Subnets are Solving The Crypto Scalability Problem

While most struggle to gain familiarity with the increasing role of distributed ledgers in the wider economy, developers are already delving deeper into providing more advanced functionality. Right now, software engineering teams are working on technology that will become integral to global functioning in the years to come.

One critical innovation in Web3 that will facilitate wide-scale adoption is the subnet. While it is possible to explore these concepts in-depth, it is much better to simply give a high-level overview. When the complicated terminology is removed, the core concepts are actually very relatable.

What Is The Crypto Scalability Problem?

In crypto “lingo,” blockchains are divided into Layer One (L1) and Layer Two (L2). Again, this sounds a lot more complicated than it is. L2 blockchains are those that address specific problems that an L1 blockchain cannot cope with. They are placed “on top” of earlier blockchains.

A prime example is Bitcoin. Bitcoin, the first cryptocurrency, was a wonderful innovation for its time. But it quickly ran into massive scalability problems, with high fees and network congestion. So it needed a L2 solution, which is known as the Lightning Network. In the same way, Ethereum ran into issues as an earlier crypto ecosystem. So it needed to resort to an L2 solution in the form of Plasma.

Unfortunately, these L2 solutions are not doing what they are supposed to do. Ethereum is still the primary ecosystem on which dApps are built, and NFTs are traded (as ERC-20 tokens). Still, it has massive fees, which is why developers and market newcomers are looking towards alternatives such as Avalanche.

L2 solutions are not resolving the problem of scalability. High fees and slow speeds are powerful indicators that cryptocurrency cannot go mainstream. If cryptocurrency needs global adoption, it needs to be able to cope with more people on the network. L2 solutions have not yet proven up to the mark. Subnets are a much more versatile and effective technology.

Exploring Subnets Within Web3

Subnets are a game-changer for crypto scalability. A subnet is merely a sub-level network within a larger network. Each blockchain is simply a network – a network being the number of nodes/servers that communicate with each other through distinct protocols. The subnet will take attributes from the parent chain/larger network but will have a specific use case.

Subnets are closely related to the concept of sharding. They are very reliable, efficient, and better at solving scalability than L2 blockchains. The major difference between subnets and sharding is that subnets can be created at will by customers and developers.

While sharding is built into the architecture, you can launch infinite subnets to see which ones scale the best while implementing the sharding model. In other words, you can create infinite subnets that take the best attributes from the initial blockchain network. These subnets can be put to a variety of different uses.

Subnets Are Already Taking Over

Avalanche is a prominent blockchain that has recently launched subnets, allowing many newer Web3 projects to build their own ecosystems. Ayoken Labs has launched its token on the Avalanche C-Chain. Ayoken is a digital collectibles marketplace that connects creators to global audiences. With a vision to onboard 10 million new crypto users & digital collectible owners, Ayoken Labs aims to catalyze the mainstream adoption of crypto in emerging markets. It is onboarding creatives to the metaverse. And it selected Avalanche to assist with this venture.

Avalanche offers C-Chain, X-Chain, and P-Chain subnets. P-Chain is for staking, X-Chain is for sending and receiving transfers, and C-Chain is for smart contracts (broadly speaking). These subnets allow for distinct chains to be used for specific purposes. But they are all validated by the primary network, taking its benefits with them.

Ankr is another web3 company that aims to be a major player in the subnet/sidechain space. Ankr is a major Web3 infrastructure provider that launched the first Binance Smart Chain Application Sidechain (BAS) testnet, along with Celer and NodeReal.

The BAS Testnet is a framework for creating side chains dedicated to applications in the BNB Chain ecosystem. Ankr is also the main infrastructure partner for Binance, Fantom, and Polygon and has helped these major firms to scale. Ankr also launched the first game on the Binance Application Sidechain (BAS).

It is currently the leading RPC provider and offers a cost-effective mechanism to build, deploy, and scale in Web3. Its low latency and high resilience levels can be observed from many tracking tools.

As a major infrastructure provider, Ankr is also looking to launch subnets so that Web3 projects can grow from a stable, fast, and efficient foundation. This enables projects to test and grow without being “locked-in” to a previous blockchain.

Crypto Scalability Issues: A Thing Of The Past

Subnet functionality is going to become a core necessity to build the future of Web3 and resolve the crypto scalability issue. It resolves perhaps the most pressing issue observed with previous blockchains. Development teams can tweak and test in secure environments and can create as many subnets as they wish.

These innovations will ultimately help to grow the wider ecosystem and help to quickly replace legacy systems that are already obsolete.linkedin social icon

By: Victor Fabusola Crypto Writer & Blockchain Journalist. Lover of mental models and conscious hip-hop.

Source: Subnets are Solving the Crypto Scalability Problem | HackerNoon

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Related contents:

 Internet Standard Subnetting Procedure. IETF. doi:10.17487/RFC0950. RFC 950. Updated by RFC 6918.V. Fuller; T. Li (August 2006).

