Can Bitcoin Save the Planet?

Nature magazine published a piece by Swedish ecology professor Guillaume Chapron, detailing how the technology that makes Bitcoin transactions secure can be applied to solve ecological problems.

It’s a big idea, and it’s already being used to track sustainably-caught fish in Indonesia together with small sensors. Bitcoin has solved a huge¬†challenge in finance: you must assume everyone involved in a transaction is out to defraud you. Bitcoin’s “blockchain” system is a distributed way to track financial transactions in a trackable, trustworthy, and secure manner.

Financial transactions aren’t the only ones subject to fraud, however. You can’t even know what species of fish you’re really buying, let alone trust its “sustainable” moniker. Blockchain can help authenticate the origins and movements of fish, or anything else, along the supply chain.

Science magazine published an interview with Mr. Chapron, where he explains:

To take an example, if you buy a fish at the supermarket, the supply chain is very long. The supermarket might not even know where it came from. And so there are multiple opportunities for environmentally unsustainable goods to enter the supply chain. A blockchain-based supply chain would mean that when you buy a fish, you scan a QR code [like a bar code] with your smartphone, and you see every step. And you know that it cannot be falsified.

Other social applications of Blockchain proposed include:

  • Digital authentication of land titles, to prevent corrupt governments from reclaiming land from native people
  • Secure, direct payment of incentives to communities for meeting conservation targets
  • Secure, tamper-proof voting

It’s always great when technologies have unintended, positive consequences. Bitcoin’s Blockchain may be the next big example.

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