What if Nature could create value and re-distribute it to humans?
Do you ever step aside to allow a daffodil room to breathe if you are walking in the park? Great, then you are a step ahead of many when it comes to providing nature with agency. However, after speaking with Alessandro Mazzi about a new, exciting project this week, it is clear that nature will have a greater voice in the future.
Sovereign Nature Initiative was established last year by three innovative founders that are interested in the rights of nature and how can technology allow nature's agency to recognize that the non-human world is also speaking to us. Teams of what the initiative has called Germinators include Space4Good, Biocenosis, Nature Data Union, Recheck, Centree, Sattva, ORGO, and Hyphal Network will participate in a hackathon in Amsterdam later this month to test their ideas.
Speaking with Alessandro, one of the first employees at Sovereign Nature Initiative we gain insights into a movement that is designed to deepen our connection with the natural world around us.
The idea behind the initiative is both philosophical and technological.
“What we have now is the scientific revolution between the human and everything else outside of the human mind. That has created a relationship of domination on nature and the natural environment as if it was a machine that we can take advantage of. Paired with that philosophical outlook, there was a blockchain entrepreneur. He knows the potential of the Web3 space. And he said, we've got DAO's, we've got self-sovereign identities, why don't we give those to nature so that it can create and generate its own value, capture it and holds it, and then re-distribute it to the human beings that take care of it.”
At the end of 2020, the team began to figure out how to evolve the bigger ideas and vision into the initiative today. The first idea was to create a hackathon.
“We want teams to do something cool but based on an actual, real challenge in the real world. We partner up with a nature stewards which can be an individual with a big piece of land but usually organizations are community led or an NGO that takes care of a piece of land. This is what we did with the hackathon last year. The only questions we ask are, are you open to exploring these new technologies and do you have data?”
The approach allows teams to monitor environments and understand the challenges that can be addressed. The solutions that come out of these hackathons are thought-provoking to say the least.
“An Indian team that we worked with twice in two hackathons developed a platform called Sattva, which basically involves an AI powered camera that takes pictures of nonhumans. It can be a dog, it can be a plant automatically. So there's an AI taking pictures only of non-humans. It takes a picture and automatically runs it through an algorithm, which is a generative art. This piece of art can be automatically sold on an open marketplace, an NFT marketplace. The value of the revenue created from the sale of that piece of art is collected automatically by a DAO that represents the park where that picture was taken from.”
“This improves the natural economy where nature automatically, without any human intervention, creates its own value. And that value then is the governance side of things, or how it's distributed is stood up a question mark. They haven't figured it out, but ideally, it would only be distributed to the volunteers that work in the park”
Inspiring individual activism
With the knowledge provided by the technology, people are empowered to understand nature from nature's points of view but also inspired to take action and to create campaigns basically in a very decentralized, self-organizing way.
“Solutions are very much about enabling citizens to take action based on data. They collect themselves in it. That is from the bottom up created. The knowledge is created from individuals rather than governments telling you what is happening top-down, which is very exciting. It's empowering people to understand what's going on. One example is a team that used air quality measurement and sensors that were installed in the city by individuals. And based on that, the team showed that places close to natural environments have a much cleaner air than other places where there's no nature. And by doing that, they can create a gorilla campaign for planting trees. They can create a movement.”
Building tech with insights
Sovereign Nature Initiative has used the hackathons to map out the technology and solutions available and is figuring out the various components that will allow them to provide agency to non-humans. As Mazzi pointed out, that could be giving a wallet to a tree but the main idea is to create value where nature is valued more alive.
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A winning team
When speaking about the founders Mazzi is quick to point to their admirable traits and drive to move forward with utopian ideas.
Andrea Leiter is a Professor of international law at the University of Amsterdam with a research focus on technology-enabled governance. She has written a lot of papers about the problems and the potential of blockchain. Florian Schmidt brings vast creative experience with a diverse background from being a musician to owning his own agency. With this initiative, they are actively involved in the development of a more sustainable future for the next generation. He brings the more experiential part to the initiative and the artistic parts. Then we've got Ewald Hesse, who is the main benefactor of the foundation. And also the tech mind. “He coordinates the direction where we go in terms of tech development. He connects us to partners that are, that he thinks are, you know, the right partners to, to engage with when building technology.”
“He is very visionary. He looks really far ahead sometimes. You know, it feels like Utopia at times, which is great. He has a lot of imagination. And then we've got Andrea who is more like maybe more careful. She comes from the academic world. She pays attention to language and how language and technology and science actually brought us at times to make huge mistakes and how we relate to the natural world. She's very careful."
“That dynamic between the two is very unique and that's what makes the sovereign nature initiative very beautiful. We have the utopian drive to move forward with crazy ideas. And on the other hand, the careful approach, that makes us think and reflect, and slow down at times. Are we just reinventing the wheel? Are we making the same mistakes or are we actually creating something new? Then Florian is a bit of both.”
Getting a non-human perspective
How can you put yourself in the shoes of non-humans to get a different perspective of the environment around you? The initiative is turning our traditional views of nature being the provider upside down. As Mazzi mentions our current view is that “nature is there to serve us where the idea of us serving nature. It's not really been, at least in the technosphere, talked about.”
Mazzi notes that the initiative wants to work with technology that connects and allows us to value nature. Demonstrating that value can be created through nature in innovative ways and captured by nature.
“So one of the things that we say to do is look through nature, but also like technology that cares and serves the non-human world. I think that's another shift in action. Like what do we do that is in service to all of the living? I mean, the idea of us being separate is the same as seeing our bodies separate from our minds. So now I think of separation that we need to sort of solve.”
Sovereign Nature Initiative is being supported by Unique Network from the Polkadot ecosystem. When speaking about the partnership Mazzi points to the energy consumption issues facing other blockchains.
“And one main reason is that Substrate and the layer zero of Polkadot is proof of stake right from the start. And that allows us to create tech where there are no externalities or very low externalities in terms of energy consumption."
“Unique Network says that to mint an NFT on Ethereum uses four days households consumption, and that’s just one NFT. And they're meeting when it's of an NFT is, and the CO2 they create that generates is an exhale. So the example of your breath, that's how much CO2 is.
“We don't want to create technology that creates new problems. We've been focusing on solving a solution and by focusing on a narrow solution, then a new problem emerged somewhere else that we're not expecting, especially when working with nature it's so easy to not see there all the complexity of a forest ecosystem or, you know, so the partnership with Unique has been very important for us because at least the problem of energy consumption is solved from the bottom up.”
The team is keen to slow down to get up to speed with the right solutions and outcomes which is always difficult in the fast-paced world of Web3.
“We're trying to really take it slow, which is very hard because technology goes very fast. So we have, again, the fast running train and the careful slow train, that's trying to kind of like adapt. it's a challenge and we need to make sure that we take advantage of the speed and of innovation in Web3.”
There is a team of 12 currently working on the initiative and the hackathon provides access to a wide breadth of talent across the globe. The next event will take place over two days in a natural environment in Amsterdam and the hackathon teams work on how we can incentivize citizens to take care of their natural environment so that it can become sort of like a citizen movement towards the regeneration of urban ecologists.