Classless Inter-domain Routing (CIDR): The Internet Address Assignment and Aggregation Plan. Network Working Group. doi:10.17487/RFC4632. RFC 4632.R. Braden, ed. (October 1989).

Requirements for Internet Hosts — Communication Layers. Network Working Group IETF. sec. 3.3.1. doi:10.17487/RFC1122. RFC 1122. Updated by RFC 1349, RFC 4379, RFC 5884, RFC 6093, RFC 6298, RFC 6633, RFC 6864, RFC 8029.T. Narten; E. Nordmark; W. Simpson; H. Soliman (September 2007). Neighbor Discovery for IP version 6 (IPv6). Network Working Group. doi:10.17487/RFC4861. RFC 4861.H. Singh; W. Beebee; E. Nordmark (July 2010).

IPv6 Subnet Model: The Relationship between Links and Subnet Prefixes. IETF. doi:10.17487/RFC5942. RFC 5942.“Document ID 13711 – Subnet Zero and the All-Ones Subnet”. Cisco Systems. 2005-08-10. Retrieved 2010-04-25. Traditionally, it was strongly recommended that subnet zero and the all-ones subnet not be used for addressing. […]

Document ID 13711 – Subnet Zero and the All-Ones Subnet”. Cisco Systems. 2005-08-10. Retrieved 2010-04-23. the first […] subnet[…], known as subnet zero“Document ID 13711 – Subnet Zero and the All-Ones Subnet”. Cisco Systems. 2005-08-10. Retrieved 2010-04-23. […] the last subnet[…], known as […] the all-ones subnetJeffrey Mogul; Jon Postel (August 1985).

Internet Standard Subnetting Procedure. IETF. p. 6. doi:10.17487/RFC0950. RFC 950. It is useful to preserve and extend the interpretation of these special addresses in subnetted networks. This means the values of all zeros and all ones in the subnet field should not be assigned to actual (physical) subnets.Troy Pummill; Bill Manning (December 1995).

Variable Length Subnet Table For IPv4. IETF. doi:10.17487/RFC1878. RFC 1878. This practice is obsolete! Modern software will be able to utilize all definable networks. (Informational RFC, demoted to category Historic)A. Retana; R. White; V. Fuller; D. McPherson (December 2000).

Using 31-Bit Prefixes on IPv4 Point-to-Point Links. doi:10.17487/RFC3021. RFC 3021.R. Hinden; S. Deering (February 2006). IP Version 6 Addressing Architecture – section 2.5.1. Interface Identifiers. IETF. sec. 2.5.1. doi:10.17487/RFC4291. RFC 4291. For all unicast addresses, except those that start with the binary value 000, Interface IDs are required to be 64 bits long and to be constructed in Modified EUI-64 format. (Updated by RFC 5952, RFC 6052, RFC 7136, RFC 7346, RFC 7371, RFC 8064.)S. Thomson; T. Narten; T. Jinmei (September 2007).

IPv6 Stateless Address Autoconfiguration – section 5.5.3.(d) Router Advertisement Processing. IETF. sec. 5.5.3. doi:10.17487/RFC4862. RFC 4862. It is the responsibility of the system administrator to ensure that the lengths of prefixes contained in Router Advertisements are consistent with the length of interface identifiers for that link type. […]M. Crawford (December 1998).

Transmission of IPv6 Packets over Ethernet Networks – section 4 Stateless Autoconfiguration. IETF. sec. 4. doi:10.17487/RFC2464. RFC 2464. The Interface Identifier [AARCH] for an Ethernet interface is based on the EUI-64 identifier [EUI64] derived from the interface’s built-in 48-bit IEEE 802 address. […]M. Kohno; B. Nitzan; R. Bush; Y. Matsuzaki; L. Colitti; T. Narten (April 2011).

Using 127-Bit IPv6 Prefixes on Inter-Router Links. IETF. doi:10.17487/RFC6164. RFC 6164. On inter-router point-to-point links, it is useful, for security and other reasons, to use 127-bit IPv6 prefixes.W. George (February 2012).

RFC 3627 to Historic Status. IETF. doi:10.17487/RFC6547. RFC 6547. This document moves “Use of /127 Prefix Length Between Routers Considered Harmful” (RFC 3627) to Historic status to reflect the updated guidance contained in “Using 127-Bit IPv6 Prefixes on Inter-Router Links” (RFC 6164).R. Hinden; S. Deering (February 2006).

IP Version 6 Addressing Architecture – section 2 IPv6 Addressing. IETF. sec. 2. doi:10.17487/RFC4291. RFC 4291. There are no broadcast addresses in IPv6, their function being superseded by multicast addresses. […] In IPv6, all zeros and all ones are legal values for any field, unless specifically excluded.R. Hinden; S. Deering (February 2006).

