Climate Change and the Blockchain

In this episode of CRYPTO 101, Matthew had the chance to speak with environmental consultant and graduate student studying the effect of emerging technologies on environmental governance, Chris Round. The two covered both the basics of climate change science and the possibilities of blockchain technology playing a role in climate change intervention governance. 

Who is Chris Round?

Chris Round is a member of the CRYPTO 101 community and a listener of the podcast. As mentioned, he works on the intersection of information technology and climate change policy.Currently working for Booz Allen Hamilton he has built a wealth of consulting experience in south Asia and the Middle East. Originally from Massachusetts, he now lives in the D.C. Area. After moving to Indiana he acquired two Masters degrees: one in environmental science and the other in public policy analysis. His current Doctoral studies are a blend of the two — the implementation of information technology into the practice of environmental policy. 

Chris Round

What is Climate Change?

The definition of the concept is literally in the words itself — climate, change.. Any change in any climate can qualify as “climate change”. However, it is used most commonly in reference to the change in global average temperature in recent decades which has risen by nearly a full degree centigrade since the 1970s.

What is ‘Weather’?

Weather refers to the state of a local environment, particularly having to do with the atmosphere at any particular time. Things like rain, cloud cover, wind, temperature, humidity, pressure, etc.. At any given point on the Earth, the weather changes from moment to moment, day to day, season to season.

What is ‘Climate’?

Climate is best described as the average weather conditions like temperature, rainfall etc. over a significant period of time. You can ask about the climate of a specific area over a certain span of time. That are can be as large as the Earth itself — where we can begin to ask about the average global temperature and things of that sort.

“Climate is the average, weather is the noise around the average. This is where a common misunderstanding occurs. I could walk out my door one day and say ‘wow it is really cold, what about this global warming thing?’. [For this reason] ‘climate change’ is a more accurate [term] to use than ‘global warming’ the reason is is because there are actually some areas which could get colder.”

‘Climate change’ has become a “catch-all” term that is now universally used to describe the anomalous increase in global temperatures, largely as a result of human activity resulting in increasing amounts of greenhouse gasses being emitted into the atmosphere, culminating in what we call the ‘Greenhouse Effect’.

What is the ‘Greenhouse Effect’?

The ‘Greenhouse Effect’ is a natural life-permitting phenomenon that describes the Earth allowing the sun’s radiation through the atmosphere on the way in, but trapping and reflecting back a degree of it as it on its way back out after being reflected off the Earth’s surface. It is “life-permitting” because the natural greenhouse effect based on the balance of gasses in the atmosphere allows the planet to be warm enough to support carbon-based life.

However, as Chris said, “too much of a good thing can be a bad thing” with the increased greenhouse gas emissions (mostly carbon dioxide) from human activity is that the fine balance of gasses in the atmosphere that permit life without cooking it is broken. This results in more heat being trapped and reflected back, warming the oceans and raising the average global temperature.

What is the The Runaway Effect’?

This increase in ocean and surface temperature changes natural states on the Earth’s surface like glaciers (rising sea levels) and melting permafrosts (releasing large amounts of trapped carbon dioxide). Both of these things cannot be undone easily and things like the latter actually begin to snowball the amount of released carbon in the atmosphere — hence the “runaway”.

Isn’t the Science in Debate?

No. it isn’t.

It is “in debate” as much as the Earth being round is “in debate” — which is to say that there are people who want to argue that the Earth is flat and the global climate is not changing, or that it is changing in a way that is in keeping with ancient trends, but these people do so in spite of the overwhelming pool of evidence to the contrary. 

There is no debate. The Earth’s climate is changing, largely as a result of an anomalous greenhouse effect produced by excess greenhouse gas emissions. A great resource to inform yourself or someone you know who would like to learn more is the NASA run website:

So How Can the Blockchain help?

We know that the science tells us that it is excess carbon emissions that is causing climate change into potentially life-threatening states. We know that reducing emissions is one of the least (but also one of the best) things we can do.
The blockchain is a technology that allows for two things 1) the creation and maintenance of a decentralised, immutable ledger and 2) smart contracts. Both of these things are the keys to how blockchain might be implemented to help solve the growing problem of climate change.

The Immutable Ledger

Governments and watch dogs could in theory implement blockchain ledgers to issue carbon tokens, whereby the owner of said token is legally allowed to emit a certain amount of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere in their pursuits producing products or delivering services. 

This is a free-market solution that utilises the blockchain to keep the agreements immutable and decentralised. Trade of these tokens could be conducted without the risk of more than the agreed upon amount of carbon in total in the whole system being emitted. This hard cap of carbon can also be monitored on the blockchain by recording and verifying emissions in real time on the decentralised network.

Smart Contracts 

Additionally, smart contracts could be implemented to help monitor carbon emitters, both to reward reduced emissions and punish excess emissions.

In Conclusion

Both of these factors can work on scales large and small. Individuals could measure and offset their next holiday with certainty in a trustless network and corporations and nation states can mitigate and monitor the greenhouse gasses they are producing and be incentivised to reduce them.

This was a fascinating podcast. Be sure to listen and stay tuned to Chris’ future work. Please share this piece with your crypto friend who you think might need to see how blockchain can help solve the problem of climate change.