Conservationists are divided on blockchain technology – Mail Bonus


How can you find the money to save animals in the 21st century? Immutable symbols.

In the forest of northeastern South Africa, this was done by an NGO from the United States. Since 2017, the charity has raised funds to buy land, take down fences and clear brush to connect MunYaWana Reserve and iSimangaliso Wetland Park so that elephants, rhinos and lions can move freely between the two reserves. WildCards, a South African company that uses blockchain to protect wildlife, received $30,000 to do this.

WildCards feature animals as unique pieces of digital art, much like the “Bored Ape” set of NFTs that sold last year for more than $3 million. The Ethereum blockchain’s native currency, ether, can be used to buy and sell WildCards. The holder of each card is the guardian of the animal and they pay a small amount each month to the conservation group that protects the animal or species. Since launching in 2019, the WildCards platform has raised $77,000 (until July 26, 2022) for conservation groups in Kenya, India, and Malaysia from blockchain, cryptocurrency, and NFT fans.

Co-founder Jason Smythe says WildCards are a fun and creative way for people to show their support for conservation. The technology gets rid of middlemen who charge fees.

Many people don’t know much about non-fungible tokens (NFTs) or blockchain, the technology that makes them work. However, their uses, from secure money transfers to storing asset ownership information, are being researched. The immutability and transparency of the technology could be used to enforce contracts and monitor wildlife trafficking. Blockchain may not be used as much as it could be because it uses a lot of energy and is difficult to access. Since the technology is still new, many people are skeptical about how it can be used.

Smythe admits there are problems, but he believes the technology will likely change in the future. “The technology is not yet scaled up.” It’s like listening to someone talk about the future of the Internet in the 1990s,” he says. “The experiments that are going to happen in the coming decades will be interesting.

Peter Howson, a professor of international development at Northumbria University in the UK, was first interested in how blockchain technology could be used to protect the environment. Over time, his doubts have grown.

The carbon impact of the technology far outweighs any conservation benefits. According to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, bitcoin mining uses 92 terawatt hours of electricity each year. This is more than Venezuela, Belgium or Finland. In a video interview with Mongabay, Howson says the use of this technology lends legitimacy to the nefarious crypto sector. This is not a good way to pay for the transition to a greener economy.

Few technocrats and entrepreneurs in the Global North control technology, causing people to worry about how it will be used to control, distribute and use resources in the Global South. Howson says he hasn’t seen blockchain technology help save animals in any way other than raising money. He adds that most people interested in cryptography are looking for things to crack. “Employees in the community and the environment should come first.” Technology comes first.


Daniel Oberhauser agrees that the first step should be to look at the conditions on the ground and, if necessary, change the technique. Oberhauser prototyped smart contracts, another use of blockchain technology, to make payments for ecosystem services more efficient and transparent (PES).

Transactions that meet certain criteria are automatically handled by smart contracts. If the contract requires payment upon completion of the work, the payment would be made automatically. Thus Oberhauser’s prototype pays a person or group for doing things to protect the environment.

Due to an inefficient financial system and shady management on the ground, payments do not always reach the people who need them on time, in full, or at all. Oberhauser’s prototype Blockchain for ecosystem payments used smart contracts to ensure payments were transparent. Google Earth Engine was used to monitor the safety of a forest or species. If these conditions are met, the smart contract will pay out the money. Smart contracts are easy to understand and hard to change.

But reality made things difficult. Who gets the prize? How can people in the global south access technology they cannot use? Oberhauser’s 2019 study, published in the book Frontiers in Blockchain, said the technology’s inaccessibility would require “strong dependence on trusted intermediaries.” This goes against the idea that blockchain technology is decentralized. No one used the prototype.

Nothing has changed since Oberhauser wrote his article. He talks a lot about how government and policy should work with technology. “People who understand the technology are usually engineers or entrepreneurs from the West who usually have no idea about governance and natural resource management on the ground,” Oberhauser tells Mongabay in a video interview. “There is still a gap between people who are knowledgeable in both of these areas.

Oberhauser agrees with WildCards’ Smythe that the technology needs more testing before it can be used to protect animals. But it is also difficult. If something goes wrong with conservation work, years of work could be lost.

Howson says that when conservation efforts don’t seem to be working, many people think it’s a scam. “Eventually you’re going to run out of people who trust you.”

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