IP Version 6 Addressing Architecture – section 2.6.1 Required Anycast Address. IETF. sec. 2.6.1. doi:10.17487/RFC4291. RFC 4291. This anycast address is syntactically the same as a unicast address for an interface on the link with the interface identifier set to zero.

“Subnet Router Anycast Addresses – what are they, how do they work? – Into6”.“TCP/IP addressing and subnetting – Windows Client”.“IPv6 Addressing Plans”. ARIN IPv6 Wiki. Retrieved 2010-04-25. All customers get one /48 unless they can show that they need more than 65k subnets. […] I

IPv6 Address Assignment to End Sites. IETF. doi:10.17487/RFC6177. ISSN 2070-1721. BCP 157. RFC 6177. APNIC, ARIN, and RIPE have revised the end site assignment policy to encourage the assignment of smaller (i.e., /56) blocks to end sites.

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Bringing Math to the Many: A Reading List

Source: Bringing Math to the Many: A Reading List ‹ Literary Hub

Critics by Asia Society International Studies Schools

The body of knowledge and practice known as mathematics is derived from the contributions of thinkers throughout the ages and across the globe. It gives us a way to understand patterns, to quantify relationships, and to predict the future. Math helps us understand the world — and we use the world to understand math.

The world is interconnected. Everyday math shows these connections and possibilities. The earlier young learners can put these skills to practice, the more likely we will remain an innovation society and economy. Algebra can explain how quickly water becomes contaminated and how many people in a third-world country drinking that water might become sickened on a yearly basis. A study of geometry can explain the science behind architecture throughout the world.

Statistics and probability can estimate death tolls from earthquakes, conflicts and other calamities around the world. It can also predict profits, how ideas spread, and how previously endangered animals might repopulate. Math is a powerful tool for global understanding and communication. Using it, students can make sense of the world and solve complex and real problems. Rethinking math in a global context offers students a twist on the typical content that makes the math itself more applicable and meaningful for students.

For students to function in a global context, math content needs to help them get to global competence, which is understanding different perspectives and world conditions, recognizing that issues are interconnected across the globe, as well as communicating and acting in appropriate ways. In math, this means reconsidering the typical content in atypical ways, and showing students how the world consists of situations, events and phenomena that can be sorted out using the right math tools.

Any global contexts used in math should add to an understanding of the math, as well as the world. To do that, teachers should stay focused on teaching good, sound, rigorous and appropriate math content and use global examples that work. For instance, learners will find little relevance in solving a word problem in Europe using kilometers instead of miles when instruments already convert the numbers easily. It doesn’t contribute to a complex understanding of the world.

Math is often studied as a pure science, but is typically applied to other disciplines, extending well beyond physics and engineering. For instance, studying exponential growth and decay (the rate at which things grow and die) within the context of population growth, the spread of disease, or water contamination, is meaningful. It not only gives students a real-world context in which to use the math, but helps them understand global phenomena –

They may hear about a disease spreading in India, but can’t make the connection without understanding how fast something like cholera can spread in a dense population. In fact, adding a study of growth and decay to lower level algebra – it’s most often found in algebra II – may give more students a chance to study it in the global context than if it’s reserved for the upper level math that not all students take.

In a similar vein, a study of statistics and probability is key to understanding many of the events of the world, and is usually reserved for students at a higher level of math, if it gets any study in high school at all. But many world events and phenomena are unpredictable and can only be described using statistical models, so a globally focused math program needs to consider including statistics.

Probability and statistics can be used to estimate death tolls from natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunamis; the amount of aid that might be necessary to help in the aftermath; and the number people who would be displaced. Understanding the world also means appreciating the contributions of other cultures. In algebra, students could benefit from studying numbers systems that are rooted in other cultures, such the Mayan and Babylonian systems, a base 20 and base 60 system, respectively.

They gave us elements that still work in current math systems, such as the 360 degrees in a circle, and the division of the hour into 60 minute intervals, and including this type of content can help develop an appreciation for the contributions other cultures have made to our understanding of math.

Related contents:

Cornwall College’s old boys launch scholarship in memory of legendary mathematics teacher Jamaica Gleaner

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Amazon To Buy Plug Power’s ‘Green’ Hydrogen In Deal With $2.1 Billion Stock Option

An electric warehouse forklift uses Plug Power's fuel cell system. Plug Power

Plug Power, which supplies fuel cells for electric forklifts used by Amazon and other companies, said the retail giant plans to buy thousands of tons of carbon-free “green” hydrogen from it per year in a deal that also includes an option to acquire a stake in the company worth up to $2.1 billion.

Under the agreement Plug will begin providing Amazon with 10,950 tons of liquified hydrogen per year that will be used to fuel transportation and building operations, starting in 2025. It’s the biggest such deal to date for the Latham, New York-based company, which expects to hit an annual revenue target of $3 billion by 2025 as a result.

