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Today is Earth Day, and this year there is both very bad and very good news. For the first time in millions of years, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million, a grim milestone that should spur all thinking people to action to try to reduce fossil fuel emissions and prevent extreme climate change.

But what actions can we take? Politics these days seems to be a hopeless exercise for progressive thinkers who care about the long-term future of the planet. Is there anything we can do to have a direct positive effect ourselves, rather than trying to compete with unlimited corporate cash to influence elected officials?

The good news is that there is something we can do, a movement we can join today to make a difference. And the really exciting thing is that this movement is not just about helping the environment, but also about empowering people who are doing so with a stake in a new, people-powered economic system -- a system in which the money supply is created specifically to help fund a global transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. Follow me below the fold to learn more!

SolarCoin logo
The SolarCoin Revolution

It's not often that we can do something we believe in and get paid for it, but there is now an organization that pays people to generate solar electricity. The idea for SolarCoin was born in 2011, when cofounders Nick Gogerty and Joseph Zitoli wrote an academic paper proposing a new currency backed by solar energy. When the digital currency called Bitcoin took off last year, they realized that the same technology could be used to power their own idea for an environmentally friendly alternative currency in which the money supply is issued as a reward to people and businesses for generating solar power.

Yes! magazine recently published an article called Don't Leave BitCoin to the Libertarians! (Or, Why Your Movement Needs Open Source Money). Nathan Schneider writes:

Among activists one often finds an aversion to even thinking about money. Associating it with the opponent—who has lots of it—they try to do without money themselves. Often, for as long as they can, they try to organize and resist without it, until burning out, quitting and getting into a different line of work just to keep up on rent. But, as the 19th century U.S. populist movement recognized, money is also a battleground. Today, as a new wave of sophisticated digital currencies are beginning to arise, this is perhaps more true than ever before.
As nuketeacher explained in The Problem with Crypto-Currencies and Why SolarCoin is Different, most Bitcoin-inspired digital currencies are get-rich-quick schemes and scams, but SolarCoin is one of a few that are serious economic innovations designed to make the world a better place.

And as jbalazs wrote in an earlier diary about SolarCoin:

[A]s the effects of global warming become more and more alarming, the use of solar (and other alternatives) will become more in demand. The costs for solar are coming down at the same time. As this trend continues, more and more people will be generating solar power and will be eligible to get these coins. A market will develop and trade using SolarCoin will become more common. This is a way to do an economic AND green end run around the oil & gas behemoth that is holding the world hostage today.

Damn, we might even get to save the planet. Incentivize solar power generation to the masses with a future economic and trade benefit for everyone involved? Sounds pretty good to me.

jbalazs is a volunteer for the SolarCoin Foundation. I looked into it myself and was so impressed with the people and ideas behind this movement that I decided to get involved too. I even traveled to New York to meet with one of the SolarCoin cofounders, and now I'm proud to be part of their team of volunteers.

SolarCoin vs. Bitcoin

Many progressives are skeptical of Bitcoin, and for good reason!

  • Bitcoin creates most of its currency through a computer "mining" process which wastes lots of energy. (In contrast, 99.4% of SolarCoins are issued as grants for generating solar energy.)
  • The founders of Bitcoin own a large percentage of the currency. (In contrast, only 0.1% of SolarCoins are reserved for founders, developers and operating expenses, and nearly all of the currency will be widely distributed around the world, e.g. to people with solar panels on their roof.)
  • Most importantly, Bitcoin was not created with any noble goal in mind. It is mostly hoarded by speculators and has developed a reputation for being associated with drugs and other illicit trade. (In contrast, SolarCoin was created with the specific goal to incentivize a global transition to solar energy and thus help the environment, and SolarCoin volunteers plan to reach out to eco-friendly businesses and build a legitimate economy of users as the world's "green" currency.)

