss and energy storage requirements. It could also encourage companies and people to get returns from investing in renewable energy.

  1. Environmental charities

It can be difficult to track how money donated to a charity is spent. Blockchain technology can ensure that money intended to be used as a reward for conservation, or a payment to a specific cause, does not disappear into the wrong places.

  1. Carbon footprint tax

Currently, the environmental impact of each product is difficult to determine, and its carbon footprint is not factored into the price. Consumers are given little price incentive to buy products with a low carbon footprint. A blockchain-based reputation system could give each company and product a score based on the carbon footprint of the products they sell.

  1. Consumer incentives

It can be difficult for individuals or companies to see the direct effects of their actions. Therefore, the incentives for acting in an environmentally sustainable way aren’t always clear, especially in the short term. Blockchain technology can be used to track data, such as carbon footprints and incentives created that encourage people and companies to act in a sustainable way through tokenised rewards for specific actions.


The DWeb is a chance to take back control

Tim Bereners-Lee, the man who is credited with inventing the worldwide web, attended a meeting in San Francisco recently to discuss a big idea that will enable web users to circumvent “internet gatekeepers like Google and Facebook,” writes Zoe Corbyn in The Guardian.

The event was the Decentralised Web Summit, where supporters of the the so-called decentralised web — or DWeb — want a new, better web “where the entire planet’s population can communicate without having to rely on big companies that amass our data for profit and make it easier for governments to conduct surveillance.”

What is the DWeb?

Basically it avoids centralised control. In the early days of the web we communicated directly with other people through our desktop computers. But, then came Web 2.0 and, as Zoe writes, “we began to communicate with each other and share information through centralised services provided by big companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon.”

Why do we need the DWeb?

Because all your data and mine is now in the hands of a few companies. Also, it also makes it easier for governments to conduct surveillance on citizens and impose censorship. And, if Facebook, for example, suddenly closed down, you’d lose lots of data. The DWeb, say proponents, is about giving people a choice: the same services, but decentralised and it gives back privacy and control to the individual.

How will the DWeb work?

In a word — ‘blockchain’. While the first applications of blockchain technology were for digital currency transactions, that same technology is now finding application in the development of the DWeb including recording the movement of data, registering unique user names and even data storage

It shouldn’t even change the way you experience the web, if the DWeb is built properly. Corbyn also points out another important aspect of it: “One thing that is likely to change is that you will pay for more stuff directly — think micropayments based on cryptocurrency — because the business model of advertising to us based on our data won’t work well in the DWeb. Want to listen to songs someone has recorded and put on a decentralised website? Drop a coin in the cryptocurrency box in exchange for a decryption key and you can listen.”

Passwords will also become a thing of the past, because you’ll have your own unique, secure identity on the web. But, you will have to keep it safe, because lose this password and you’ve lost everything. At least, that is the current thinking on this however that may change in the future, depending on what developers manage to achieve.

You can already try some decentralised apps, such as Matrix, an alternative to Slack, and there are others, like DTube, a decentralised ‘YouTube’ and there are social networking alternatives as well, such as Akasha and Diaspora.

But, we’re not quite there yet. There is a lot of work to be done, and no doubt the likes of Google and Facebook are going to orchestrate a big pushback against its development. But it is a possibility and it has significant benefits — let’s see how it progresses.