“It’s a huge deal … it’s a huge deal for the (hydrogen) industry,” Andy Marsh, Plug Power’s CEO, tells Forbes. Along with fuel for forklifts, Amazon may also use hydrogen to power a range of vehicles used in delivery operations, including long-haul trucks, he said. “It’s the first, much larger-scale hydrogen ecosystem for Amazon where they’re really thinking about all the applications they can use hydrogen in.”

Hydrogen is expected to become a major source of electric power, along with batteries, for both vehicle propulsion, as well as an option for stationary power generation and storage. While most industrial hydrogen that’s used for oil refining, food processing and the chemical industry is currently made by extracting the element from natural gas, that method emits carbon dioxide.

Companies including Plug, Cummins, Nikola, Nel Hydrogen and many others are shifting to a new technique using electrolyzers that can make a “green” form of the fuel from electricity–ideally from renewable sources–and water that has no climate-harming carbon emissions.

Hydrogen also gets a boost from the new Inflation Reduction Act signed into law this month by President Joe Biden, which includes a production tax credit for green hydrogen worth $3 per kilogram of carbon-free fuel.

Plug, which will benefit from that credit, has sold Amazon fuel cells for its warehouse forklifts since 2016, and estimates it’s provided more than 15,000 units to date. The company aims to expand its hydrogen fuel supply business and is adding production capacity to do that. Plug has said it will be able to make 500 tons of green hydrogen per day at facilities in North America by 2025, up from a goal of 70 tons per day by the end of this year.

By 2028, it hopes to produce 1,000 tons of hydrogen per day. Amazon said the deal is part of efforts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions across all its operations by 2040. It believes “scaling the supply and demand for green hydrogen, such as through this agreement with Plug Power, will play a key role in helping us achieve our goals,” Kara Hurst, Amazon’s vice president of sustainability at Amazon, said in a statement.

As part of the deal, Plug granted Amazon a warrant to acquire up to 16 million shares, with an exercise price of $22.98 for the first 9 million. It vests in full after Amazon spends $2.1 billion on Plug products over the seven-year term of the deal.Shares of Plug Power rose 9% to close at $30 in Nasdaq trading on Thursday.

I track technology-driven changes that reshape how we get around from Los Angeles, America’s sunny capital of congestion.

Source: Amazon To Buy Plug Power’s ‘Green’ Hydrogen In Deal With $2.1 Billion Stock Option

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How Digital Currencies Went From Boom To Collapse

Yuri Popovich had watched his neighbours’ houses burn down to the ground in Kyiv and he needed a safe place to put his money. So he did what millions of amateur investors have done in recent years: he turned to cryptocurrency. “It was impossible and unsafe to store funds in the form of banknotes. There was a big risk of theft, we also had cases of looting. Therefore, I trusted a ‘stable and reliable’ cryptocurrency. Not for the purpose of speculating, but simply to save,” he says.

The digital asset that Popovich chose in April was terra, a “stablecoin” whose value was supposed to be pegged to the dollar. It collapsed in May, sparking a rout in the cryptocurrency market whose victims include Popovich. He lost $10,000 (£8,200). Popovich says his losses were “devastating”, although donations from sympathetic onlookers on social media have helped make up some of the shortfall. He says: “I stopped sleeping normally, lost 4kg, I often have headaches and anxiety.”

Popovich is one of many experiencing the deep chill of the current crypto winter, more than four years after the market’s cornerstone, bitcoin, marked the first digital freeze by tumbling from its then peak. It went on a long tear after that but it has come to a juddering halt, with bitcoin falling below the $20,000 mark at one point this month – far below its peak of nearly $69,000, which it hit last November.

The fall has been sharp and spectacular: an overall market that was estimated to be worth more than $3tn barely six months ago is now worth less than $1tn.

Crypto boom: a new digital economy

The beginnings of the latest crypto boom held all the hallmarks of being another instance of the “Robinhood economy”, named after the popular American stock trading app. Bored white collar workers, stuck at home because of pandemic lockdowns but awash with disposable income, turned to day trading as a way to pass the time. Subscribers to the r/WallStreetBets forum on the popular online discussion site Reddit doubled over the course of 2020 and then quadrupled in the first month of 2021, as a small army of retail investors flooded into assets as varied as the then bankrupt car rental company Hertz, the troubled video game retailer GameStop and the electric car manufacturer Tesla, pushing the latter from $85 at the beginning of the pandemic to a high of $1,243 towards the end of 2021.

Cryptocurrencies also benefited from the surge in day trading. Bitcoin soared from a low of $5,000 in March 2020 to more than $60,000 a year later. The currency has had that sort of precipitous increase before: in 2017, it had risen 20-fold, to its then peak of $19,000. But in the latest boom, ethereum, the number two cryptocurrency, had an even more impressive climb, from just $120 to a high of almost $5,000 in 2021.

