The new Humans of ReFi blog series, part of the ReFi Spring Well, exists to share beautiful stories, thoughts, and advice from pioneers in the web3 x climate space to encourage more people to begin their journey into ReFi. The first feature is Grace Rachmany, Co-Founder of Priceless DAO.
How we see the world makes the world. What’s your perspective that brings more joy and regeneration into the world?
Lately, the perspective I’ve been taking is a Cosmos-type perspective. As Carl Sagan said: “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.” From a human standpoint, what is happening now is highly significant. The current situation is catastrophic for each of us individually and as a community. But from the perspective of the sea or the planet, not to mention the solar system, it’s just another event. From the earth’s perspective, it is inconsequential whether the living creatures are dying out because of a meteor strike, an ice age, or the activities of one of the creatures on the earth. The ebb and flow of such things are inevitable. People aren’t wrong or bad for bringing the earth to this point. At this moment in time, it seems that reconnecting to the planet and other people is the only joyful option. Regenerating the earth is the most satisfying work I can do now.
Where did your journey in the ReFi space begin?
I do not consider myself someone who is or has ever been in the ReFi space. It is misguided to believe that there is a financial model that is regenerative. Finance, by definition, is the management of money. Money itself is an outdated technology that implies that there is such a thing as an equal value exchange. This is absurd. A giraffe trampling on the plains and leaving behind its waste is not exchanging value with the earth because it is also eating leaves. A mammalian mother feeding her baby milk is not exchanging value with the baby because the baby is smiling back. Regeneration is, by definition, the restoration of complex and multi-faceted systems that are priceless in essence.
ReFi has the potential to offer some value in the short term in terms of salvaging some of our environmental resources while we make the transition to a more appropriate system. I sense this is a very masculine approach, and I am not oriented that way. The systems I am working on are much-more long-term in their trajectory, looking at post-financial economies.
What was your AHA! ReFi moment?
For me, it was probably watching Arthur Brock’s Wealth as a Living System video. It took a while to sink in fully, but it was the start of my understanding that money is not a store of value. Another significant influence is Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber. These are fundamentals that I think everyone in the industry needs to read. Most of ReFi consists of some form of bullshit job, at least because you are sitting at a desk, not really planting a tree or a garden. I would encourage everyone in the movement to take any step they can towards living a lower-impact life and planting something. If you volunteer on an ecological farm for just one week, it will change your perspective. The other fundamental podcast that I recommend is Nate Hagens’ Great Simplification. Just about every episode provides an AHA moment.
What are the key challenges the ReFi space is facing? How does that affect your journey?
The top two challenges in ReFi are capture and ineffectiveness.
By capture, I mean, that the more money and work invested in this industry, the higher the risk of blindness. Take a look at this tweet from Ethan Buchman, the founder of Cosmos, and the response thread, particularly that of the Regen Network Founder Gregory Landua, which starts with Ethan wondering whether they might not all be better off dropping the development of a blockchain and instead going out and doing work in nature. Now, don’t get me wrong. I know, respect, and love these two men. They have probably done more for the ReFi movement than anyone else in terms of the time and thought invested and the excellence of the technologies they’ve created. Ethan and Gregory are truly pioneers and heroes of the movement.
I’m pointing out here that neither of them could have an intellectually honest conversation about whether they should be out there on the land because there is too much money, time, and tech at stake. Well, at least not in public. They couldn’t have that conversation. I know them both to be thoughtful people who could have that conversation in private. But you get the picture. Anyone working in this space is making a salary they don’t want to sacrifice. They’ve raised money from people who expect them to carry on. And they live in a world that doesn’t want to hear bad news. No crypto podcast wants to interview someone who says this is all bullshit. (Believe me, I’ve tried. LOL.)
In terms of ineffectiveness, I think the biggest problem is how things are measured. Most ReFi projects are currently looking at carbon sequestering and, more specifically, planting trees. (Regen Network, which I cited above, is the exception to the tree-planting). It turns out that we don’t have enough land on earth to plant enough trees to counter the carbon emissions, so a lot of other work has to be done. It also turns out that these things are gameable. How can we be sure that the same tree isn’t counted by two different projects, for example? How can we be sure that people aren’t just cutting down trees as fast as we are planting them? The problem with carbon credits, in general, has always been the gameability of the credits. Carbon credits are a kind of symbol that represents something in the real world. In other words, a carbon credit isn’t a direct measure of the real world but a proxy for something.
The final problem with the ReFi movement is that carbon offsets allow polluters to pollute. If there were no such thing as a carbon credit, and companies were required to be carbon neutral, they would have to be carbon neutral. With the advent of carbon offsets, companies can pollute and still call themselves carbon-neutral. Said plainly, a carbon offset is a permission to pollute. All of those problems add up to ineffectiveness, which is the biggest threat, not necessarily to the industry, but to the planet. It's possible for the industry to grow and the environment to worsen. That's what's been happening since the advent of carbon offsets, so we need to be careful that we aren't just doing lip service to environmentalism.
