Since the release of BitCoin a few years ago, there has been an explosion of interest in alternative online currencies. A host of cryptocurrencies has followed, with dedicated exchanges, forums, apps, and even ATMs. For those that don’t move in that world, it’s been hard to keep up. I admit I don’t know my DogeCoin from my DarkCoin, and I’m yet to be convinced that I should.
The reason there are so many variations is that creating and managing a currency has been dramatically democratized. It’s not exactly easy, and most people that try it are going to fail to find a user base, but it’s a world away from the enormous machinery of traditional money – banks, printing presses, and maybe even vaults full of gold.
All currency serves somebody, and since people can now set up their own central banks with a rack of computers, you can make niche currencies to serve specific constituencies. Some people have used this power to make untraceable money for illegal trading, or joke currencies for tipping online content creators. And some have used it to try and make good things happen in the world.
Permacredits is one such project. It’s been created to encourage permaculture, as a mechanism of exchange for the movement and a way to reward those who support it. To get Permacredits, you donate to the Permacredits Foundation, who use your donation to fund permaculture-based businesses. When those businesses turn a profit and pay back into the foundation, your credits go up in value. In theory, it’s a currency based directly on the hard work of permaculturalists, rather than speculation or the abstract computer ‘mining’ of Bitcoin.
Essentially, you use dollars to support permaculture farms and businesses, a way of ‘paying it forward’. The Permacredits you get in return can then be spent with those businesses, or converted into other cryptocurrencies on an open market.
Founder Xavier Hawk is overreaching spectacularly when he claims that “Permacredits is a vehicle to transform the world”, but it is an interesting idea. Like any alternative currency, it will either sink or swim, depending on how many people find it useful. What makes it worth highlighting is not just the environmental goals behind it, but the desire to use cryptocurrencies to effect change in the real world.
Permacredits is not alone in that. SolarCoin is another, designed to serve and encourage renewable energy. Producers of solar energy are paid one SolarCoin for every megawatt hour produced on a certified meter. Clean Water Coin aims to encourage water projects by channeling a tiny percentage of every transaction to water charities. HullCoin is the first online currency to be launched by a local authority, aimed at tackling poverty.
It’s impossible to say whether or not any of these will succeed. A Wikipedia count in January this year found over 740 different online currencies, and the failure rate is pretty high. We’re also a long way from the mainstream. Visit the SolarCoin website today and you’ll see the message “SolarCoin executed a planned hard fork at block 310,000. All users should update to the new wallets v1.5 immediately” – perfectly encapsulating the reasons why I cannot be bothered with these currencies myself. Not yet.
The reason I keep an eye on developments in cryptocurrencies is that it is exciting to see what Bitcoin has made possible. An ecosystem of currencies is already out there, and a whole new opportunity has opened up to create targeted money for social and environmental good.