Cryptocurrency is the name for any digital asset that works like bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency, which was invented in 2009. There is a “decentralised ledger”, which records who owns what, built into a “blockchain”, which secures the whole network by ensuring transactions are irreversible once made. In the years since then, a dizzying amount of variations have arisen, but the core – the blockchain concept – is remarkably stable, in part because of the social implications of truly decentralised networks being immune to government oversight or regulation.

Where, 10 years ago, people simply spoke of trading in bitcoin, the space has ballooned. As well as cryptocurrencies themselves, , the sector has developed in a complex ecosystem. It encompasses Web3, a broader selection of apps and services built on top of cryptocurrencies, DeFi, an attempt to bootstrap an entire financial sector out of code rather than contracts, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which use the same technology as cryptocurrencies to trade in objects rather than money.

The flood of money washing into the world of crypto did more than simply inflate the paper wealth of pre-existing shareholders. Instead, it led to a surge of interest in, and funding for, the vast array of projects that aimed to capitalise on the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies. For a generation of new investors, the “decentralised finance” opportunities of the sector were appealing. Built on top of the “programmable money” of the ethereum cryptocurrency, the “DeFi” [decentralised finance] sector is an attempt to expand bitcoin’s anti-establishment ethos to cover the entire economy.

Take the comparatively small sector of the crypto market known as NFTs. A product dating back to 2014, NFTs take the tech used to create cryptocurrencies, but let creators link unique assets to the blockchain, instead of money-like currencies. That means NFTs can be traded that represent works of art, virtual collectibles, or even function as tickets to events or membership of clubs. And like cryptocurrencies, they can be bought or sold in open exchanges, held pseudonymously, and packaged up or securitised in complex financial instruments.

One token, representing years of work by the digital artist Beeple, sold for $69m; another, linked to the first tweet sent by the Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, was bought for $2.9m. Individual NFTs in the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection – the most consistently desired examples of “profile pic” NFTs, designed to be used as pre-packaged online identity – regularly sold for $1m-$3m apiece. But by the beginning of 2022, the NFT bubble appeared to have already popped. “Floor” prices for large NFT collections had plummeted, and, while many large NFT acquisitions have stayed in private collection, those that have been put back on the market have fared poorly: the Dorsey tweet was withdrawn from sale after achieving a top bid of just $14,000.

And then: the crash

The crypto crisis has played out against the backdrop of wider market problems, as fears over the Ukraine conflict, rising inflation and higher borrowing costs stalk investors. Some market watchers play down the prospect of a crypto crash triggering serious problems elsewhere in the financial markets or the global economy. The total value of all cryptocurrencies is about $1tn currently (with bitcoin accounting for about 40% of the total), which compares with approximately $100tn for the world’s stock markets.

Since November the value of all cryptocurrencies has fallen from $3tn, meaning that $2tn worth of wealth has been wiped out, with no serious knock-on effects to the broader stock market – so far. Teunis Brosens, the head economist for digital finance at the Dutch bank ING, says the traditional financial system is relatively well shielded because established banks – the cornerstones of the financial world that buckled in 2008 – are not exposed to cryptocurrencies because they do not hold digital assets on their balance sheets, unlike during the financial crisis when they held toxic debt products related to the housing market.

“What has happened in the crypto market has caused great losses for some investors and it’s all very painful and not something I want to downplay,” he says. “But it would be overplaying the role that crypto currently has in the economic and financial system if you were to think there could be systemic consequences for the wider financial system or even a global recession directly caused by crypto assets.” To date, the turmoil has been limited to the crypto sector. Digital assets have been hit by some of the same economic issues that have affected the wider global economy and stock markets. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been affected by concerns over rising inflation and the ensuing increases in interest rates by central banks, which has made risky assets less attractive to investors. This meant that as stock markets declined, so too did crypto assets.

But the collapse last month of terra also hit confidence in cryptocurrencies. In June, a cryptocurrency lender, Celsius, was forced to stop customer withdrawals. And a hedge fund that made big bets on the crypto markets slid towards liquidation. Crypto investors and firms that had made bets on the crypto market using digital assets as collateral were forced into a selling spree. Kim Grauer, the head of research at the cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis, says: “It was a combination of the stock market plus the kind of excessive reaction that is typical of crypto markets because of these cascading liquidations. In this case the key event was terra.”

She added: “Crypto is not going away. And it has experienced crashes more severe than this crash.” Regulators and various government agencies are looking closely. Harry Eddis, the global co-head of fintech at Linklaters, a London-based law firm, says recent events in the crypto asset market will strengthen regulators’ determination to rein in the industry.“nI think it will certainly stiffen the sinews of the regulators in saying that they’re more than justified in regulating the industry, because of the obvious risks with a lot of the crypto assets out there,” he says.

