Elon Musk stirred up quite the storm recently when he tweeted about the power consumed in bitcoin mining. Right or wrong is debatable, but he undeniably started a conversation around the environmental sustainability of crypto currencies. But maybe there is more to this debate than just electricity consumption.
Imagine a world where your motivation to work is not money, but satisfaction. Your survival doesn't depend on how much you slog in a day. Your access to basic necessities does not depend on how much time and peace of mind you've sacrificed in making money. As far fetched as these statements sound, their rhetoric is unfortunately true. Everyone works to earn money, one way or another. And the emotion that these few statements possibly evoke, is the very reason why our civilization is headed for a climate catastrophe.
That said, the possible scenario I describe above, may not be as far fetched as it seems. Why? Because of the dawn of cryptocurrencies. Now I know you must have read a lot about this term by now, but I'm trying to examine whether this new concept can eventually solve our biggest troubles.
Let me state at the outset, that if you've read Tim Jackson's "Prosperity without Growth", you're much more likely to resonate with the thoughts I present here.
Essentially, I'm an ardent fan of his theory. Not only because it is deconstructivist to it's core, but also because it delineates the very foundation of achieving true sustainability, i.e., material consumption. In summary, he argues that till the time we measure our "prosperity" and "growth" in terms of material consumption, our greed for more possessions is going to keep fueling industrial production, thereby promoting consumption of resources, environment degrading processes, and waste generation. I can not agree more with this idea.
Apart from the industrial production aspect though, lies the larger systemic problem; capitalist centralized economics. Our competition for possessions is the root cause of most human health problems today. We work more, in an increasingly competitive environment, to earn more, so that we can buy and spend more. Money has become the very foundation of human civilization. We're in the middle of a global pandemic, and in the midst of lockdowns across the globe, the single largest dilemma for all human life is whether to save lives via physical isolation, or risk obliteration via an economic standstill.
I'm sure many of us have wondered why must we should face this dilemma at all. Isn't it a simple choice? Life over money. How is that so difficult?
Early human civilization "traded" using a barter system. They produced what they could, and exchanged it for what they couldn't. It was a perfectly logical system. Even when currency was invented and used during the rule of kings and empires, it wasn't as complicated, up till the industrial revolution when centralization of financial power began to take place. Large corporations came into being, that today not only control the flow and value of money, but also enjoy significant power over global governance. In the age of democracy, money has been completely centralized. There is more inequality than ever before, because your possession of money now decides your place in the global pecking order, and all (or about 50% anyway) of money is controlled by a mere 1% of the global population. It is the bane that causes all social, governance, institutional and environmental unsustainability.
This is where decentralized financial systems, or cryptocurrencies, are making a disruptive entry. If you know or read about the technology behind these currencies, they're essentially networks, consisting of participants that conduct transactions within a set framework of rules. There are no authorities or governing bodies to decide the rules, the participants reach consensus to decide them, through mathematical logic rather than personal discretion.
Conceptually, every participant can generate their own currency (popularly known as mining) and participate in the system, or simply participate in the system to gain currency and grow it thereafter. And there are new tools and algorithms being developed everyday, to make this system more accessible to the masses.
Technicalities of functioning apart, the most important aspect here is the core idea behind the movement, that is basically democratizing finance. Theoretically speaking, people can literally make their own money. It's taking the financial system back to it's barter days, just in the age of cutting edge technology. With increased adoption, the technology and frameworks are improving, with the objective to make the system more inclusive rather than exclusive. From here, it's not too difficult to imagine a scenario where people are not running after money, because everyone has the tools to generate what they need, through nothing more than a mobile phone, and even average internet, potentially negating the greed that drives all malpractices.
This is not to say that this utopia would be easily achieved. Far from it. There's decades of inertia and power to confront. And the system needs terabytes of development, and maturity as a concept, before it can reach a level to make such an impact. Nor is it solving many other problems that plague us. But this is the potential endgame. And it is possible.
In this context, it's not too difficult to understand why corporations and governments are adamantly opposing, or refusing to embrace, the proliferation of cryptocurrencies. Under the garb of security and safety concerns, these centers of concentrated power are attempting to protect their power, as always.
Of course one could argue how chaotic this unlimited access to wealth could be. My perspective is this though, the competition and drive to concentrate personal wealth comes from an inherent fear and insecurity of not having any. If we were to rid ourselves of that fear and insecurity, we would free ourselves to develop beyond our personal wealth. As a collective society, we would be far more productive and positive if we did not have the insecurities of poverty. And there's evidence of that in developed countries right now. The more "prosperous" societies are also the most progressive.
What would you do with your time and life if you did not have to worry about earning money?