Did India’s new energy strategy – which promises to exceed its COP21 commitments by a whopping 50% – signal that the world’s largest democracy is joining hands with conservationists and moving away from fossil fuels? Can this bastion of fossil fuels, where coal still accounts for 61% of its energy mix, kill the two birds of economic development and public health with one stone? That seemed to be the case, judging by the flurry of headlines that came out in December praising New Delhi’s audacity. After all, this was a country that a little over a year ago was locked in a high-profile struggle with the developed world over its reliance on fossil fuels. Is it really feasible for a country with such an abundance of coal reserves to turn its back on that cheap source of energy? As it turns out, not really. Much of the media coverage was driven by hype and by wishful thinking that pushed some to believe that renewables are the only way towards protecting the planet from environmental disaster. Which is why the second part of the story was grazed over by the media – that far from abandoning coal, India will look to ways to improve the efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint of its coal-fired plants. Eleven GW of aging, inefficient plants will be replaced with new, supercritical technology, which comes fast on the heels of the roughly 33GW that were already converted over the last five years. This technology relies on boilers operating at higher temperature and pressure to generate steam and turn turbines more efficiently. What’s more, 50GW of coal based power projects are currently in various stages of development and will come online before 2022. In addition to these supercritical plants, India is also spearheading carbon capture and storage technology – a recent plant in Chennai showed that CCS is cost-competitive even without subsidies. The plant plans to capture 60,000t of CO2 from a 10 MW power plant and turn the captured gas into soda ash that can be used as fertilizer. According to the company, the patented solvent they use can capture the gas at a cost of $30 per ton. If these kinds of carbon neutral coal plants can be rolled out nation-wide, it would safeguard India’s energy security while also working towards limiting CO2 emissions. What these developments show is that India’s immediate challenge is not so much replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy as is providing electricity to its 300 million, largely rural dwellers who still have no access to the grid. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to bring electricity to all of India’s villages by May 2018. This massive feat of rural electrification would mean bringing electricity to 200 villages a week for over a year. However, the plan stops short of promising electricity to every home – an important distinction, as proven by the 2011 census which showed that in villages categorized as having access to electricity only 55% of homes actually used it as their primary source of power. The renewable revolution advocated by Modi comes with one major drawback: panels can only generate electricity during sunny, mid-day hours (roughly speaking, between 8am and 4pm). Since storing solar energy is a fairly expensive process, during evening hours – when power demand peaks – India will have to rely on coal power plants that are able to produce an equivalent amount of energy. What this means is that the capacity of thermal power plants can’t fall behind solar – anything else would severely hamper the country’s already fragile energy security. The national power grid is woefully inefficient and the country is often crippled by power shortages and blackouts like the one in 2012 where three of India’s five grids failed, leaving 20 of its 28 states and 700 million people without electricity for hours. Public services and private enterprises were forced to shut down as disgruntled citizens rioted in the streets. All things considered, India will not abandon its thermal power plants and coal will very much stay an integral part of the country’s energy mix. This shouldn’t be construed as a bad thing – major technological leaps such as supercritical plants and CCS are the only elements that can solve India’s development dilemma and do so without raising the country’s CO2 footprint. About the author: Frank Maxwell has almost two decades of experience working in Central and Eastern Europe and is currently a Competitive Intelligence Correspondent based in Warsaw.   

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.