In the UK, the financial watchdog continues to expand safeguards on crypto products. Its latest proposals on marketing crypto products to consumers could lead to significant restrictions on crypto exchanges operating in the UK. Consumers reported 4,300 potential crypto scams to the Financial Conduct Authority’s website over a six-month period last year, far ahead of the second place category, pension transfers, which had 1,600 reports. The FCA has 50 live investigations, including criminal inquiries, into companies in the sector.

The terra collapse has also heightened regulatory concerns about stablecoins, because they are backed by traditional assets and therefore could pose a risk to the wider financial system. In the UK, the Treasury wants a regime in place for dealing with a stablecoin collapse, saying in May that a terra-like failure could endanger the “continuity of services critical to the operation of the economy and access of individuals to their funds or assets”.

“Even just the top three stablecoins hold reserves totalling $140bn in traditional assets, much of this being in commercial paper and US treasuries. A run on redemptions of the largest coin (tether) could destabilise the entire crypto asset system and spill over into other markets,” says Carol Alexander, the professor of finance at University of Sussex Business School.

Elsewhere, the EU is drawing up a regulatory framework for crypto assets with the aim of introducing it by 2024, while in the US Joe Biden has signed an executive order directing the federal government to coordinate a regulatory plan for cryptocurrencies including ensuring “sufficient oversight and safeguard against any systemic financial risks posed by digital assets”. The Federal Trade Commission, the US consumer watchdog, says 46,000 people have lost more than $1bn to crypto scams since the start of 2021.

In general, regulators have been talking tough about cryptocurrencies. The chair of the FCA has called for “strong safeguards” to be put in place for the crypto market, while the head of the US financial regulator has warned consumers about crypto products promising returns that are “too good to be true”, while Singapore has said it will be “brutal and unrelentingly hard” on misbehaviour in the crypto market.

‘I’m sure crypto will bubble again

Where crypto goes from here is an unanswerable question. For proponents, such as Changpeng Zhao, the multibillionaire owner of the Binance cryptocurrency exchange, the sector is sure to recover – though it might take some time. “I think given this price drop … it will probably take a while to get back,” he told the Guardian last week. “It probably will take a few months or a couple of years.”

For sceptics, however, the plummet could be a lasting wound. “Bitcoin will be around for decades,” says David Gerard, author of Attack of the 50-Foot Blockchain. “All you need is the software, the blockchain and two or more enthusiasts. Unless there’s new stringent regulation, I’m sure crypto will bubble again. But if there’s a genuine consumer bubble, it may not reach the heights of this one. The 2021-22 bubble made it to the Super Bowl. As many a dotcom found out 20 years ago, there’s nowhere to go from there – you’ve reached every consumer in America.”

But one thing both sides agree on is that the dividing line between “survivable downturn” and “cryptoapocalypse” is likely to involve neither bitcoin nor ethereum, but the third biggest cryptocurrency: a stablecoin called tether. Stablecoins are a foundational part of the crypto ecosystem. Their value is fixed to that of a conventional currency, allowing users to cash out of risky positions without going through the rigamarole of a bank transfer, and enabling crypto-native banks and DeFi establishments to work without taking on a currency risk.

In essence, stablecoins function like the banks of the crypto economy, allowing people to park their money safely in the knowledge that it is not exposed to wider risk. Which means that when a stablecoin collapses, it has a very similar effect to a bank failure: money disappears across the ecosystem, liquidity dries up, and other institutions begin to fail in a domino effect. The beginning of the latest crisis in crypto was sparked by exactly that: the failure of the terra/luna stablecoin. The algorithmic checks and balances put in place to keep it stable broke – triggering a death spiral.

And so on 9 May, a stablecoin called UST “depegged”, dropping from $1 to $0.75 in a day, and then falling further, and further and further. Within four days, the luna blockchain was turned off entirely, the project declared dead. A domino effect took out other crypto establishments. Some of the “contagion” has been prevented, in part through huge loans made by Alameda Ventures, the investment arm of 30-year-old crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried’s empire. Drawing comparisons to JP Morgan in the panic of 1907, “SBF” has stepped in to support the crypto bank Voyager and the embattled exchange BlockFi, and been loudly calling for support from others.

Unlike terra, tether is a “centralised” stablecoin, maintaining its value through reserves which, the company says, are always redeemable one-to-one for a tether token. The model means it cannot enter a “death spiral” like terra, but also means the stability of the token is entirely a function of how much one trusts tether to actually maintain its reserves. That trust is not a sure thing. Tether once claimed to hold all its reserves in “US dollars”, a claim that the New York attorney general’s office concluded in 2021 was “a lie”.

Tether, and Bitfinex – a bitcoin exchange that shares an executive team with, but is legally distinct from, Tether – “recklessly and unlawfully covered-up massive financial losses to keep their scheme going and protect their bottom lines”, Letitia James, the New York attorney general, said at the time. The two companies had transferred money back and forth to cover up insolvency, she said, and had failed to ensure tether was “fully backed at all times”, the investigation concluded.“Te ther has been the timebomb under the market since 2017,” says Gerard.

