Aug 13th update: We’ve launched the project at https://rewilder.xyz.
Hi everyone! Over the last couple months, I’ve been thinking about a new not-for-profit project I want to tell you about. As I like doing, I’ll share the idea early while it’s young and raw, and gather feedback to help shape it.
For a long time, I’ve been interested in two related causes: space exploration and wildlife preservation. I’m honestly kind of scared that we might not make it as a species past this century, given the rate at which we’re destroying our home planet. We really need to get out to space as soon as possible, and try to slow down the destruction of Earth. As a techno-optimist, I always thought the solution was to solve these problems through technology, but I never quite saw a way to contribute personally, given the extreme complexity of the problems involved (rocket science + global challenge).
As often happens with the best ideas, this one came out of nowhere – while I was walking my dog and chatting with my sister. Once I saw the potential and had an instinct that it would work, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
In a nutshell, this is it: to use NFTs to represent contributions to a non-profit organization that buys land for conservation.
Background and Problem
The actual conversation went something like this:
wait, what if we destined the money raised by selling each NFT to caring for each specific horse?
wait! what if we did that with endangered species instead of horses?
and what if we gave each NFT owner access to a feed with info about the animal they helped protect?
what if we added IoT devices to each animal and showed real-time statistics on its age, health, and GPS location!?
and what if when animals mate and have offspring, we create new NFTs and give them to the owners of the mom-NFT?
whoa, wait, that’s too complex. Let’s start with an MVP!
We went back to the drawing board to see what was the simplest experiment we could devise to test the hypothesis that NFTs could be a good technology to help track wildlife preservation donations.
As a donor on conservation projects, I found it a problem that there’s little transparency about the use of funds. I always ask myself: what % of the money I donate really goes to nature, and what % goes to pay employees salaries? (especially when the non-profit is based in a country with super high costs of living and a 30-person staff)
We started googling around for related projects. Some interesting pre-existing work in the area of NFTs for non-profit causes are Binance’s NFT For Good initiative, CarbonDrop, Noora Health Save Thousands of Lives, Carbon Credit Club, and Wildcards.
The Simplest Experiment We Can Try
That’s how we came up with the simplest, most direct way to test this: NFTs sold in auctions where 100% of the money raised goes to buying real-world land for passive rewilding.
Rewilding is a catchy term that means reversing the destruction of the natural world. Allowing nature to recover lost territory. In the more active versions, biologists and conservationists get involved and try to reinstate species that originally inhabited the area (you should watch this related fantastic video on how wolves change rivers if you haven’t). I like the more minimalist/passive versions, where no additional human intervention is done: just buy land and keep humans from affecting it. Instead of restoring systems, we allow them to restore themselves. I’m not sure that we humans know how to take care of nature other than by leaving it alone. Also, passive rewilding is cheapest (no need to hire conservationists or spend money acquiring and taking care of introduced species).
So… back to NFTs. I want to build a new class of NFTs that track the conservation of specific pieces of real-world land. Each NFT purchased will represent some portion of wildland which is bought to leave as is. Each land purchase project will have its own ETH address, where NFT owners (and everyone else) can see how the money is used and receive updates on how the land is doing (info, pictures, satellite imagery). Picture a page for each NFT with a feed full of fund transparency info and media updates of the land you’re helping preserve wild. My idea is for every penny spent to be tracked, to allow donors to understand exactly where their money is going. Blockchain is a great technology to do just that, I think. Additionally, global warming is a global problem, and blockchains are global coordination machines. Nation states are not the right technology to solve global problems. We should stop counting on them to do it.
Jun 2021: Publish this blog post, talk with people about it to garner initial interest and assess feasibility.
Jul 2021: Publish project website explaining the project better.
Aug 2021: Define location/s for first experiment.
Sep 2021: Run the first NFT auction.
Sep-Dec 2021: Buy wild land for conservation. Keep humans out. Publish updates on how every penny is spent.
Jan 2022: Plan the next 6 months and further rewilding projects.
Jan 2030: We have rewilded 50% of the planet’s surface. ;)
Questions and Challenges
- How should we name the project?! (already bought the domains rewilder.xyz, rewilder.art, and rewilder.club – do you like them? which do you like the most?)
Should the NFTs also be digital art? (if you’re an artist and would like to help, reach out!)(we decided that collaborating with digital artists would obfuscate the fact that you’re donating directly to buy land for rewilding)
- Should we partner with existing rewilding institutions (there’s a lot), or roll our own?
- Where in the world should we do the first land purchase? (this will be decided with help from rewilding experts)
- Should we buy wild or human-transformed land so that it reverts to a prior state? (rewilding experts to be contacted here too)
- Can we use some sort of quadratic voting to determine location of rewilding efforts? Does it make sense?
- How can we cover recurring costs of maintaining property with a single NFT sale? (I don’t like the Wildcards model) (no disrespect of course!)
- Maybe a % of the raised funds can go to an endowment address which generates yearly returns for recurring costs?
- Maybe the foundation raises funds separately to cover recurring costs, so that 100% of NFT sales go to land purchases? Maybe in future versions of the project we can sell individual NFTs for trees to cover maintenance costs of the lands where they are located.
- How do we safeguard physical security of lands purchased for rewilding? Two ideas: we can piggyback on local governments for security, given the land would be privately owned, and partner with local conservation non-profits or hire local rangers for patrolling.
- What’s the most cost effective way to establish and maintain the legacy-world infrastructure to support this project and act as the proxy between digital and physical? Should we partner with existing non-profits to save time/money?
- How can we cover environmental costs of using blockchain tech? To offset the CO2 emissions of creating the NFTs and performing the auctions, we can use Creol.io or other existing carbon credit purchasing systems. (thanks CarbonDrop for the idea!). We need to be sure we’re not doing more harm than good :)
Summary and Final Words
So, in summary: I’ll be working on a new non-profit project aiming to sell NFTs to buy real land for passive rewilding. That’s it! Please reach out to me if you have feedback or would like to help! To receive updates on the project and participate in the first NFT auction, please subscribe below:
Additional Resources and Learning
- David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet. (super recommended!)
- Half-Earth Project
- It’s 2021. It’s time to rewild.
- Rewilding: a rotten idea // how rewilding can go wrong
- 7 Problems With Rewilding // how to do rewilding wrong (hint: introduce human controls).
- Rewilding key to averting mass extinctions and reducing carbon emissions.
- Ted Talk by Kristine Tompkins // very differnt style to ours, same cause
- Closing the Nature Funding Gap: A Finance Plan for the Planet .
- Open Earth Foundation.
- Creol.io: Carbon positive people, places and products.
- Humans Need to Create Interspecies Money to Save the Planet.
- An NFT That Saves Lives by paulg.
- Connecting The Dots Between Blockchain and Sustainability.
Thanks to Mat Travisano, Agos Blanco, Juan Trouilh, and Malena Araoz for reviewing early drafts of this post.