Brave New COP
Flora is still shaking as she mounts her bike to get home. This was scary — One of the kitchen workers in the camp had come down with breathing problems. He had served meals to more than two thousand refugees from the flooded Northern territories, just yesterday.
Cycling through the heavy downpour, her thoughts circle around infection chains in the camp. The virus just CANNOT get there. No running water, no soap, everybody is malnourished and three doctors for 100'000 people. It would be a complete disaster.
Thank god the test came back negative. Apparently his trouble was just from the smoking kitchen fire or something.
Back home, she first checks the battery of her family’s solar home system . It’s barely enough to get her phone up to 10% — that is at least enough to chat with her Friday for Futures group for a bit. Good. She needs her friends’ emotional support right now.
Nobody is online. That’s weird — on a normal day, their channel is bustling with activity 24/7. But there is a DM from Ergün: “Hey, Flora!!! This new place is amazing! Come join us over at the online COP!”
Ergün just finished his third energy drink and pushes his cigarette into the ashtray, still typing away furiously against the Brazilian proposal, when he gets the alert — finally, Flora is online! He quickly submits his counter on the negotiators’ discussion board and signs it off with his official Germany.
Enough work for today — He leans back, pops open a beer and uses the quick teleport button to move from the Article 6 sub-committee on transparency to the public area entry gate. An involuntary smile appears on his face as he spots his friend. Ergün’s fingers flow over the keyboard rapidly — <hug> and a couple of right-arrow clicks till the freshly spawned Avatar with the “Flora #FFF” nametag is marked as target for the hug.
Flora is still disoriented, just figuring out how to move around with her avatar as the message pops up:
<Ergün wants to hug you>
She involuntarily giggles — that cute black-and-white pixel art animation makes her feel the virtual hug from her distant friend in her body, warming her heart. The voice message arrives a few seconds later: “Flora! So glad you made it! Come, let me show you around…”
<Ergün wants to take your hand and lead the group>
This time they walk — two pixel art avatars, holding hands, passing through the busy landing zone full of first-timers entering the public metaverse around the permanent Conference of The Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — also known as COP365. Their first stop is at the Greenpeace stall. They got a whole bunch of “Observer Status” invites for climate activists from the global South ready — without one of those, Flora could not log into the official part of the COP. After a brief verification of her Twitter handle by Greenpeace, she is in.
<Open Quick Travel Map>
The official area is shaped like a world map and features a pavilion for every country. Most of them run on locally hosted servers, with various UN institutions providing infrastructure for the nations who couldn’t find someone ready to install a Raspberry Pi with a 3G network in an official government building. Towering above the world map there is an Eiffel Tower- like superstructure.Anyway it kinda looks like the Eiffel tower, despite its 29 legs. One for each Article of the Paris agreement, and plenty of in-between sub-committee meeting rooms at the intersections.
Ergün takes her to the Pacific Small Island pavilion and from there straight into the packed sub-room of the #FFF gathering of the tribes. Despite the hefty lag for the European and African activists, this is their preferred location. Rumor has it that the privacy at the bigger continental servers is compromised.
Flora gets dozens more of those virtual hug requests the moment she gets in. Tucked in under her blanket in a dark room, with her sister sleeping in the bed next to her, she is now with all her best friends. But she is also tired and scared and just looking for someone to pour her heart out. It’s been a hard day.
She turns back to Ergün: “Can we talk privately?”.
<Ergün invites you to a private video session on the Nairobi UNEP Server (Beta Feature)>
Flora’s face is barely visible with the dim light from her phone screen as she tells him about her day in a whisper, trying not to wake her sister in the bed next to her. And after some comforting perspective-taking, she is done for the day. “Goodnight”.
Before she logs out, Ergün asks: “Should we keep the recording private or unlock it for the public?”
“Yes, sure, I don’t mind sharing.” Her phone’s battery is at 1% now, and so is her own energy level. Time to sleep. Last thing she does is a retweet on Ergün sharing the video.
Next morning, as soon as the sun is up, she plugs in her phone. Fast-charging now, thanks to their solar panels. Oho, that is a lot of notifications. The video went viral, with tens of thousands of views already. Including retweets from some very famous people. She starts responding with emojis and “thank you”s to the replies, but soon realizes that new posts are coming in faster than she can respond.
That’s when she opens the DMs and finds an interview request from an organization called “Democracy Now”. Flora replies, and after a short chat they agree to do the interview throughout the day, with her filming at the hospital and the kitchen worker adding some video material from the camp. The democracy now editing team puts it all together into a three minute clip by the same evening. Riding on the viral wave of the first clip, it passes a million views within the first hour.
