What’s the Environmental Impact of Cryptocurrency?

June 3, 2021 Off By Alicia Hunt

Cryptocurrencies have come a very long way from their comparatively obscure origins. While the mainstream financial world after disdained digital monies as resources for offenders and speculators, the industry has made significant progress in establishing itself as a legitimate and (potentially) world-changing space.

Bitcoin (BTC) and ether (ETH) have seen enormous growth in price and users, but there are still doubts regarding the consequences of wide cryptocurrency adoption. Specifically, many skeptics and environmentalists have raised concerns regarding the energy intake of crypto mining, which might cause increased carbon emissions and climate change.

Why Mining Requires Energy

These astronomical energy costs are because of the aggressive nature of proof-of-work blockchains. Instead of storing account balances in a centralized database, cryptocurrency trades are recorded with a distributed network of miners, incentivized by block benefits . These specialized computers are participated in a computational race to record new cubes, which may only be created by solving cryptographic puzzles.

Cryptocurrency advocates believe that this system has many advantages over centralized monies because it doesn’t rely on any trusted intermediary or single point of failure. However, the puzzles for mining demand several energy-intensive computations.

Bitcoin, the most widely-known cryptocurrency system, uses 121 Terawatt-hours of power each year, the BBC reported in 2021–over the entire state of Argentina. In accordance with Digiconomist, a cryptocurrency analytics site, the Ethereum network uses as much power as the whole state of Qatar.

1 major concern among environmentalists is that mining tends to become less efficient as the price of cryptocurrency increases. In the case of bitcoin, the mathematical puzzles to create blocks get more difficult as the price goes up, but transaction throughput remains constant. This implies that more than the system will have more calculating power and energy to process the same amount of trades.

Cryptocurrency Advocates Defend Mining

Supporters have downplayed the energy consumption of cryptocurrencies, asserting that mining operations have a tendency to concentrate around regions with surplus renewable energy. A 2019 report by CoinShares, a pro-cryptocurrency research company, estimated that 74.1percent of the electricity powering the bitcoin system came from renewable sources, which makes bitcoin mining”more renewables-driven than almost every other large-scale industry in the world.”

These claims rest on the truth that cryptocurrency miners are not geographically fixed, letting them proceed in search of excess energy. According to CoinDesk, some petroleum companies are exploring ways to power mining rigs from gas flares, which would otherwise be wasted electricity. Some Chinese mining firms migrate from one province to another in search of the least expensive energy, thereby encouraging cheap renewable suppliers in those locations.

Calculations of bitcoin’s renewable energy use are contentious and often disputed. For instance, a report by the Cambridge Center for Alternative Finance discovered that just 39% of bitcoin mining comes from renewable energy. Even with the most optimistic estimates of renewable energy usage, the network represents a net contributor to carbon emissions.

Other Environmental Impacts of Cryptocurrency Mining

In addition to energy consumption, cryptocurrency mining additionally creates a considerable number of electronic waste as hardware becomes obsolete. This is especially true for Application-Specific Integrated Circuits, technical hardware for mining the most well-known cryptocurrencies.

Unlike other computer hardware, these circuits cannot be reused for any other purpose, and they immediately become obsolete. According to Digiconomist, the bitcoin network generates between eight and 12 thousand tons of electronic waste each year.

Cryptocurrencies Without Mining

Additionally, it is worth noting that a high number of cryptocurrencies have minimal ecological effects. Specifically, proof-of-stake blockchains such as EOS and Cardano do not have mining, enabling transactions to be processed with the same energy requirements as a normal computer network.

Although this model has clear benefits over mining, it is hard for an established network to transition to a different consensus mechanism. Ethereum is expected to update to a proof-of-stake blockchain, but the proposal has been contested by miners, as CoinDesk has reported.