Review Frontiers in Blockchain - Blockchain for Global Commons


Frontiers’ is a global publisher of research and they have a journal devoted specifically to the application of blockchain & related technologies - Frontiers in Blockchain - with a current research topic under Blockchain for Good, Blockchain for the Global Commons. There have been six articles published under said topic and I believe this community has potential to inform & further this body of work. This comment provides some substantive commentary as to the latest, a Perspective on applications of blockchain to advancing sustainability advancing conceptual frameworks to reverse deforestation and for groundwater management.

Core Research Question

How might blockchain & related technologies (cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, oracles etc) be applied for public good and the global commons? Frontiers published 6 articles thus far on this topic and is accepting submissions. There is work to be done in sociology, economics, political science that regards smart contracts and researchers in one should be well-versed in the other if this work is ever to have profound impact for good. My hope is this community can inform and further this conversation.

Citation & Link

Smajgl A and Schweik CM (2022) Advancing sustainability with blockchain-based incentives and institutions. Front. Blockchain 5:963766. doi: 10.3389/fbloc.2022.963766

Time constraints limit my ability to remark on all of the articles. They’re all worth reading and I’d encourage others to review and/or present on some of these articles that I’ve not addressed - ID’d followup post.

Perspectives – Advancing sustainability with blockchain-based incentives and institutions

This perspectives article presents as its’ core thesis that “blockchain technology provides mechanisms to alter the effectiveness of institutional arrangements concerned with the sustainable natural resource management at local, regional and global scales “.

The paper provides some review and context, with a “disclaimer” describing the Proof-of-Stake approach and noting that its’ energy demands are reduced. I’d also add that many chains have used community funds to purchase offsets so as to be confidently carbon neutral – Regen, Osmo, Stars on IBC, Polkadot and others have similar efforts. I think the mention of pre-minting tokens isn’t material and can lead to confusion but the authors seem to believe otherwise. Regardless, modern POS chains have minimal energy footprints that can be offset without unduly burdening community treasuries, or stressing supply IRL.

An Overview:
The paper notes three dimensions to the application of this technology to environmental sustainability:

  1. incentivize behaviour of resource users
  2. monitoring capacity &
  3. decentralization (minimize inefficiencies & corruption)

And provides the conceptual framework for applications to combat, reverse deforestation and desertification that is meant to be participatory by governmental, regulatory and NGO actors.

Forest Recovery – the $GFC

Proposes hypothetical GFC (Global Forest Coin) that is used to pay land managers for protecting and growing the extent of forests of global concern, and notes that interested parties might support the GFC effort by devoting public funds to subsidize the marketplace. I’d be very curious as to how effective this type of public capital deployment might be as opposed to what we see in current foreign aid thru centralized, inefficient & corrupt government actors.

See Figure 1:

Groundwater Rehydration – the $RAC

The next conceptual framework is a similar schema for groundwater, historically difficult if not impossible to govern under traditional legal & political frameworks. The authors’ posit the creation of RAC (Regional Aquifer Coin) that functions as so:
“Farmers that use less groundwater than calculated for a sustainable amount per ha receive a number of RAC tokens per megalitre, and network validators would receive RAC payment for their analysis efforts. In the case of a drought, the sustainable use level would decline and more RAC tokens would be provided for lower or no use. In time of abundant water fewer RAC tokens would be provided. “

Discussion and Key Takeaways

The paper suggests a framework that would (arguably) provide much-improved mechanisms for the management of natural resources like forests & groundwater. The reality is more complex but there is tremendous need for improved tools, our legacy institutions have proven themselves incapable of effectively responding to climate, deforestation and desertification.

I caution against overly simplistic approaches because land use and agroecology is complex. But I applaud the authors of this perspective, and the other articles, for launching these conversations and for daring to imaging how our state and non-state actors might use and deploy blockchain based tools.

Implications and Follow-ups

A great deal of work remains in this area. Is the 3 dimensional framework posited by the Perspectives Article sufficient? And how might a regional aquifer coin type approach work in real world scenarios? I’m somewhat of an expert in the high plains aquifer system and its’ governance and this potentiality is the very thing that “called” me to ReFi (regenerative decentralized finance) and DeSci (decentralized Science).

For further information see also the Natural Capital Assets Taxonomy paper discussed here Research Summary: Managing Climate Change With Blockchains and Oracles - Tecnalia/Chainlink Labs Report - #11 by wmflies and the commentary preceding regarding Kolectivo (Curacao test deployment) and Regen.

I’d suggest that a great deal work remains for SCRF to advance these conversations. Perhaps some of ya’ll could unpack some of the articles that I failed to address. Improved engagement would be beneficial to this forum and other research communities - the academics would benefit from an increasingly sophisticated understanding of smart contracts approaches, concepts and advancements, and similarly smart contract research related to groundwater, for example, need be informed by experts in the socio-economic, political and legal disciplines.


Other Articles in afore-referenced journal & research topic:

Barinaga E (2020) A Route to Commons-Based Democratic Monies? Embedding the Governance of Money in Traditional Communal Institutions. Front. Blockchain 3:575851. doi: 10.3389/fbloc.2020.575851

This article explores the paradoxical nature of work to connect programmable money technologies enabled by blockchain to traditional communal institutions and turn private assets into common wealth but note that “the standardization and automation of the new monetary rules through smart contracts impose neoliberal ideas that slipped into the code, risking the erosion of the very communal decision-making processes that made savings groups interesting anchors of a money commons in the first place”.

This is a report on original research that focuses on the Kenyan cryptocurrency project Sarafu which is “for” Chamas, roughly community-based savings and loans groups.

Rozas D, Tenorio-Fornés A and Hassan S (2021) Analysis of the Potentials of Blockchain for the Governance of Global Digital Commons. Front. Blockchain 4:577680. doi: 10.3389/fbloc.2021.577680

Fritsch F, Emmett J, Friedman E, Kranjc R, Manski S, Zargham M and Bauwens M (2021) Challenges and Approaches to Scaling the Global Commons. Front. Blockchain 4:578721. doi: 10.3389/fbloc.2021.578721

Schletz M, Hsu A, Mapes B and Wainstein M (2022) Nested Climate Accounting for Our Atmospheric Commons—Digital Technologies for Trusted Interoperability Across Fragmented Systems. Front. Blockchain 4:789953. doi: 10.3389/fbloc.2021.789953

Round C and Visseren-Hamakers I (2022) Blocked chains of governance: Using blockchain technology for carbon offset markets?. Front. Blockchain 5:957316. doi: 10.3389/fbloc.2022.957316