Predictably, people start asking “how can I help” — and a few obvious steps are suggested in Flora’s mentions. Get a proper kitchen for the camp. Buy up liquor, distill it with some starch into a proper disinfectant. It all costs money. Flora doesn’t have any. All she could do was to write down how much all that would cost — a few thousand dollars. More than her family had made in the entire last year.
At least twenty people asked: “Is there a donation link?” — But after trying for hours with all the gofundme’s and paypals suggested to her, she still can’t find a way to withdraw an influx of global online cash in Uganda.
— — — — —
Helen had been watching the drama from afar, and started to feel remorse for that young Ugandan lady. A few posts on the Darkmarkets later, she identified an arms trader’s account with a multi-year history of verified transactions dating back to the South-Sudanese independence war. To add some legitimacy to the transaction, she sends the funds from her ANON_12ZTW8cp8iWBxtcX3Rbt8yCD26f7Ec5xfR account via this fancy “Green Climate DAO” shilled by Vitalik recently. It’s still brand new, so her contribution gives her enough voting power to pass 300 milli Bitcoin straight into a fresh wallet. She packs the private keys and the geolocation of the trader into a DM to Flora and adds: “You will receive about five million Ugandan Shilling in exchange for this code at this address “.
— — — — —
Flora is super skeptical when she gets the message — it looks like a classic 419 Nigerian Prince fraud. She forwards it to Ergün with a lol. Ergün checks, double checks and finally replies: “I can confirm that the code is a real Bitcoin wallet private key. Magic internet money, the real thing. Here in Berlin, I could trade it for cash at any ATM.”
The geolocation Flora received from with the Bitcoins is in the embassy quarters in Kampala. Overcoming her fear, she takes a Matatu for the two-hour ride. Empty, except for three guys wearing black stockings over their heads and ski goggles — a bit overdone, but at least they are protecting themselves. As she gets in, the tallest one is on a rant about the “Tullow Pipeline”, but they immediately stop their conversation as she gets in and keep quiet until they reach the destination. They get off at the same corner that Flora got directed to with the Bitcoin message.
The guys inspect her silently for a couple of seconds. Finally, one of them asks: “Bitcoin?”
Flora, already expecting to get robbed at gunpoint, decides to cooperate: “Yeah”.
To her surprise, the guys relax and wave her over. “Come, this way.”
They lead her to the exact geolocation from the message — it is a service entrance to a massive mansion just next to the Kenyan embassy. The door is unlocked and opens into a hallway. Three armed securities are sitting around, guarding another door. Everybody is wearing full-cover face masks and sunglasses. What the hell.
The tall guy says in a warm voice: “You go on first girl, our business might take a while.”
She approaches the guards. “I have Bitcoin. I need money”. Nodding: “Alright, come in.”
There is a full glass counter, and on the other side sits a small, elder lady. After Flora shows her the code and she types it into her computer, she says:
“Ahh, you got funding from the Green Climate DAO! Good for you. Cash or do you have goods ordered?”
“Ye… Yes, Maam. Cash please.” She knows where to buy the smoke-free kitchen appliances, the company installed one just like that in her school last year. All she needs is some cash on hand.
The lady counts the money with a machine. It’s five million Shillings in freshly printed notes. “Need an envelope?”
She smiles, packs the cash and passes her the envelope. “Stay strong Comorada! Welcome to the team. Together, we shall win this war.”
Flora orders a motorcycle taxi straight to the kitchen-shop. Let’s get this done! While she is still waiting at the corner for the bike, the three guys come out the door, carrying a heavy sports bag.
— — — — — — — — — — —
3rd of May 2021, Glasgow. Greenpeace bought her a ticket for the ferry via Mombasa. The retrofitted sailing cruise ship embarked in Cape Town, full of African climate people. It was a great ride.
Flora now stands on the big stage, about to give her speech at the Green Climate DAO opening celebration — within 3 months of trial operations, she had helped install 12 more solar-hybrid kitchens in refugee camps across the country. With the help of the other #FFF activists, the DAO financed 67'000 more such installations all across the world.
After a round of applause, Xhin takes over, introduced as the coordinator of the Green Climate DAO core developer team by the moderators:
“A few mBTC at a time, with phone-based real-time verification, repeated transactions allow rapid peer-to-peer trust-building in climate finance at zero overhead cost, eliminating the need for intermediation by accredited institutions. Out of our first round of funding, we financed installations reducing about seven million tons of CO2 per year, with only 0.3% of the total sum lost and unaccounted for, making us several orders of magnitude better than UN average. Unfortunately, we currently have no knowledge on what happened with those funds. Thank you.” They take a bow, and leave the stage with a smile, while thinking to themselves: “Or at least we can plausibly deny knowing…”
P.S. This story was originally published in “Brave New Human — Reflection on the Invisible”