Consensus on Climate, Digital Assets, and the new Economy.
Updated: Aug 15
This past week I attended the web3 conference here in Austin: Consensus. I was excited to be able to go through, FWB club, the social club for people innovating in the space. From amazing parties, where people in banana suits danced while pizza came every hour, the conference proved to be an exciting one in the sessions and at the celebrations.
We are in an even more treacherous place than last month in terms of banking and economic security for the country. As banks continue to fall, there is a growing lack of belief in Traditional Finance, or TradFi, to provide for the safety of people as well as the planet. For this reason I was excited to attend this conference and heard some amazing ideas and people working on increasing economic security and advancing climate action through blockchain finance, as well as a climate roundtable, that brought together leaders in the climate x blockchain space.
While blockchain technology does use energy, as any use of technology does today, there are a couple of things to keep in mind before we delve into the projects I'd like to address :
1. The Ethereum merge has now happened, which reduced the impact of mining Ethereum by 99.9%. To put that into perspective, the energy costs per year after the merge are at 870 tons of carbon, equivalent to the energy costs of 3-4 blocks of homes in the United States. Ethereum is the second largest digital currency market globally, and a choice for many companies that want to be immediately sustainable on-chain.
2. Bitcoin Mining in particular is the most popular currency however, and it is energy intensive, and yet, much of the energy that comes out of mining bitcoin cannot be used anywhere else because of the lack of development of energy grids globally. The advent of mining in rural areas is popular because whether its Northwest China or Kazakhstan, the energy infrastructure does not exist for that energy can go anywhere else and so the prices are low.
While it's true that for example in West Texas, prices have risen around 9% for consumers, the reason for that is that bitcoin mining is one of the only industries that is able to quickly turn off to prevent blackouts. During Winter Storm Uri in Texas in 2021, if bitcoin miners had not turned off the mines, there would have been even more blackouts. In fact the underlying distributed ledger technology can actually help the country to transition to renewable energy, which I write about here.
3. Finally the biggest question here is about additionality of generation. Much of the debate on digital currencies and Distributed Ledger Technology rests on a disagreement on the premises of the industry. Traditional Banking use 56 times more energy than bitcoin. For that matter why don't we shut down the entire NFL, which is a huge energy consumer?
If you shuttered at that thought, or shutting down streaming services like Netflix entirely you are not alone. While these would be non-starters and not a ton of energy in the bigger picture, the point here is really about value. Because most people struggle to see the value in the industry, any additional generation is seen as unnecessary. For me, not only are we seeing a collapse of the banking sector and our economic system generally, but also the global financial and banking sector themselves have caused continuous harm to people, especially in the global south, that for me is the value, and here's why:
The reason for Americans have struggled with digital currencies, especially ones that are decentralized, is that the United States is the single biggest culprit in the Perpetuation of Global Monetary Colonialism. I wrote about this concept here from a project coming out of the former colonies of France, that are using digital currencies to disconnect themselves from their former colonizer. The United States weaponized the dollar and that power is quickly fading. De-dollarization is so scary to the nation because it has often targeted, isolated, and harmed countries , especially in the global south for not agreeing to their policies.
From Venezuela to Chile to Nicaragua, economic sanctions have been a way for the United States to maintain hegemonic power, and through that leaving millions of people in these countries, that are at no fault of their own, to starve. And in 2023 From Russia to OPEC, to China, de-dollarization has hit its moment. And it's in these same countries where digital currencies are thriving. In places like China its more centralized, and I've written a bit how a Central Bank Digital Currency could increase equity through things like negative interest rates, smart contracts, and real time price feeds to control inflation.
However in places like Venezuela, Nigeria, and others it is being used as a tool to become economically independent from both oppressive governments, and inequitable policies set by places like the United States. It's interesting when people say that digital currencies are largely responsible for facilitating criminal activity, when banks like Wells Fargo have been continuously cited for knowingly supporting criminal activity and have faced no repercussions. I would argue the dollar itself is the biggest culprit in financing criminal activity.
Multilateral banks like the World Bank, largely funded by the United States, are not exempt from this as they continue to perpetuate monetary control through predatory lending practices to developing countries. For me it's become almost impossible to finance climate action exactly because TradFI is inherently centralized, hierarchical, and steeped in legacies previously mentioned.
So the innovation is not happening in the United States, and the NFT scams, the FTX collapse, and other "examples" of the lack of value these currencies provides is more of a reflection of the United States and the kinds of values, incentive systems, and beliefs we hold as a nation. As an economist I believe economic systems are largely reflective of society, and American economics is no exception. Sam Bankman-Fried was on the cover of Forbes 30 under 30 not because he created value but because he was making record profits, as other listers have and later been arrested, and in some cases convicted. So I want to zoom out now and talk about some of these amazing projects:
Future is a Debit Card that rewards people for using less carbon. By offering 5-6% returns on climate friendly purchase Future saves people money will encouraging consumer behavior. By using "Future Coins" climate friendly activities are both validated and consumer behavior is gamified, which has been a huge success for companies like Starbucks, to increase spending and emissions. Gamification is a big way that people's behaviors can be shifted without the need to spend more money to support the environment.
Good Door Protocol is built on the Ethereum framework and enables open distribution of a UBI(Universal Basic Income.) to any person with a smartphone, through leveraging decentralized open finance infrastructure. I was able to hear stories of folks around the world, of which 1.7 Billion who are unbanked, and 5 billion are underbanked. Users receive small amounts of income every 24 hours.
3. Planet Watch
Planet Watch empowers individuals and organizations around the world to do real-time air data monitoring. Planet Watch is also on the Etherum framework, with its own token called PLANETS that incentivizes the participation is this project to create a decentralized marketplace for Environmental Data
These startups represent a vision that many have for decentralized digital currencies around the world. By using decentralized, traceable assets, these companies are able to do things like increase customer support for climate action, increase economic equity for marginalized groups, verify carbon emission reduction claims, sustainable supply chain claims, and other financial features that have long struggled in traditional finance. This is the vision that climate and digital currency enthusiasts have for the future, and it's clear traditional finance will not get us there.