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Decentralising Nature Conservation

An Interview with Hans Henrik H. Heming, co-founder of Moonjelly

It’s an unfortunate fact of modern life that much of the innovation that helped our civilisation grow and thrive is also causing great harm to our planet. It’s as if every time we think we have found a solution to a problem, a counter problem will arise. For instance, in the early days of blockchain, many believed that this new technology would help address the issues we have with keeping track of the impact our activities have on nature. The idea was simple: The reason we had an environmental crisis, caused in large part by pollution and the overexploitation of natural resources, was because the global economy was full of stakeholders who were doing business without accountability and traceability. The blockchain was an answer to this, in that could potentially provide full transparency in all aspects of the economy, with the added benefit of making cheating and corruption more difficult.

It turned out too good to be true. In fact, so-called proof-of work blockchains like those of Bitcoin and Ethereum demand the consumption of large quantities of energy due to how the validation process of these blockchains function. The Ethereum blockchain alone has the same power consumption (at any given time) as the country of Kazakhstan, with a carbon footprint equivalent to Singapore. Of course, this is not good for the planet.

As a result, there is an intense race underway to limit the energy demand of blockchains. The Ethereum Foundation has spent the last five years trying to build an alternative consensus mechanism to the current one. Ethereum is thus expected to undergo an official transition from the energy-intensive proof-of-work method to a so-called proof-of-stake method which by design is much less energy-intensive.

Meanwhile, some blockchain start-ups are working on harnessing the technology to improve capabilities in nature preservation. Among them are Moonjelly, who have as their stated goal to use the power of web3 to decentralise and transform ocean conservation funding.

Among Moonjelly’s initiatives are the creation of a DAO (or Decentralised Autonomous Organisation), which is a type of organisation that has no central authority. Instead, the DAO’s token-holders participate in the management and decision-making of the organisation. The blockchain ensures that all votes and activity is transparent and publicly viewable. So-called ‘smart contracts’ – a kind of self-executing contract that is activated once its conditions are met, without the need for a central authority – provide the underlying foundations for the functioning of the DAO. In other words, DAOs are self-organising, mission-based communities of people.

The Moonley DAO – which the team of creators call ‘the DAO for the Ocean’ – utilises web3 technology in an attempt to reinvent how we fund, explore, and profit from restoring nature, using tools like Regenerative Finance and Impact NFTs as means.

In order to get a better sense of how this works, we sat down with co-founder of Moonjelly and a member of the DAO community, Hans Henrik H. Heming, to give us an insider’s look at what role DAOs can play in helping conserve nature.

Can you briefly explain the concept, vision and functionality of the Moonjelly DAO?

Let me first state that it is still early days in the startup garage, and nothing is chiselled in stone yet. However, overall, the Moonjelly umbrella consists of three units, one of which bears the name Moonjelly, but which is completely independent of the other two. 

We primarily have our marketplace where it is possible to purchase ocean impact that is wrapped in algorithmic computer code and subsequently available on a blockchain. We call it an ‘Impact NFT’, or ‘iNFT’. It follows that all the properties that apply to a blockchain also apply to that iNFT. 

Second, we are building an ocean community of members, our DAO, who all love the ocean, either because they are directly connected to it or because they want to help do good and create better conditions for the ocean. The members here come from all over the world, and they educate themselves here, where they are able to verify the ocean impact that is involved in the creation of our iNFT’s. 

And finally, we have our Moonjelly Foundation, which is completely independent from our marketplace and DAO. It is legally structured in the United States as a 501(3)(c), which means that donors can get tax deductions through their donation. The purpose of the Moonjelly Foundation is to define principles on a scientific basis which can be used by our DAO members, and any other DAO out there, to verify actual ocean impact. Impact needs to be described on an objective, scientific basis. Right now, there are 12 scientists here working groups to make that happen.

So, in other words, Moonjelly uses web3 and blockchain to decentralise ocean impact verification and enable companies and individuals to buy the impact. We make it possible to measure on output rather than input.

What is your vision for the future of your community? 

​​The vision for our community is that it becomes a meritocracy. In other words, the more you show you can do, the more you are allowed to do. It’s a bit like being a scout, here you participate in proficiency tests and if you pass, you get a small emblem you can put on your shirt. Doing so, everyone can see your competencies and you thus qualify for specific tasks.

We define the emblems in our community as additional NFT’s – we call them ‘Community NFTs’, or ‘cNFTs’. The list of your achieved cNFTs becomes your toolbox which can be activated in specific community tasks while also determining your role in the community.

