In its most basic term, blockchain is a database of transactions that can be arranged and added to in “blocks”. Each block represents and identifies previous transactions using cryptographic functions, to create an unbroken chain of custody for goods or services that, importantly, cannot be modified.
Acting as a digital ledger, blockchain creates a verifiable audit trail that can be used for any transaction, and this is where its impact on sustainability begins to take shape. Blockchain can be implemented – and in some cases, is already used – across numerous sectors, from forestry and fisheries to carbon accounting and energy.
It is a self-governing, online database owned by no one and usable by everyone. Because the “chain” can’t be modified* it can immediately provide proof of purchase for any transaction, whether that be procurement of sustainable materials to purchasing renewable energy.
Last Friday I went to a talk in Redfern, with Costas and the creators of the Seed Saver’s Network, Jude and Michel Fenton. The evening was real eye opener. The Seed Savers’ Network was established in 1986 to preserve local varieties of useful plants. Have a read about their fascinating story on their website www.seedsavers.net
Here is Costa’s interview with Dr Vandana Shiva, my favorite activist and campaigner. Find out more about her work on her blog www.navdanya.org
Excellent article about patents by Pieter Hintjens.
While politicians see patents as an easy measure of industrial power, the reality is far darker. Patents act more like a legislative parasite that consumes the industrial base, and replaces it with cartels and trolls. Essentially, as soon as patents are introduced into a sector and start to bite — after a delay of five to ten years — they tip the economics back to front. Producing new products becomes dangerous, while buying new patents becomes profitable.
The damage is often invisible until much later. Large firms accept the cost of patent conflicts as the price of doing business and a useful barrier to smaller competitors. Small firms try to remain under the radar, assuming that trolls will not see them (yet). Patent deals are typically secretive, so most conflicts remain invisible. Since innovation cycles are often many years, and patents take many years to be examined and granted, everything may be going very well, for many electoral cycles, before the public lawsuits explode.
By the time every large firm is embroiled in five, ten, a hundred patent lawsuits in parallel, it is too late. The only way to win a war is to buy bigger weapons. Eventually the trolls get their pound of flesh, the large firms all settle into comfortable cartels, the small innovators go elsewhere, and peace returns.
The market is, by this stage, effectively dead. We get the Microsofts and the Nokias. Large firms do not innovate well. The general model is to buy smaller innovators and then mass-market those new ideas. But patent wars push small innovators out of the market.
An optimistic viewpoint would say that parasites eventually reach equilibrium with their hosts, and it is only when they jump to new hosts that they are deadly. A pessimistic viewpoint would say that it is the newest fields of technology — software, alternative energies, genetics — that are the most essential to human survival, and the most vulnerable to the spread of the patent system.
At their core, patents reflect an 18th century view of the market. The basis for patents is as valid as the old theory that disease spread by “bad air”. We have used science and evidence to create progress in every other field. It is ironic that the patent system, claiming to be essential to progress, depends on old faith-based arguments that were discredited 150 years ago.
So, we have an old discredited system that rejects reform, that infiltrates the political and business establishment, that turns living markets into zombies run by cartels and trolls, that spreads to vulnerable, essential areas of technology, that puts humanity’s very survival at stake. The conclusions and next steps are yours to make.