For the first time ever, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report’s top-five global risks were all climate-related. From devastating wildfires in Australia and the Amazon to ravaging locust plagues on the Horn of Africa, 2020 was punctuated not only by the global COVID-19 pandemic but also a number of worrying reminders about the effects of climate change if left unchecked.
Over the past year, we witnessed the severe effects of belated action amid impending crises. While the timeframe for climate change is not measured in days or weeks, climate change headlines over the coming decade may not look dissimilar to those of the coronavirus pandemic. To this end, the blockchain and crypto community should look to apply lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic to the next impending global crisis: climate change.
Crypto and climate change
The blockchain and crypto community has undoubtedly been a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions produced by the aviation industry. According to a study published in the journal Global Environmental Change, frequent flyers are defined as individuals who travel “about 35,000 miles (56,000km) a year…equivalent to three long-haul flights a year, one short-haul flight per month, or some combination of the two.”
As a global, distributed community, those working in blockchain and crypto have probably spent an above-average amount of time in the air pre-pandemic. Frequent flyers, as defined above, likely account for more than half of the total emissions from passenger air travel, and around 2.4% of global CO2 emissions come from aviation. In total, experts estimate that the aviation industry is responsible for around 5% of global warming.
One roundtrip flight from London to New York produces the equivalent of 11% of the average annual emissions for someone in the United Kingdom, or nearly the same total emissions as someone living in Ghana over an entire year. Emissions produced by air travel can not only make up a significant portion of an individual’s carbon footprint but are also evidence of the stark inequalities of who produces emissions and who bears the heaviest burden.
An unintended consequence of coronavirus shutdowns included steep declines in air pollution and CO2 emissions. In China, for example, CO2 emissions temporarily fell by a quarter. While signs of environmental resilience are promising, these effects are only temporary unless sustained action is taken to curb emissions.
Unfortunately, improvements in fuel efficiency are not keeping pace with the rapid increase in total passengers year-over-year, meaning successful solutions to curb aviation emissions require individuals to reduce their flying.
The pandemic has shown us better solutions
While attempting to recreate in-person interactions over video conferencing yielded mixed results over the course of the pandemic, technology has been rapidly evolving to deliver more promising ways of interacting virtually, namely, using social, virtual and augmented reality.
Big Four auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers published a report that predicted that “23.5 million jobs worldwide would be using AR and VR by 2030 for training, work meetings, or to provide better customer service.” Online video conferencing wasn’t ready for a transition to fully virtual work, but in time, new promising solutions could deliver better, more immersive, photorealistic virtual environments far beyond our current 2D video conferencing realities.
The advancements in virtual reality being made by some companies point to a more widespread need for VR beyond its traditional uses in gaming and entertainment. As 2020 demonstrated, the world was unprepared for stay-at-home office culture. And while 2021 will surely realize the launch of more virtual office environments, reestablishing the loss of “being there,” the year will likely be defined by popular concerts using social-virtual reality, or SVR, technology. Take for example how concerts in Ibiza with David Guetta were being digitally created combining the most advanced technologies of SVR and AI. Pulling together such a concert is immensely more labor-intensive than recreating most office environments, and so it does seem that these new company launches will greatly accelerate the overall uptake of the SVR industry.
As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Developments in virtual reality will create a future where fewer meetings will need to take place in-person, allowing the blockchain and crypto community to reduce or eliminate emission-heavy non-essential business travel. Further innovations in the way of better emissions monitoring and standardization around how to calculate carbon footprints or a single blockchain-based platform to track carbon emissions could also lead to greater accountability for companies and individuals.
As an industry with a deep ethos of disruption, innovation and social responsibility, we should continue to look to new and innovative technologies, rather than the status quo, in doing our part to change our habits and tackle one of society’s most pressing challenges