One tiny pet peeve I have is how much travel is involved in this movement. We can’t keep flying all over the world to conferences and pretending we really care about the environment. Of all the industries, this is where we should be able to get creative about meeting in the metaverse and taking the train. You can work online from anywhere, so what’s the rush? Take the train. They’ve got WiFi and you can afford it. Do combined online/offline events. It’s a bit of a pet peeve, but I think it’s incongruous to spend your career working in this industry but not consider your own ecological footprint.
What does your work focus on at the moment?
My work focuses on connectivity among communities. Right now, the connectivity is informal, either through personal connections or meetings at conferences. There is no “membership card.” There is no map of projects. There is no shared values system. It’s all very informal, and there’s a tremendous amount of duplicated efforts. Even worse, there’s a kind of competition between us. We are all supposedly on the same mission—regenerating the planet—and yet we seem to be competing with one another for members and funding. One paradigm I use is the idea that we have created all of these flotillas: how can we become an armada? ReFi is generally moving in a particular direction but not in a coordinated way, and there are rogues and Greenwashers. The connectivity tissue would allow us to share resources, coordinate, and find one another.
The most salient thing I’ve been focusing on is PricelessDAO, where we want to explore alternatives to the monetary system. This project is at the research stage, and we’re looking for funding, which is quite a challenge because the systems we want to prototype will probably only be functional two generations from now. That seems the right approach, as far as I’m concerned. Whenever I hear someone talk about “world governance" it chills me. Let’s prototype some things on a regional level, see how they work, and then expand it slowly. So many of these concepts for a new system seem to start with “if only everyone would …”. You don’t know what the right system is for everyone, and neither do I. We’ve done a great job of little experiments and now need to scale to a regional or multi-community level. That’s where my focus has been.
On our website, PricelessDAO.io, we have put together a full whitepaper that describes the fundamentals of how we are thinking. For this interview, I want to outline two basics of how regenerators should consider the economies they are creating.
First of all, the DeFi and ReFi industries suffer from not having any real resources. We don’t own a chip fabrication plant, cloud servers, electricity generation capacity, food, land, or water. The banning of Tornado Cash and the subsequent transition of Ethereum to a censored network is just one example of what happens when we don’t have the ability to host our own systems. So that’s a starter. As you are creating your ReFi ecosystems, to what degree are they real ecosystems versus dependent on other systems for inputs? The more you require inputs from outside, the more you rely on the system you are trying to replace. One measure of success might be that we no longer need fiat currency, so you might ask yourself how we are moving toward that model.
Secondly, there needs to be some form of identity that allows you to know you are in the network and carry your identity and reputation. Gitcoin’s Passport has done incredible work in this direction, at least in creating a basic identity, and there are physical passports with built-in microchips from the Kong.Land folks.
Thirdly, there’s an underlying connectivity tissue missing. AI is almost completely lacking. Everyone has 8 chat apps, 6 social networks, 5 email addresses, 4 wallets, 2 search engines, and is still using Google Docs. I’ve been talking to many people about what this “network” might look like, and I’m not sure, but maybe it’s some dashboard with AI behind it, so you aren’t lost every day. The newsfeed is the closest thing I’ve seen to this connectivity network, and it’s not what we need in Web3, but I’m inquiring about what that might be.
Finally, rethinking community is essential. Hard forks and rage quits are not the way to build the regenerative society of the future. The economies I’m working on are always based on physical communities, so we can start to develop some best practices around that.
I’ll run my “Future Ain’t What It Used to Be” workshop again in December. It’s a six-week reverse-classroom discussion on currency, governance, and community design.
Which other ReFi projects give you hope?
I mentioned Regen Network and Regen Foundation above, and they are doing good work.
I have faith in projects like KinDAO, AcreDO, and PortalDAO that are looking at regenerating physical spaces. KinDAO and PortalDAO in particular have been focused on the human work of learning to know themselves and develop the skills needed to live in a community. Our individualistic paradigm needs to transform to really regenerate the earth. I also am a fan of Kong.land because they understand the importance of having control of the devices we use, down to the chipset.
How do you see the future of the ReFi movement developing?
Hopefully, ReFi will be able to evolve beyond accounting methods to measure the real impact on the earth. It would be great to see dashboards of the measures of regeneration and coordination on the ground to improve planetary health.
If you have advice for someone who wants to get into the ReFi space, what would it be?
Get your hands in the dirt — volunteer in regenerative agriculture or forestry for at least a few weeks. Figure out what is really needed on the ground before you start building. Finance is highly abstract, but regeneration is on the ground. It’s profound to get a natural feeling for how much physical work goes into producing the food, electricity, and other goods you use every day. After all, the connection to the earth is why you are entering the field, so make sure to nurture that connection.