“It has reduced its market cap by 15bn USDT in the last month, and has claimed that these are redemptions, or a reduction in their holdings of ‘commercial paper’,” she says, referring to one of the key assets that Tether uses on its balance sheet: commercial paper, short-term debt issued by banks and corporations to cover immediate funding needs. Tether, for its part, remains extremely bullish – and has even suggested it may publish a formal audit of its reserves, something it said was “months away” in August 2021.

In late June, Tether announced another expansion: the introduction of the first GBP stablecoin. “We believe that the UK is the next frontier for blockchain innovation and the wider implementation of cryptocurrency for financial markets,” says Paolo Ardoino, the chief technology officer of Tether and Bitfinex. “Tether is ready and willing to work with UK regulators to make this goal a reality.” More regulation, and further market volatility, are a given. Popovich says he is still receiving donations. “I’m extremely embarrassed. Yesterday an anonymous person sent me $50 in the form of cryptocurrency. And I’ve never borrowed anything from anyone in my life. I’m scared and restless.”

Source: Crypto crisis: how digital currencies went from boom to collapse | Cryptocurrencies | The Guardian

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What Is Biodiversity and How are We Protecting It?

The United Nations has declared Sunday to be the International Day for Biodiversity to raise awareness of the extinction risk facing animals and plants. Nearly a third of all species are now endangered due to human activities.

Later this year governments will meet to come up with a long-term plan to reverse the threat to life on Earth – in all its varieties – at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in China.

What is biodiversity and why is it important?

Biodiversity is the variety of all life on Earth – animals, plants, fungi and micro-organisms like bacteria. Animals and plants provide humans with everything needed to survive – including fresh water, food, and medicines. However, we cannot get these benefits from individual species – we need a variety of animals and plants to be able to work together and thrive. In other words, we need biodiversity.

Plants are also very important for improving our physical environment – by cleaning the air we breathe, limiting rising temperatures and providing protection against climate change.

Mangrove swamps and coral reefs can act as a barrier to erosion from rising sea levels. And common trees found in cities such as the London plane or the tulip tree, are excellent at absorbing carbon dioxide and removing pollutants from the air.

How many species are at risk of extinction?

It is normal for species to evolve and become extinct over time – 98% of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. However, the extinction of species is now happening between 1,000 and 10,000 times more quickly than scientists would expect to see.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has kept a “red list” of threatened species since 1964. More than 142,000 species have been assessed and 29% are considered endangered, which means they have a very high risk of extinction.

graphic showing how one in four species of those assessed by the IUCN Red List are at risk of extinction, including 40% of amphibians and 14% of birds
graphic showing how one in four species of those assessed by the IUCN Red List are at risk of extinction, including 40% of amphibians and 14% of birds

What are countries trying to agree in China?

It is hoped an agreement can be reached to stop what scientists are calling the “sixth mass extinction” event.

For many people living in towns and cities, wildlife is often something you watch on television. But the reality is that the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat all ultimately rely on biodiversity. Some examples are obvious: without plants there would be no oxygen and without bees to pollinate there would be no fruit or nuts.

Others are less obvious – coral reefs and mangrove swamps provide invaluable protection from cyclones and tsunamis for those living on coasts, while trees can absorb air pollution in urban areas.

Others appear bizarre – tropical tortoises and spider monkeys seemingly have little to do with maintaining a stable climate. But the dense, hardwood trees that are most effective in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere rely on their seeds being dispersed by these large fruit-eaters.

When scientists explore each ecosystem, they find countless such interactions, all honed by millions of years of evolution. If undamaged, this produces a finely balanced, healthy system which contributes to a healthy sustainable planet.

The sheer richness of biodiversity also has human benefits. Many new medicines are harvested from nature, such as a fungi that grows on the fur of sloths and can fight cancer. Wild varieties of domesticated animals and crops are also crucial as some will have already solved the challenge of, for example, coping with drought or salty soils.

If money is a measure, the services provided by ecosystems are estimated to be worth trillions of dollars – double the world’s GDP. Biodiversity loss in Europe alone costs the continent about 3% of its GDP, or €450m (£400m), a year.

From an aesthetic point of view, every one of the millions of species is unique, a natural work of art that cannot be recreated once lost. “Each higher organism is richer in information than a Caravaggio painting, a Bach fugue, or any other great work,” wrote Prof Edward O Wilson, often called the “father of biodiversity”, in a seminal paper in 1985.

Just how diverse is biodiversity?

Mind-bogglingly diverse. The simplest aspect to consider is species. About 1.7 million species of animals, plants and fungi have been recorded, but there are likely to be 8-9 million and possibly up to 100 million. The heartland of biodiversity is the tropics, which teems with species. In 15 hectares (37 acres) of Borneo forest, for example, there are 700 species of tree – the same number as the whole of North America.

