Cryptocurrency is seen as a solution to many social problems, but is proving controversial. It is taking more and more criticism for its outsize use of computer resources and electricity, which are having clear impact on the environment, and souring opinion in a new environmental age. A recent audit of Bitcoin’s carbon footprint shows it is responsible for 22 megatons of CO2 emissions annually, which continues a year-over-year increase.
Right now, Bitcoin’s carbon footprint is tied with cities like Las Vegas and Hamburg, Germany. That is not great PR when you consider they don’t turn the lights out here in Las Vegas.
The gross expenditure of electricity comes from Bitcoin mining using specialized computers. ASIC computers work to find the right hash to mine a new block in the Bitcoin blockchain, making millions of attempts before getting it right. The process ensures that it is no easy task to forge a block. But with a greater demand for Bitcoin, the difficulty has increased, meaning more dedicated computers, and more power to run them.
We can compare that with Las Vegas and recent attempts to lower electricity usage. Las Vegas has led the way in LEDs, and operates one of the best water reclamation systems in the nation. For a city based on tourism, it takes strides to be efficient.
The Technical University of Munich surveyed a variety of Bitcoin-related data to estimate Bitcoin’s carbon footprint. This included the IP addresses of miners and the IPO filings of hardware manufacturers used for mining computers. The information they discovered was alarming.
Mining activity has rapidly increased in recent years, and quadrupled in 2018.
This is not the first audit of Bitcoins environmental impact. Researches have tried to determine the effect of cryptocurrency on global warming. But the authors of the latest study suggest those past attempts were undermined by inaccurate approximations.
This week the journal Joule described the problem, offering more detailed and precise calculations, which are carefully sourced. It came as a shock to many, who were aware of the problem, but not its severity.
Of course, it remains to be seen what will come of these revelations. Cryptocurrencies are slowly recovering from a bear market to regain their all time highs in December of 2017. As the technologies progress, more and more mainstream uses for them are being developed. You can even earn cryptocurrencies by playing games, as with the new Ecoin Ledger. And it is not uncommon to find merchants and drivers who will accept Bitcoin here in town, with many confident that the trend will only increase with time. So, whether you love it or hate it, cryptocurrency isn’t going anywhere.