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Published on September 18th, 2019 | by Guest Contributor


DWeb: Leveraging Technology For Environmental Protection & Disaster Relief

September 18th, 2019 by  

by Noah Crowe

I’ve just returned from the Decentralized WebCamp held this year at a regenerative mushroom farm in Santa Cruz, California.

A global community hailing from Brazil, Germany, China, India, Canada, Russia, and everywhere in between participated to bring their own unique contributions to the many domains of the Decentralized Web, or “DWeb.”

As a layperson, a builder, a campfire storyteller, I’m more analog than a Walkman (it’s an old tape deck featured in the ’80s hit “Back To The Future”), so I struggled to understand what, exactly, DWeb is all about.

But high-concept technology is just theoretical until you put it into use, so I started asking questions given my personal experience with the wildfires that raged through California last year, and my study of how we not only recover from natural disasters, but also how people around the world protect their natural environments from harms like poaching, logging, dumping, etc.

While DWeb is much bigger in scope than these interests of mine, if you are part of a community, or you’ve been impacted by climate change, or you want to save the rainforest, here are a few ways DWeb is not just an idea, but a critical layer being developed to make our communities more resilient in the face of both predictable and totally unforeseeable climate change events, and to coordinate meaningful environmental action both locally and globally.

What does a community need in the case of a natural disaster, or what do activists need to use when fending off big logging companies, poachers, or other degradations of the commons? 3 main things:

  1. Relevant Local Information: For example, people need to know if the one-lane highway out of town closed due to fires?
  2. Resource Sharing: “There are enough clothes, thank you, but what we do need is leather work gloves and boots for the locals whose shoes are melting while putting out fires that the fire department doesn’t have time to focus on.”
  3. Community Scale Collaboration and Response: An entire neighborhood burned because the power went out to the pump that was responsible for keeping the water system pressurized. Decentralized, on-demand, community energy is starting to be an imperative for protecting our communities rather than just a nice thing granola-eating Tesla drivers think is cool.

So, from a total newcomer, layperson, non-techy person’s perspective, here is a beginner’s guide to the decentralized web for environmental response and action.

What happens when, through climate instability, everything we’ve come to rely on falls apart, and we’ve got to find a way with our communities, the people who live right next door, to make things work again?

This is the question I have been asking since the Thomas Fire tore through the hillsides and canyons of my childhood and reduced many of my friends’ homes to ashes.

One of the most frustrating challenges during the fire was getting accurate, locally relevant information. When someone is deciding whether to evacuate their family, you don’t have time to wade through the nightly news’ repetitive rehashing of dramatic video, “personal interest” stories, and ads in the hope they are going to give you the info you need. And they don’t necessarily even have the news to give, but people on the ground do. Facebook was a natural place to look, but requires filtering through the distractions of the day to day, and the inevitable flood of cat photos.

Enter the MeshNet, otherwise know as Community Networks or Community ISPs (internet service providers).

Most of us get our internet through AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, etc. These are called ISPs (internet service providers). What can local communities do when their tower or communication lines go up in flames?

I learned that community networks allow people to interact directly with each other. If there is an ad hoc disaster relief center set up in the high school, and you need more blankets for all the families that left their homes in the middle of the night wearing only their pajamas — bam — the community can be informed via the local community network.

For the small boy named Niko living in a village in Brazil who was assaulted by an illegal logging company cutting down the local rainforest, he can now ping the community network (they don’t have cell service out there). The result in this case was that instead of a handful of people showing up to the local council meeting to petition against the logging, 400 engaged citizens had their voices heard.

What’s beautiful about the decentralized web is that it isn’t just for disasters. If grandma wants to share her recipes with the whole town, bam! That’s something even celebrity chef Emeril Legasse could get excited about.

Community networks are a way not only to communicate and share information locally, but they also offer something unique: a way to get “online” without being bombarded with AI-enhanced, manipulative distractions.

For more on that, visit the Center for Humane Technology and have your mind blown about everything Google knows about you and how every time you get online you are basically sitting at a poker table run by the world’s greatest data generators.

Enter HoloChain REA and PLAN

After a bit of work to establish the backbone, we can now setup a community network. We can communicate. But now let’s say help is still slow to arrive.

The communities of developers at HoloChain REA and PLAN are creating the ways that we as communities can quickly begin sharing what we have, throwing our shoulders to the wheel, rebuilding our communities, without having to wait on someone from the outside to tell us what to do, how to do it, or to wait for governments to dole out resources. If a community needs to rebuild itself, and we need tools, most of us are afraid of lending our tools, or spending a week building someone a temporary structure. How do we know once they’re all settled in they won’t just forget about us? What about the slackers?

They are building trustworthy ways for people with resources to put them into a community trust, to allow work to get done, and not only can those resources be tracked so you know where they are and who has them, but the one loaning things out builds up community karma at the same time. Now you may not be able to take that to the bank, but it can signal to others that when you are asking them for their resources, that you are a person doing this not just in service to yourself, but for others.

There’s so much more than this about DWeb. But it represents a meaningful step forward for the boots on the ground community organizers, environmentalists, and just plain old Americans who want to know we have the power and the tools to take care of ourselves through the environmental crisis.

By hanging out with the global DWeb community, I learned that there is a hyper-skilled group of people working at the forefront of technology to build tools that let us know that regardless of what happens out there, we collectively have the power to stabilize our own communities by leveraging the technology the DWeb community is developing.

Featured photo by Chanan Bos

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