Atoms for Bits

I am currently conducting at the CEMA called Envirocasting which is about making connections between the information environment and the natural environment.

One idea we have been exploring is the possibility of creating a form of currency that allows people to trade the maintenance of the environment for information that they want.

One model of how this might we will call EcoBux: A user of EcoBux contributes to the maintenance of an ecosystem service by sequestering carbon or treating organic waste on site (rather than going on trucks to a landfill) and verifies their activity through the EcoBux website. The user can manage and keep track of how much natural capital they have accumulated using their account on the site. This natural capital has a currency equivalent that can be spent in lieu of money on at virtual places such as the iTunes store, access to videogames or other subscription services. Media companies will be happy to accept EcoBux for two reasons:

1. As the price of information approaches zero the attention economy becomes more important to users than the financial cost of information. Sophisticated users will use torrents and other grey markets to access the media they want rather than pay for it if is relatively quick. Above ground producers need users to visit their site ensures eyeballs are coming, increasing advertising revenues and ensuring lock-in effect as users become acculturated and dependent on that media environment, with the expectation that they are willing to pay in the future.

2. Under carbon credit systems or other emerging environmental regimes that allows individuals and institutions to benefit from maintaining or improving ecosystem services, the companies would stand to gain from the credits / offsets created by the users of EcoBux.

Some of the challenges in implementing this kind of system include:

1. Verifying and measuring the work that users do. However, this may be more of an opportunity to produce and sell product service systems which measure and verify the maintenance or creation of natural capital.

2. Getting enough desirable information suppliers involved to attract and retain users.
There are many challenges to creating a market of this kind that scales, but there are many reasons why it may be the perfect time to get it off the ground:

It is universally recognized that the negative externality of environmental degradation threatens both the survival of our planet, our species and our economy. The problem of global climate change is well articulated, but solutions have been slow in coming and even slower in being implemented. Less universally understood is the problem of sustainable knowledge production.

The transition to an information economy is still up for grabs. The barriers to production of electronic of media have dropped close to zero. Music companies have struggled to find revenue models that preserve the profits they enjoyed in the days fixed media. These companies challenge of leveraging media content in an information saturated age where no one expects to pay very much. It is in this strange time where art and especially journalism have become negative externalities that everything is up for grabs. Independent musicians and journalists need to get compensated for their work, but in order to compete with the old guard have largely been giving their work away for free. Surely, in the long run we will see the development of markets that would be totally unrecognizable to the 20th century mind, but during this transition can media companies leverage their nearly worthless media holdings in exchange for environmental stewardship. Can we trade in some carbon for some silicone?

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