Smart Contracts to restore Nature – an interview with Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore

“Translating the pledges to mathematical formulas and using IoT devices to measure the actual trends in climate change in each participating nation is one way to enforce the strict rules that are missing today and bridge the value action gap,” says Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore, an experienced software engineer and research assistant at New York University Tandon School of Engineering where she applies the potential of technology to implement sustainability in economic operations.

The COP25 theme was “Time for Action”, yet came to a rather sobering closing without sincere plans for actions, aside the San Jose Principles. – Gilles Dufrasne, policy officer at Carbon Market Watch sayd: “Currently, carbon markets risk creating massive loopholes to reach climate targets on paper without actually reducing emissions, it’s cheating. Certain countries want to exploit the past to cheat the future when what we need is real action to match the scale of the climate emergency.” Furthermore reports: “Environmentalists say strict rules will be integral to the success of any global trading scheme, and must prevent double counting — in which both the countries buying and selling a given credit claim the reduction as their own.” – Can you elaborate why blockchain could be the predestined solution to the “double-spending problem” that stalled the COP25 negotiations?

Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore: I personally view blockchain as a way to transalate rules to code. Once in code, it is more or less set in stone. If we are able to translate the conditions, for trading carbon offests as specified by the Paris Agreement, to code, it would definitely eradicate the problem of double-spending and would not dispense any tokens (that could be used to keep track of emission cuts of a country) for the country that sells the emission cuts.

This way, there would be no further confusion with respect to carbon offset trading and all the stalling would be unnecessary and the countries would be able to focus on the topics that actually would impact the future.

Web application integrated with the case study of GreenBlox.

In how far can the self-enforcing code of smart contracts deliver the strict rules which are missing by today, to help bridge the value action gap between pledges and real actual climate action?

Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore: Smart contracts are more or less a way to translate the agreed upon conditions to code. These are not mutable without the agreement of all the involved parties. That being said, consider a mechanism placed on the blockchain that can monitor and track each nation’s progress towards meeting their own pledge for climate action. The entities of the blockchain are the nations that are part of the Paris Agreement. Translating the pledges to mathematical formulas and using IoT devices to measure the actual trends in climate change in each participating nation is one way to enforce the strict rules that are missing today and bridge the value action gap.

Together with Meigy Ulina, Kushan Singh and Srihari Nanniyur you created the project Greenblox where you leverage the trust, security and transparency provided by the blockchain technology to distribute tokens to nations based on their emission index. – Can you talk us through the building blocks and the mechanism of your project?

Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore: Each member of our group come from a diverse background, but, we soon realised one concern that tied us together – climate change. The idea took inception at a hackathon at Consensus 2019.

We soon understood the tight knot between economy, environment and corruption. This is what motivated us to come up with the following solution:

>Each nation that is part of the Paris Agreement will be considered as an organization on the blockchain.

>The pledges, for example, the one by India as specified by the table published on Climate Action Tracker, can be translated to a mathematical formula and coded up as smart contracts.

Pledges and targets, source: Climate Action Tracker

>This needs to be done for each nation and the smart contracts need to be uploaded on the blockchain.

>IoT devices can then be used in locations agreed upon by all nations and readings from these devices can then be tested against the coded up metrics.

>The location of these devices and the time gap between each measurement from the devices is still up for discussion as each idea has its own pros and cons.

>For the project in mind, the decided metric was quarterly measurements, and the average of the readings from all the major cities of a country would be considered.

>The metrics are compared against a threshold that determines if a token needs to be dispensed to a country or not.

>If the country’s emissions is below the threshold, then a token is dispensed, otherwise it is not.

The token can then be leveraged in several ways:

>One way is to peg a financial value to each token, maybe based on the investment required by a developing country to reduce the emission by 0.01%.

>Another way to leverage the token is by pegging it to a mutually agreed upon increment in GDP.

>A nation could also leverage these tokens to take a loan from the World Bank and use it towards further climate change actions.

>These tokens can also be used by the World Bank to direct the Sustainable Development Goals Fund towards the right nations and in right quantities.

Greenblox flowchart by Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore.

How can your project support policymakers at regional, national or supranational level to incentivize the right assets for effective, sustainable development?

Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore: Once the policy makers, whether regional or national level, realize that ecological development is translating to economical development, they would understand the benefits of building policies that encourage ecological growth. In majority of scenarios, we see that several projects have recieved funding, yet the emission levels did not fall down. But, by continuously monitoring the progress of a nation, it would hold the policy makers accountable to the cause. The transparancy provided by blockchain, can further motivate the citizens to question the actions of the government and hold them accountable, since, everyone has something to gain here. On the supranational level, each nation can observe and understand the contribution made by other nations (again due to the transparancy) and can learn about policies that might have led to such changes. Nations can further change international policies (such as ones related to burning of foreign garbage in developing nations which in turn holds both the involved countries accountable) that might in turn lead to bettering its own emmision cuts.

Smart contract code to send token to a country when the measured and ascertained emission is lesser than the threshold.

World Green Building Council in collaboration with RESET and partners at the Earth Day Network and the Wilson Center launched the “Plant a Sensor” campaign to drive worldwide air quality monitoring in and outside of buildings. – How easily could your project hook onto this initiative and its sensory data in order to help translate its monitoring into real positive effects and climate action?

Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore: The “Plant a Sensor“ project depicts how easy it will be to implement Greenblox. Although, the current blockchain technology might not support all the data from all the sensors, the data can none the less serve as a point of verification. In order to achieve compliance with current technology constraints, we can also intelectually design methodologies to choose data points sporadically as input to the blockchain. The only reason to add this data onto a blockchain is to maintain the established trust via the Smart Contracts. This would help translate the efforts of monitoring into tangible tokens. 

