by Nora Germain
The RChain Cooperative “Impact Summary” written by president Greg Meredith opens with a particularly strong paragraph. It reads, “If you watch Bill Gates’ 60 Minutes interview from 2021, you will see him acknowledge that dealing with the consequences of climate change will require global coordination on a scale exceeding that of WWII. Yet, nowhere in the interview does he mention coordination technologies that work at global scale. RChain was designed from the ground up to provide global scale coordination. While this has many business applications and provides the first realistic Web 3.0 platform, its central purpose is to support a decentralized grassroots self-organized response to climate change.”
RChain Cooperative is the only blockchain project that I know of that was founded by someone who truly understands the facts and stakes of climate and talked about them before it was popular. RChain’s mission, outlined above, is also clearly tied to these facts and stakes. This is one reason why I so enjoy writing these blogs and co-hosting the weekly climate and coordination RCast. It helps me to be a witness to what is going on and to not hide in despair. Beyond that, it’s an opportunity to inspire others to look at these problems in new ways, and to provide an encouraging community where ambition is supported.
It’s never a good time to solve hard problems, and it’s never a convenient time to change the way we live. Perhaps this is why Greg’s favorite recent slogan for the coop is “Live Different,” which communicates a need to take action, rather than simply to “Think Different,” as Steve Jobs told us all those years ago. In 1997 that may have been enough. In 2022, I think not.
The most recent IPCC report states that peak emissions will have to be reached by 2025 at the latest (in just 2 ½ years) and precipitously drop thereafter in order to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius. That may sound good enough to some people, but sadly at 2 degrees Celsius, scientists can confirm with near certainty that the coral reefs will be extinct, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to know what happens after that point. This is what I mean when I say the “facts and stakes” of climate. This is the kind of thing that doesn’t make it into the headlines often. That precious space is reserved for more important things, like the intimate details of Johnny Depp’s personal life.
It’s not all hopeless, though. We can all make a difference in our own futures. Now is the time to decarbonize, to build the hard things, to install those solar panels if you can afford to, to optimize your diet, start a garden, rewild your yard, and to look at your consumerist habits. Now is the time to optimize anything you can think of, down to the blockchain you invest in or build on (if you’re so inclined). It may also be a good time to apply for an additional passport, or to make an emergency plan with someone who you can, as Greg would say, “trust with your life, not just the next transaction.”
It’s in these next few years that we will design what the next 30 plus years will look like on Earth. Many have already started doing that work. Elon Musk invested in Tesla in 2008, and now, 14 years later, we are just starting to see Teslas reach the market at scale, or close to. Many brands are far behind, releasing their first EV’s now, which feels very, very late to me. Change does not happen overnight, and we are already against an incredibly steep clock. I’m not sure it’s possible to cut it any closer than we are now. It often feels like the biodiversity of life as we know it is hinging on something like a coin toss. Still, we can’t give up.
This one minute video from the Climate Ad Project on Twitter does a great job of conveying the cosmic importance of this moment. We have all been so busy trying to process the pandemic, a war in Europe, shootings in America, protests, inflation, elections, hearings, and the chaos of modern life that we may have forgotten – Earth is the only place known in the universe so far to have life at all!
Somehow, this is not enough to make people act or react to the situation that we have caused. When I say that we are against a steep clock, it’s not just in terms of fires and floods, heat waves or droughts. Most of that stuff has been seen by 78% of Americans in one poll, and it is already terrifying. What we haven’t seen or experienced could be just as difficult to navigate, and one example is the risk to our electrical grids and by extension, the internet.
This article from WBUR explains, “The global internet infrastructure was constructed in the 1980s and ’90s using systems and buildings in places that were designed to withstand the climate of the past. As Verner learned, the climate of the future is already disrupting the present.” It goes on to say “an estimated 31 billion devices link us to our data in the cloud. By 2025, it is predicted there will be 75 billion,” a staggering number by any standard.
As we work to create the metaverses, blockchains and apps of the future, we must keep this in mind. As I have said before, the internet does not function independently from the Earth – at least not yet. It relies on a functioning climate and by extension a functioning grid for stability, as do the banks, the hospitals, our Dropbox accounts, our Google Docs, our email, our phones, and so on and so forth. Modern society is totally dependent upon these systems. When the WiFi in your house goes out, how long is it before your day is interrupted? 5 minutes? Maybe 10?
This piece in the New York Times explains the situation very clearly. “Measures that could help make electric grids more robust — such as fortifying power plants against extreme weather, or installing more backup power sources — could prove expensive. But as Texas shows, blackouts can be extremely costly, too. And, experts said, unless grid planners start planning for increasingly wild and unpredictable climate conditions, grid failures will happen again and again.”
Of course, it’s not just the power grid and the internet that are at risk this century. Everywhere you look there is an opportunity for innovation and for hardening against failure. That could be in agriculture, shipping, city planning and more. Now is the time to get going on the big ideas. Now is the time to change our behavior, to roll up our sleeves, and to stop procrastinating on the things that we know we should do and we know how to do. To paraphrase Robert Fripp, first we start with the possible, then move to the impossible.
It’s much easier (at least in the Northern Hemisphere where climate chaos has yet to disrupt life more broadly) to tackle these problems now than wait for things to become so broken that even basic discourse cannot take place. There are a lot of problems in the world now, but they could pale in comparison to what will happen when the worst of our climate predictions come, likely earlier than expected. Society is like a precious sailboat heading into a storm for an unknown period. Now is the time to tie down everything that can be tied down. Consensus on how to do this is not always easy, but as Vice President Al Gore has said, “Political will is a renewable resource.”
Humanity is at an unprecedented crossroads. We have seen wars, inflation and pandemics before. We have not seen our planet in such a state of peril — not while we have been on it, at least. There is an enormous opportunity to ease suffering, to create resiliency and to invent unprecedented solutions now. That’s the gift of living through interesting (if not traumatic) times. We have a challenging and unique mandate before us, and if you are reading this on the RChain blog, you are already the kind of person who is thinking in these terms. A better world is possible. Let’s do it.