The most important thing to understand is that the technology of Bitcoin can be used to create any kind of digital currency that people want. Bitcoin itself is just the first example, and a very flawed one. But even with all its flaws, it proved that it's possible to create alternative forms of money which can be sent privately, cheaply, and instantaneously around the world over the internet -- and that millions of people are actually willing to buy and sell and trade with an NGO-issued currency. The technology behind it can be used, and improved upon, by any organization to create any kind of alternative monetary system we can imagine -- even one that's based on progressive values.

According to an article in ThinkProgress:

What sets SolarCoin apart from its counterpart, Bitcoin, is that it follows a more traditional model of currency: money is based on a physical asset. In this case, that asset is rooted in the renewable energy market, which is expanding. ... by backing its worth with a steady source it may reduce sharp oscillations in price, thus making it more attractive to consumers and retailers. ...

All it takes is merchants accepting the cryptocoins at checkout as a way to boost their brand, especially if they represent a cause like solar energy. Cryptocurrencies would then become a bit more than just another form of money. They would tie monetary value to consumers’ and businesses’ core values. For example, a store can boost their credibility within the green community by accepting SolarCoin... kind of like having a LEED certification that shows a building meets certain environmental standards. In this way, coins with a moral hook can more easily attract customers unlike Bitcoin, which is primarily alluring because of its novelty and anonymity to both curious investors and criminals.

SolarCoin: A Rare Opportunity to Build Alliances and Make Change

In conclusion, there are two things about SolarCoin that really set it apart among all possible ways progressive activists could use our valuable time and energy:

  1. The SolarCoin movement is people-powered and focused on achieving real results through our own actions. It does not depend on the actions of politicians who usually don't listen to the people anyway. By supporting SolarCoin, we can help encourage people around the world to convert to solar energy, because the more the value of SolarCoin rises in the marketplace, the greater economic incentive it will be for generating solar electricity. Currently one SolarCoin is trading at just under one cent. What will it be in a year from now if thousands of progressive activists get involved? In 5 years, could it become a competitor to mainstream currencies and revolutionize the way money is created and distributed? Imagine how wonderful it would be to live in a world where the new money supply is distributed to people and businesses that are doing good! We have the power, through our own choice to buy, sell, use, and accept SolarCoin, to make that world a reality.
  2. The SolarCoin movement combines the ideals and energy of two of the most important political movements of our time: economic populism and environmental/climate change activism. Remember the Move Your Money project to encourage people to switch from the big banks that crashed the financial markets in 2008 to small local banks and credit unions? With SolarCoin, now we can go even further and move our money into a whole new type of currency -- a nonprofit-backed currency created by renewable energy advocates that will help to reduce climate change by encouraging the switch from fossil fuels to solar. Imagine the potential, the world-changing power, of uniting the movement for a better monetary system with the movement for a better environment. SolarCoin makes that possible.

We are living in a time when it's easy to be pessimistic about politics. But now is also a time when we the people can do great things, just by coming together, believing in our own power to make change, and using the technological tools available to us to do it ourselves.

For years, I have been looking for a way to do something pragmatic and effective to help implement my progressive values and ideals. I believe SolarCoin is one of the best opportunities I have ever seen to do just that -- a truly rare opportunity to create a broad-based movement for a better world that can achieve results, and which creates money for people who are doing good rather than giving it to politicians who do little.

This Earth Day, ask yourself: How green is your money? If you believe, like I do, that it's time for the people of the world to take control of our own economic future, to create a new monetary system that helps people and the planet rather than further enriching large financial institutions and submitting to the economic power of "drill baby drill," then I invite you to check out the SolarCoin Foundation, read the extensive international press coverage of SolarCoin, join the SolarCoin forum, and consider getting involved. You'll be joining me and two other members of Daily Kos already. SolarCoin was just launched in January, and we need your help. Let's do this!

Originally posted to Eric Stetson on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 11:58 AM PDT.

Also republished by Kosowatt and Changing the Scrip.

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