I even created a proof of concept with a Raspberry Pi and a SDS011 High Precision Air Quality monitoring sensor running on Quorum to check for feasibility.

You can read more about running Quorum on Raspberry Pi in my article on Medium here.

Prototype by Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore: Rasperry Pi 3B attached to an SDS011 high precision air quality detection sensor that acts as a node on the Quorum blockchain.

Your project Greenblox relies on IoT devices that collect real-time, location-based pollution data. Now, the sharing- & platform economy may has left us with the issue of ‘platform ownership’ as an unfinished sympathy. The same property issue could be argued for data aggregated through IoT-sensors. – In Barcelona, Francesca Bria and her team of Decode applied air quality sensors and more which are operated by citizens, to encourage the creation of new social rights to data. – In Stuttgart, the OK Lab Stuttgart (part of Code for Germany) disseminates DIY fine dust sensors through the citizen science project – How do you envision democratic tech?

Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore: I think this idea is wonderful. This way, data is truly open source and distributed and the trend in the data is more of the collective truth than the intention of any single or small group of individuals. If we think of artificial intelligence, one would instantly realise that we do not have data that has trended in a manner similar to this before. So, collecting this data helps us understand unbiased current trends.

In the case of Greenblox, I envision democratic tech the same way that Climate Chain Coalition does, wherein we can come up with a scheme to monitor and incentivize each individual for their contribution towards climate change. Everyone should be able to provide data regarding the initiatives they took to improve the climate – may it be reporting data, validating data or monitoring data. Each citizen will be responsible for the climate actions taken by their country.

“Text display of air quality level in my room,” Kavayashree Umesh Bangalore.

How could your project code a difference through driving civic tech that allows citizens to reconquer their data sovereignty while simultaneously benefiting the common good?

Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore: I believe that our project can actually bring in a huge difference through civic tech since this is the best way to tackle corruption. Most of the times, at a governance level, false data, especially regarding climate change might be released to reduce backlash from citizens. But, this is something that affects the health of each individual, children being the most vulnerable. Through blockchain, we can ensure the security and transparancy of the data being published internationally. By leveraging civic tech, we can ensure the validity of this data and it is only possible through the collective efforts of all the citizens.

After your project publication at the UN crowdsourcing platform “united ideas”: What are your next steps?

Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore: The next steps have been towards building a prototype. I already have one in my home.

The support we are looking for is from representatives at the UN who would be able to pitch such a project at conferences and help us understand what technical changes might be required in order to increase adaptability.

We would also like to consult with subject matter experts who would be able to help us sketch down the minute details required to get the Paris Agreement on the blockchain.

Since, we are students, especially from developing countries, we came up with an economic scheme to implement this idea. But, with contribution from civic tech, we can take this project to unimaginable heights, at very reasonable costs.

“The GUI display of air qualitiy in my room,” Kavayashree Umesh Bangalore.

With Greenblox you aspire to support developing countries, since the poor, marginalized, and young in low-income and middle-income-countries are hit hardest by the health effects from air, land and water pollution. You state that about 92% of all pollution-related mortality is seen in low-income and middle-income countries. – Additionally to suffering from environmental and subsequent health damages, developing countries also suffer from an innovation gap. – What is your view: How can we redesign distribution mechanisms for knowledge- & technology-transfer to enable clean technologies and innovation abilities fairly for all?

Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore: I think funding is the most important factor that has led to this innovation gap. Several times, in developing nations, due to corruption or many other factors, the funds do not reach those in need to achieve the innovation.

One way to tackle this would be to reward innovation at a national and international scale, which would in turn fetch further funding, not just for the project but for the nation as a whole. This way, the citizens can hold the governments and insitutions accountable for their actions as each and everyone can visibly see the impact of corruption on their life.

We actually considered this topic while constructing the idea of Greenblox as well. Our goal is to ensure a fail proof way to convince governments to take more green initiatives at a national scale.

Prototype by Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore: Rasperry Pi 3B attached to an SDS011 high precision air quality detection sensor that acts as a node on the Quorum blockchain.

“It begins with an ethos of responsibility for the whole — to mimic nature’s quest to give back more than it takes. We must accept our role as contributing members of a larger system and allow that ethos to inform our day-to-day decisions,” says Dakota Walker in our previous interview. Recently, you took part in a hackathon (organized by Shannon Aziz at New York University), that was dedicated to “behaviour change” in order to make the planet great again: How can we nudge behaviour change in ourselves, to evolve an ethos for responsibility for the whole, worldwide societies, all species, planet earth, our common future?

Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore: When I initially understood the concept of global warming, I cared about the environment deeply and started working towards it as much as possible within my outreach. Soon, I came to understand the emotion of “Not in my backyard“, where in, people did not care about things as long as it affected them. This hindered my efforts a lot. A simple way to deal with this is to make people realise how much global warming has actually affected every single person’s life (directly or indirectly). Some more than others. As humans, we have the natural instinct to look out for ourselves and our families. As we know, global warming is not only affecting us, but our future generations as well. If each of us actually realise this, then we will be nudged to take action. This is when we realise that what is affecting our families is affecting our neighbours‘ too and that is when we will be nudged to think of our common future, the fate of all species and planet earth itself. But, we need to start within ourselves and then broaden the vision towards our planet.

contact: Kavyashree Umesh Bangalore

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