Doing so we motivate and engage those who really have the desire and ability to do good for the ocean, not those who want to make money doing a quick NFT flip.

It is no secret that blockchain technology does not have a particular good reputation when it comes to the strain it puts on the environment. Why does the world need decentralised communities using blockchain and web3 to fight climate change and further nature conservation?

I believe we need to activate the many in order for us to have a fighting chance against climate change – and finding solutions to the challenges of the sea are a big part of the solution to climate change. We need every man on deck.

Unlike web1 and web2 – in which centrally governed websites or social networks own the value creation – web3 now makes it possible for users to own their value creation, which can be stored in their own digital wallets. In other words, you work for yourself rather than the owner of Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube.

I also think the discourse around the energy issue of blockchain is one-sidedly negative. Blockchains makes it possible to see and calculate the energy consumption for any application in a transparent way. But when the energy question hits a headline, it almost never happens with a comparison of the traditional process or business practice that the use of blockchain tries to replace. It seems unfair and arguably directly misleading.

That said, companies and individuals should always ask themselves what footprint they leave behind when doing their activities. We do the same at Moonjelly and we are very aware that the structures we put in place, and the technology we use, are better in terms of energy than the processes and actors we seek to replace.

Most people probably associate NFTs with digital art and wild value speculation. What is the difference between these kinds of NFTs and your iNFTs? 

First of all, I think it is important to recognise the radical development and innovation that is going on throughout the cryptoverse. The development happening in the NFT subcategory is no exception. Even so, development is one thing. Another thing is also the perceived perception of what an NFT is and what it can do. So far, the narrative around NFTs has been quite one-dimensional.

In Moonjelly – as in other crypto impact projects – we have seen a need to differentiate ourselves from NFT projects such as Crypto-punks and Bored Ape, which are both fantastic examples of what NFT can do, but not representative of the things we believe in and the value we want to create. That is why we spend a lot of energy defining a new type of NFT, our iNFT, which includes facts about the created impact, where it has happened, by whom, when and on the basis of what dataset the impact has been verified.

You were recently invited to Davos to discuss decentralisation and nature ocean conservation. How was the response to your mission in Switzerland?

I found the response overwhelming. In addition to the official agenda, Davos was dominated by discussions about blockchain and web3. There were countless workshops, roundtables, and panel discussions on how these new technological opportunities are going to change the world. Overall, it was very uplifting.

The overriding problem when it comes to ocean preservation is that so far there has been a focus on input rather than output. Here our solution suddenly becomes incredibly relevant and the timing perfect.

My experience of Davos is that the event is a great opportunity to create focus on pressing issues, but that this is not done best by explaining what you as a company, nation state or an individual would like to do. Instead, it is done by showing what you have done already. I clearly sensed a desire and need to do good for the world – and fortunately many things happen. But it is not enough.

Many companies are looking to develop their ESG strategy to include taking care of nature. Do you foresee a future where web3 and blockchain work together with subject matter experts to align sustainability goals and business strategies? 

In my opinion, there is no doubt at all that companies are increasingly being pressured by their stakeholders and society in general to deliver fully into the SDG / ESG agenda.

The challenge in relation to climate is that the world has equated doing good for the climate with companies reducing their carbon footprint. It is extremely one-dimensional and a devastating oversimplification. In addition, it is still accepted practice to buy carbon offset credits to balance the carbon you may emit as part of your production. The market for carbon credits is very poorly regulated, and at best a little variegated.

Blockchain offers some intermediate solutions in that it makes access to data transparent and accountable. This means that companies will be able to document the real offset and impact they create to a much greater extent than what is the case today. The challenge is that there are large market forces and players who will not think it is such good idea.

It’s not just about measuring carbon footprints. Rather, it’s about defining the measurement points correctly and creating access to data so that everyone can see them and trust them.

Blockchain can enable companies to actively demonstrate a data-verified impact, making them trustworthy and market relevant.

If you were to give one piece of advice to companies who want to start working with a DAO, what would it be?

Take your time, experiment and start centralised. I know that DAO is the new buzzword, and although I actually think we will see the contours of a new legal organisational form here, change does not happen overnight.

Right now, the concept of DAO is sexy, it’s new and shiny. The fact is that just because we have a new technological opportunity, you do not necessarily need to change all the rules of the game. In my experience, the rules of the game have not changed, even though the platform is new. In part, there are still hierarchical structures, and there is still trust that needs to be built up between the participants. Do not overthink a solution, just get started!