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Could we fight climate change with bitcoin? This guys thinks so

By  on 2 Jun 2015 of Grist Magazine 
James D’Angelo wants to cap the world’s carbon emissions, and he wants to do it using bitcoin — that digital currency you’ve heard about but don’t quite understand.
James D’Angelo author of the 2014 Climate CoLab winning proposal Sno-Caps: The People’s Cap-And-Trade

The NASA engineer turned rapper turned conservationist turned cryptocurrency enthusiast turned YouTube personality calls his plan “the people’s cap-and-trade,” or Sno-Caps. It would give everyone in the world equal access to the carbon market, have almost no operating costs, and require zero government involvement.

Cue the head scratching and skeptical faces. Yes, it’s an unconventional idea. And yes, it’s coming from an unconventional guy, but let’s see where this goes.

I called up D’Angelo last month in Brookline, Mass., where he lives with his wife and 3-year-old son. He was eager to tell me about Sno-Caps, but first, I said, I wanted to discuss his résumé. It was “interesting,” I told him. D’Angelo laughed and said interesting was a nice way to describe it — one his mother probably wouldn’t use.

He assured me that there was some method to the madness — behind every seemingly random twist in his career path was either a fascination with technology, passion for the environment, desire to fix broken political systems, or some combination of the three.

D’Angelo started working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland in 1988, while earning a master’s degree in computer science and electrical engineering from MIT. The work was engaging, he said, and the people were great, but he just couldn’t sit through any more doughnut-fueled 7 a.m. meetings.

“As a 24-year-old who liked music and going out, it was tough,” he said. Plus, he’d always been an excitable guy and was ready to try something new.

So, naturally, D’Angelo moved to Philadelphia, pretended to be an experienced music producer, and used his technical know-how to loop and sample his way into the rap industry. One thing led to another, and he became Oatie Kato, front man of The Goats, an early-’90s rap trio known for its politically charged lyrics. Here’s some “lost footage” remixed by Oatie himself back in 2013 (D’Angelo is the one in the white t-shirt, using a hammer as a microphone). Enjoy:

Over the years, D’Angelo also dabbled in the movie biz and did wildlife conservation work in Kenya, Bolivia, and Gabon. He first heard about bitcoin in 2012, when he was doing volunteer research for a liberal Austrian economist (because of course he was). The guy studied local currencies and hated bitcoin, D’Angelo recalled.

“I just kept hearing how bad this new thing was, but I had to research it, and I didn’t hate it,” D’Angelo said with a laugh. “So I got pretty excited about it and started reading more and more.”

Fast-forward to the present. D’Angelo now works as a cryptography and finance consultant. He also hosts the World Bitcoin Network channel on YouTube, where he explains bitcoin basics and gushes about all the ways we could use the technology.

Last year, D’Angelo released this 40-minute explainer video introducing the bitcoin-based “people’s cap-and-trade” plan. He named it Sno-Caps for its association with the cold and because D’Angelo used to really like snow cones (this guy!):

Here’s the gist: Starting at birth, every person on earth would be entitled to an equal share of carbon emissions each year. The size of that share would depend on a global emissions cap coded into the Sno-Caps software.