Jeremy Erdman

@jeremyerdman

With great (processing) power comes great responsibility

Photo by imgix on Unsplash

Chances are you have heard someone mention the word blockchain in the past year. The technology, which revolutionizes the way we buy and trade, has flooded into public discourse over the past year. Entrepreneurs are racing to apply it to all industries, ranging from retail to energy to currency itself.

Within the sustainability realm, my specialty, blockchain offers multiple benefits.

Agriculture

Increased transparency provides consumers more information about their food. It opens the supply chain, allowing for more direct contact with farmers and assurance of appropriate farming practices. This direct contact reduces the amount of profit skimmed from middlemen and can boost the income of low-income farmers. Assurance of appropriate farming practices protects the soil, environment, and our long-term productivity.

Ripe.io, linked below, is doing great work in this space by creating a blockchain that allows customers to trace both the source and quality of produce.

Photo by Joanna Nix on Unsplash

Carbon Emissions

In the wake of the Paris Climate Accord, more nations and jurisdictions have moved to put a price on carbon emissions. Carbon price laws and systems can take many forms, with some following a cap-and-trade structure. These structures set a limit on the total carbon emissions an entity (like a company or agency) can produce. If an entity goes over their limit, they can reduce their emissions by purchasing reduced emissions by other entities.

In essence, this creates a market of entities trading carbon dioxide emissions and reduction. Blockchain comes in handy during the verification of reduced emissions and tracking its trading. As you can imagine, estimating carbon emissions and reduction can be tricky. Applying blockchain to these markets can bolster their credibility and buy-in, resulting in lower emissions. Companies, like CarbonX, are currently working to establish these markets.

The concern

Despite these benefits, blockchain poses a potential problem in regards to sustainability. The process of mining and verification amongst nodes consumes very sizable amounts of electricity. Without a corresponding increase in renewables, the rise of blockchain processing will drive up carbon emissions.

Politico Magazine recently covered the rise of bitcoin mining in Washington’s Columbia Basin. They showed how the region’s cheap — and luckily renewable — electricity attracted miners like bees to honey. The growing number of miners in the region put considerable stress on the region’s electric grid, with mining often taking as much electricity and the residents in the region.

As such, tensions have escalated between miners and residents as they fight over electricity. Residents have become off-put by bitcoin and cryptocurrency, and counties in Central Washington have considered a moratorium on the establishment of new bitcoin mines.

Technology will continue to progress. Like the dot-com boom before this, we will continue to invent new technologies that revolutionize the way we communicate and produce. As we move forward, we will need to grapple with how we energize and power progress.

And I don’t just mean electricity.

We will need to better understand the draining effect of technological progress. How can we ensure that, as we develop new technologies, we don’t just use communities for their resources, but include them? How can we create partnerships instead of tension?

Blockchain can create so much good. Let’s help others see that.

Photo by Artur Pokusin on Unsplash

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