Blockchain for the Environment: It Is Real and It Is Here

February 20, 2020

By David Mansell, Director and Co-Founder of NEM Ventures 

Every week sears a new image of climate change into our collective consciousness. A few decades ago, we heard about ozone holes and ice melting at slightly higher rates than anticipated. Today, the reminders of climate change are more visceral and immediate: California’s hills and forests burn, Venice’s city council chamber floods, and Iceland holds a funeral for a glacier. 

The United Nations held a global Climate Summit at the end of September last year, though there were real disappointments — with the United States notable for its silence. Political and business leaders alike agreed that more needed to be done and committed to taking real action to combat environmental decline. Everyday citizens around the world approve, as the worldwide climate protests showed. Dozens of industries have parts to play in the struggle against climate change, including blockchain — notorious for running dirty. 

For many people outside of the tech industry, blockchain is synonymous with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC). The Bitcoin chain was the first blockchain designed and deployed, but many new iterations of the technology have appeared in the decade since the first links in the blockchain were assembled.

Things have changed, but honesty is important: If blockchain has had a bad reputation with environmentalists for much of its history, it has deserved it. Bitcoin relies on intentionally wasteful calculations for its security encryption. Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, wanted to make his ledgers impossible to attack by making the cost of a hack ruinously expensive. He succeeded, but the environment suffered.