Recent work considering diversity at a genetic level has suggested that creatures thought to be a single species could in some cases actually be dozens. Then add in bacteria and viruses, and the number of distinct organisms may well be in the billions. A single spoonful of soil – which ultimately provides 90% of all food – contains 10,000 to 50,000 different types of bacteria. The concern is that many species are being lost before we are even aware of them, or the role they play in the circle of life.

How bad is it?

Very. The best studied creatures are the ones like us – large mammals. Tiger numbers, for example, have plunged by 97% in the last century. In many places, bigger animals have already been wiped out by humans – think dodos or woolly mammoths.

The extinction rate of species is now thought to be about 1,000 times higher than before humans dominated the planet, which may be even faster than the losses after a giant meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs 65m years ago. The sixth mass extinction in geological history has already begun, according to some scientists.

Lack of data means the “red list”, produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, has only assessed 5% of known species. But for the best known groups it finds many are threatened: 25% of mammals, 41% of amphibians and 13% of birds.

Species extinction provides a clear but narrow window on the destruction of biodiversity – it is the disappearance of the last member of a group that is by definition rare. But new studies are examining the drop in the total number of animals, capturing the plight of the world’s most common creatures.

The results are scary. Billions of individual populations have been lost all over the planet, with the number of animals living on Earth having plunged by half since 1970. Abandoning the normally sober tone of scientific papers, researchers call the massive loss of wildlife a “biological annihilation” representing a “frightening assault on the foundations of human civilisation”.

What about under the sea?

Humans may lack gills but that has not protected marine life. The situation is no better – and perhaps even less understood – in the two-thirds of the planet covered by oceans. Seafood is the critical source of protein for more than 2.5 billion people but rampant overfishing has caused catches to fall steadily since their peak in 1996 and now more than half the ocean is industrially fished.

What about bugs – don’t cockroaches survive anything?

More than 95% of known species lack a backbone – there are about as many species in the staphylinidae family of beetles alone as there are total vertebrates, such as mammals, fish and birds. Altogether, there are at least a million species of insect and another 300,000 spiders, molluscs and crustaceans.

But the recent revelation that 75% of flying insects were lost in the last 25 years in Germany – and likely elsewhere – indicates the massacre of biodiversity is not sparing creepy crawlies. And insects really matter, not just as pollinators but as predators of pests, decomposers of waste and, crucially, as the base of the many wild food chains that support ecosystems.

“If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse,” says Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK. “We are currently on course for ecological Armageddon.”

Even much-loathed parasites are important. One-third could be wiped out by climate change, making them among the most threatened groups on Earth. But scientists warn this could destabilise ecosystems, unleashing unpredictable invasions of surviving parasites into new areas.

What’s destroying biodiversity?

We are, particularly as the human population rises and wild areas are razed to create farmland, housing and industrial sites. The felling of forests is often the first step and 30m hectares – the area of the Britain and Ireland – were lost globally in 2016.

Poaching and unsustainable hunting for food is another major factor. More than 300 mammal species, from chimpanzees to hippos to bats, are being eaten into extinction.

Pollution is a killer too, with orcas and dolphins being seriously harmed by long-lived industrial pollutants. Global trade contributes further harm: amphibians have suffered one of the greatest declines of all animals due to a fungal disease thought to be spread around the world by the pet trade. Global shipping has also spread highly damaging invasive species around the planet, particularly rats.

The hardest hit of all habitats may be rivers and lakes, with freshwater animal populations in these collapsing by 81% since 1970, following huge water extraction for farms and people, plus pollution and dams.

Locating the tipping point that moves biodiversity loss into ecological collapse is an urgent priority. Biodiversity is vast and research funds are small, but speeding up analysis might help, from automatically identifying creatures using machine learning to real-time DNA sequencing.

There is even an initiative that aims to create an open-source genetic database for all plants, animals and single-cell organisms on the planet. It argues that by creating commercial opportunities – such as self-driving car algorithms inspired by Amazonian ants – it could provide the incentive to preserve Earth’s biodiversity.

However, some researchers say the dire state of biodiversity is already clear enough and that the missing ingredient is political will.

A global treaty, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), has set many targets. Some are likely to be reached, for example protecting 17% of all land and 10% of the oceans by 2020. Others, such as making all fishing sustainable by the same date are not. The 196 nations that are members of the CBD next meet in Egypt in November.

In his 1985 text, Prof E O Wilson, concluded: “This being the only living world we are ever likely to know, let us join to make the most of it.” That call is more urgent than ever.

Source: What is biodiversity and how are we protecting it?

Further reading

The Biological Diversity Crisis (1985). Edward O Wilson. BioScience (Vol 35)

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014). Elizabeth Kolbert (Bloomsbury)

What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? (2013) Tony Juniper (Profile)

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (2010). Pushpam Kumar et al. (Earthscan)

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