Blockchain: “Crypto-Climate-Technocracy” does not work

With Web 3.0, blockchains and cryptocurrencies, everything is supposed to be different again. Decentralized networking provides transparency and a shift in consumer awareness. So when it comes to containing climate change, “climate cryptogovernance” is supposed to be the currency that saves the world. the doubts are justified.

It could be that Elon Musk, tech whiz and now the richest man in the world, is still wandering the social data space in search of Web 3.0. “Has anyone seen Web3? I can’t find it” tweeted the boss of Tesla at the turn of the year.

A new tech reveal seems imminent, but not even Elon Musk can figure it out yet. Web 3.0, blockchains, something like a walk-up metaverse, and DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) promise democracy, endless fun, solidarity, and the solution of nagging earthly problems.

Haven’t we heard all this before? In the mid-1990s, when the first version of the Internet, Web 1.0, began its triumphant advance. Even then, the technological utopia of a World Wide Web promised to transform our reality into a better world in no time.

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Look to John Perry Barlow’s “Declaration of Cyberspace Independence” of February 8, 1996, as a euphoric but, from today’s perspective, strangely supernatural testimony to this cyber-utopianism: “The governments of the industrial world (. ..), I come from cyberspace, the new home of the spirit. As representatives of the future, I ask you from the past to leave us alone. (…) You have no sovereignty over where we reunite.

Dangerous misinterpretation of the internet

Barlow’s 1996 cyber-utopianism pays homage to a dangerous technocratic idealism, at the center of which is the fatal misconception that the Internet, as the embodiment of a big idea (the networking of humanity), does not can create only good and is therefore always on the side of the good and the virtuous in the history of the world will land.

The decentralized grassroots architecture of the Internet, as we have come to realize ten years later with Facebook and Twitter, has in no way protected it from hate, populism, monopolization and the uncompromising capitalization of the use of data.

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The discussion about blockchains, cryptocurrencies and decentralized financial management that erupted late last year now suggests that the internet could still turn the page. Even climate change, oracles of fairly serious actors, could be stopped thanks to cryptogovernance.

Venerable institutions such as the World Economic Forum (in cooperation with management consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers) and the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute need to consider whether they are primarily concerned with sensible measures to combat climate change. or by greenwashing industry and stakeholders Promoting new technologies for forward-looking investors.

But let’s take a closer look. Washington’s Greenhouse Gas Management Institute is very vocal about the climate impact of crypto-governance, predicting that blockchain (will) be an “unexpected force capable of driving higher levels of participation, ambition and investment in scale in climate action”. Parisian goals”.

As early as 2018, the World Economic Forum (WEF), which for years has been a strong proponent of broad climate action, came out in favor of crypto-climate governance. However, when “Blockchain for a better planet” was discussed at the WEF, the old neoliberal reflexes were apparently awakened.

It is said that technical solutions such as payments of small amounts (micropayments) on blockchains should allow consumers to control their consumption behavior in such an individualized and sustainable way that the environment benefits.

It is understandable that all stages of manufacturing and transporting products can be made transparent by means of a blockchain. It is less plausible that micropayments, among other things, would then help consumers not only express their concern about the climate, but also significantly change their consumption and pave the way for humanity to become a post-fossil society as than conscientious to zero emissions. consumers.

Blockchains and digital currency are obviously not a step forward in the fight against climate change. First, counting private emissions is not a sustainable climate strategy, second, one has to ask the question of what advances a new technology can bring here, which itself causes absurdly high CO2 emissions.

The digital currency bitcoin consumes more electricity than 45 million people a year in Argentina, scientists from the University of Cambridge have calculated.

Individualization of environmental debt

The impression that so-called climate crypto-governance is quite immature technological hype cannot be dismissed out of hand. And if you look closely, you will discover a well-known take on the mothballs of neoliberalism: the empowerment of the individual as a large-scale diversionary tactic.

Individualizing guilt digitally, via blockchain, is meant to provide the technocratic solution to the ever-worsening climate crisis. The individualization of climate debt – via the vehicle of decentralized digitization – suggests a solution in which polluting industries can simply carry on as before.

And what is even more serious: the deus ex machina of the new technology invokes the dubious illusion of a post-political solution to the climate crisis.

This brings us to a popular contemporary myth that consumers can first and foremost avoid climate catastrophe through their everyday actions. The individual only has to take responsibility for the planetary destruction and optimize their buying behavior, then it will also work with the climate.

The narrative of the individualization of environmental and climate guilt has a long history. The famous Crying Indian advertisement from 1970 was probably the first attempt to use subtle means to shift the blame for the overexploitation of nature onto the consumer.

The spot shows a Native American sailing his boat on a polluted river surrounded by industrial factories. Panning over crowds of cars stuck in an endless traffic jam; Pan to the Indian crying on the shore, a tear rolling down his cheek; Comment: “People start polluting, people can stop it.”

The American drinks industry turned out to be the pressure group behind the NGO “Keep America Beautiful”, which commissioned the advertisement. Companies like Coca-Cola have tried to defend themselves against state environmental regulations with the spot and therefore have declared that the consumer is solely responsible for environmental problems.

In 2004, oil company BP could already assume that the individuating guilt narrative was running like clockwork when it commissioned its legendary CO2 footprint calculator on its website in 2004.

Blockchain is a tool for depoliticization

Now, blockchain and climate cryptogovernance are meant to individualize climate change into a consumer issue. Climate change, species extinction and environmental pollution are thus depoliticized, and the role of politics, the global economic order, corporations and markets take a back seat.

And thanks to the traceability of each production process in blockchains, the great shift in consciousness towards responsible consumption should finally happen in a miraculous way (that environmentalists and consumer associations have been breaking their teeth for decades).

In this world of consumption liberated by technological disruption, the new cyber utopians hope, consumers will now consume only CO2-neutral products on a global scale, because micropayments, blockchain and cryptocurrencies make it so obvious and easy. .

Behind the craggy thesis of climate cryptogovernance, ancient beliefs of neoliberalism become visible. First: Without the market, which organizes consumer needs and controls demand through innovation, it is not possible to deal with climate change.

Second: we must trust the logic of the market with its controllable consumers, for that is the only way – and by means of the magic hand of technocratic revolutions – that the empowerment of the individual to take meaningful action against further global warming is possible.

To put it simply: only the market and its latest technological innovations show the way – only if we leave the climate problem to the forces of the free market will salvation draw near.

But we’ve been trying unsuccessfully to fix problems with these formulas for too long. Climate cryptogovernance is an ideology of the purest kind, as it deceives us once again into believing that technologies can replace social decision-making, politics and the development of sustainable lifestyles.

There will be no democratic future for us based on pure technocratic IT decentralization, nor will climate change be managed in a post-political space of blockchains and cryptocurrencies. All these more or less powerless attempts to control the climate change that threatens humanity with the old neoliberal tools of deregulation and depoliticization.

Dr. Eike Wenzel is considered one of the most renowned trends and future German researchers. He is head of the Institute for Trend and Future Research (ITZ) and co-founder of the MBA course “Future Trends and Sustainable Management”

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