After the modest success of eink.link, I’ve decided to embark on another side project. This one also has a cool domain in the form of extinction.fyi and is a place where I can write about all of the death, destruction, and havoc I see being visited upon the planet we call home.
As my wife pointed out, it’s not the cheeriest thing to be doing, but here’s the About page I composed this morning to give a flavour of why I decided to create the site:
This website is a project of Doug Belshaw. I’ve been concerned about the impact we’ve been having on the Earth for a while, and have been paying attention to the work of people like Vinay Gupta and the Dark Mountain community.
I tend to make sense of the world through writing and documenting, so I thought I’d set up this simple site as a way to help me prioritise my own time and effort. It may also be useful as a place to point others who may find this kind of resource useful or provocative.
Not everyone is motivated into action by reading about death, destruction, the ineptitude of our politicians, and the corruption of big business. So, if you would rather read positive news on this topic, I recommend the excellent Future Crunch.
Behind most things lies nuance. Blockchain is no different. The recent controversy behind NFTs (?) has polarised debate about the ‘value’ of decentralised currencies, tokens, and the applications they allow.
There’s some important technical differences between how the decentralised networks behind various cryptocurrencies and tokens come to consensus. The point of this post is to explain these to the best of my current ability and knowledge. It’s based on my attempts to ensure that I’m not trying to save the world on the one hand while destroying it through my actions elsewhere.
In the course of buying and selling crypto, I’ve learned about an important difference between currencies such as Bitcoin which use ‘Proof-of-Work’ (PoW) consensus models, and others which use ‘Proof-of-Stake’ (PoS).
Both of these models are called ‘consensus mechanisms‘, and they are a current requirement to confirm transactions that take place on a blockchain, without the need for a third party.
The TL;DR, as far as my understanding goes is that, broadly speaking, PoW is energy intensive and killing the planet, whereas PoS is… less problematic.
Let’s be clear: cryptocurrencies and tokens aren’t going away. And I see plenty of upside in terms of trading value independently of governments. The following definitions are taken from the glossary part of CoinMarketCap’s very helpful guide to crypto called Alexandria.
Proof-of-Authority (PoA) — “A blockchain consensus mechanism that delivers comparatively fast transactions using identity as a stake.”
Proof-of-Burn (PoB) — “A blockchain consensus mechanism aiming to bootstrap one blockchain to another with increased energy efficiency, by verifying that a cost was incurred in “burning” a coin by sending it to an unspendable address.”
Proof-of-Developer (PoD) — “Any verification that provides evidence of a real, living software developer who created a cryptocurrency, in order to prevent an anonymous developer from making away with any raised funds without delivering a working model.”
Proof-of-Replication (PoRep) — “Proof-of-replication (PoRep) is the way that a storage miner proves to the network that they are storing an entirely unique copy of a piece of data.”
Proof-of-Spacetime (PoSt) — “In simplest terms, PoSt means that someone can now guarantee that they are spending a certain amount of space for storage.”
The legality of cryptocurrencies varies by territory, with India currently considering a ban. I predict that the difference in consensus models will be a determining factor, with a likelihood that Proof-of-Work models are banned in some jurisdictions because of their energy usage and associated impact on the environment.
Ultimately, for better or worse, once it’s got enough traction you can’t ban innovation from happening. Governments are going to want to issue their own stablecoin, meaning that they can’t completely ban cryptocurrencies and tokens.
That’s why I predict that Proof-of-Stake will be seen as a viable model without completely destoying the environment. I may, of course, be wrong on all counts. Caveat emptor ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The role of the man who foresees is a sad one. He afflicts his friends with warnings of the misfortunes they court with imprudence. He is not believed; and when the misfortunes occur, those same friend resent him for the ills he predicted.
Chamfort was writing around the time of the French Revolution. This was a period where everything went (dangerously, murderously) sideways for a bit, before the status quo re-emerged with different rulers.
We tend to think that life is somehow ‘safer’ or more ‘stable’ these days, but the ideological collapse that caused the French Revolution is perhaps more evident in 2021 than it was in 1789.
Things break down when groups within societies fundamentally differ about ontology, epistemology, or ethics. The result is a form of militant tribalism, where each tribe believes that another is stopping them saying or doing particular things. The ‘others’ pose some kind of threat to ‘our’ way of life.
In reality, the biggest threat to societies, wherever you are in the world, is climate change — or as I’ve begun to call it for the sake of emphasis, ‘human extinction’. After all, the planet was fine before us, and will be fine after us. The Arctic was a jungle 55 millions years ago. Needless to say, that meant global temperatures would not have been conducive to human life.
Carbon emissions may have decreased dramatically due to the pandemic lockdowns we’ve experienced over the last year, but recent reports suggest that we would need a similar lockdown every two years to stop runaway climate catastrophe.
It’s not the cheeriest news, but then we need a complete mindshift in order to save our species. Anyone who’s read Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed will be aware that globalisation makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation. Our supply chains are more fragile than we think.
I have often asked myself, “What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?” Like modern loggers, did he shout “Jobs, not trees!”? Or: “Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we’ll find a substitute for wood”? Or: “We don’t have proof that there aren’t palms somewhere else on Easter, we need more research, your proposed ban on logging is premature and driven by fear-mongering”? Similar questions arise for every society that has inadvertently damaged its environment.”
Ultimately, we all need to do something. We can’t shrug and say “hakuna matata” until everything burns down around us.
[I]t’s perfectly normal for people to want to live a good life right here and now, no matter what the future holds. It’s certainly stupid to work like crazy towards a future that doesn’t exist. That’s definitely insane. But working towards a present that can exist is but such a bad idea at all.
Dmitry Oblov, ‘A Present That Can Exist’ (in Walking on Lava)
I know that, personally, I’ve ignored all of this for too long. Yes, I got involved in the climate change protests a couple of years ago, but other than stopping eating meat I haven’t made meaningful changes in my everyday life.
I’m not exactly sure what my next steps will be, but I’m going to see whether Extinction Rebellion‘s approach of non-violent direct action might be the right path forward for me. I’ve got to do something.