So much of the present discussion about blockchain is rooted in finance, and as such focuses on the features of blockchain which suit that sphere— smart contracts, trustless transactions. But when we’re thinking about the future of environmental data, and the ways in which blockchain can enable it, different features of the ledger glow into activation — democracy, equality of access, non-financial value, data ownership.
The need for a faster, wider and more accessible environmental data network is clear — but who should own it? Governments? Corporations? Academia? Or everyone? Shouldn’t it belong to the world, to all of us?
In 2018, Project Drawdown’s director Jonathan Foley was quoted in a Forbes article as saying “Blockchain systems might be reasonably secure… they still suffer from the idea of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. If the original record is a lie, it’s still a lie”. This concern is commonly voiced by parties with a vested interest in the “gatekeeping” of data.
At SEA Token, we believe that the democratisation of access to this data is the only viable model for a global environmental data network. “What’s to stop the original data record — about an acre of land cleared in the rainforest, an illegally harvested tree, or an unsustainable supply chain — from being a lie?”, asked Foley. Right now, using centralised data models to gather and store environmental information, it’s a simple process for someone to create that lie.
Look at the car manufacturers falsifying emissions data, the oil companies deliberately collecting incomplete data samples to skew conclusions. If the sources, storage and processing of this data was decentralised, we wouldn’t have to rely on Exxon for data on the impact of fossil fuels, or on Volkswagen for data on their emissions. The data about that acre of land cleared in a rainforest, rather than being recorded in a private database by a single party who may or may not be operating altruistically, could be recorded on a public ledger by any number of sources. These sources could be compared and corroborated. They might disagree. They might agree on everything except the type of trees, the species present, or the precise area cleared. Common data points can be mapped to extract a minimum consensus, and build a picture of “truth”.
Let’s look at the problem. Right now, wherever you are, critical environmental changes are happening around you. The quality of the air and water, the presence/absence of species, the temperature, weather patterns — picture all of these factors and many more as a constant flow of data passing by you.
Now, depending on where you live, there might be apparatus nearby to monitor this data. A weather station, an air quality monitoring station, or some other collection of devices. Or, there might not. You might be in a remote place, with nothing like that within 50 miles. In the first scenario, a single record of data is gathered from your location, stored centrally, analysed by parties who have been granted access, and publicised according to their policies. In the second scenario, no data exists.
So, best case scenario, we hope that:
- There are sufficient data-gathering stations or mobile investigative teams globally to provide a complete picture
- The apparatus in each station (or used by each team) works as expected
- Data storage is secure, maintained, and built with redundancy and operated responsibly
- Access to the data is not unreasonably withheld, the parties granted access are responsible and altruistic, and have sufficient expertise to properly analyse it
- The conclusions of their work are transparently published without bias, manipulation, suppression or any other influence
It’s a credit to the global scientific community that these five conditions are frequently fulfilled, but there are weak points. Funding shortages, lobbying pressures, geographical barriers, reliance upon the efficacy of individual organisations, and state influence all have a hand in messing up every one of those five points, at some stage. The ultimate goal of environmental data monitoring — to maintain an all-seeing eye, constantly monitoring every important metric at every location worldwide, ready to flag up potential situations of concern — is being held back by centralisation.
This is where SEA dApps come in. We’ve divided SEA dApps into three distinct applications for ease of use and understanding, but they’re really three faces of the same decentralised process.
SEAscore is a dApp for gathering data such as air/water/soil quality, temperature, ecoacoustic data, habitat observations, species presence/absence and other key indicators. You can think of this as the monitoring station, all tooled up with the capacity to read, store and transmit environmental data. It will run on any mobile device or in any browser, with extremely low spec requirements, and store all data gathered to the blockchain.
SEAhub classifies and processes the data gathered. It can be used to extrapolate meaningful information from huge datasets, to recognise regional and global trends in ocean quality, and to identify and predict ocean emergencies. We’re building a pool of AI filters to:
- Identify potentially false or misleading data
- Differentiate between “incorrect” data and genuine data indicating extreme environmental conditions
- Group data into “buckets” for faster and easier quantification and trend analysis
- Automatically rate data quality and relevance
- Connect/curate data streams to/for individuals
Finally, SEAsignal is a dApp designed to form an output for the conclusions of analysis on SEAhub. SEAsignal takes feeds from SEAhub, and allows them to be shared to media, governments, social media, mailing lists, etc. It is designed to amplify the messages resulting from data analysis, and share critical environmental data to as wide a network as possible.
There would be no point in decentralising the input and output points of this process if the tools themselves were a kind of gatekeeper — so, critically, SEA dApps are open source. The ongoing development and maintenance of the dApps, and the addition of new project forks and parallels, will be in the hands of the global community.
Now that we know more about how SEA dApps are going to work, let’s look at our five big hopes again:
1. There are sufficient data-gathering stations globally to provide a complete picture.
✅ One person with a smartphone = one data-gathering station.
2. The apparatus in each station works as expected.
✅ By making everything we build open source, we’ll make sure SEA dApps are a living, growing thing, adapting to change and becoming the best possible iteration of the concept.
3. The storage is secure, maintained, and built with redundancy and operated responsibly.
✅ That’s blockchain.
4. Access to the data is not unreasonably withheld, the parties granted access are responsible and altruistic, and have sufficient expertise to properly analyse it.
✅ Again, that’s blockchain — every single byte will be public, the world’s entire resource of environmental data will be decentralised and available for anyone to access.
5. The conclusions of their work are transparently published without bias, manipulation, suppression or any other influence.
✅ SEAhub and SEAscore will help users to draw conclusions from the data, but those conclusions are ultimately in the hands of the user. Our dApps give people the power to interpret potentially enormous amounts of environmental data, and draw conclusions — they also allow communities to compare conclusions after working on the same data. Under this way of working, oil companies would not be able to present false data and have it published as truth — or rather they would, but there would be an army of more altruistic conclusions drawn from the same data proving them wrong. What’s more, since all three dApps are open source, the code used to build those conclusions (including the AI filters) is also determined by the global community.
Industry 4.0 — the bit in industrial history where machines start talking to each other, managing each other and themselves, automating processes previously controlled by humans and generally walking around acting like they own the place — is upon us. As with previous industrial revolutions, it presents opportunities, and risks. We believe that one of the most important (if not the most important) opportunities is the ability to know how our planet is doing, globally, at all times. Knowing in real time exactly what kind of problems are occuring, and where, and why, is the first step to solving them.
To stay up to date on the progress of SEA dApps, our environmental launchpad SEAstarter, and the progress of SEA Token as we fund and support the work of the world’s largest ocean protection organisations, head over to www.seatoken.org