Author: Erin Yoo
Envisage a society plagued by a continual cycle of accumulated environmental pollution and e-waste and an ambiguous viability of the very force driving this destructive cycle. This bleak scene is depicted in the themes presented in the novels Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and TIME Magazine’s 2020 June Issue. Our current digital society parallels this technology-environment dilemma. In Brave New World, the vicious cycle of soma, sleep conditioning, and the Alpha-Beta-Delta-Gamma-Epsilon caste system was a harbinger of a vapid society, consumed by technology. In contrast with the Reservation with its flourishing flora and fauna, the World State was focused only on technology and how to maximize the profits of life. Moreover, TIME Magazine’s June Issue exemplified that environmental impact is not a matter of detached concern. Climate change, which had been a widely circulated topic, has not been a priority. The nation’s relative lack of action with regards to the 2030 climate change goal set by the United Nations upholds this point. At a microcosm, these multifaceted issues ultimately construe a valid caveat regarding technology’s impact on the environment. The ultimate benefit of crypto mining is being debated. Therefore, contemplating these points, the potential negative environmental impact of crypto mining does not outweigh the benefits of this type of currency because it renders pernicious environmental pollution, e-waste, and has little financial sustainability.
First and foremost, crypto mining releases a significantly amount of carbon emissions. The Bitcoin network consumed about 114 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. In addition, it is elucidated that in 2020, the most widely mined cryptocurrency network, Bitcoin, consumed an estimated 26.73 Terawatt-hours of electricity annually, as well as 167.72 Terawatt-hours of electricity through production point’s energy assets (“What’s the Environment Impact”). Augmenting this point, the second-largest cryptocurrency network, Ethereum, consumes an estimated 87.29 Terawatt-hours of electricity annually (“What’s the Environment Impact”). These massive numbers are only projected to increase if this trend continues. Indeed, the proof-of-work, and its plethora of counterparts, constitutes the intrinsic backbone of crypto mining, and it is the ultimate Russian roulette of mining profitability. Indeed, the fact that bitcoin mining expends an annual 121.36-terawatt hours reinforces the uncertain viability of crypto mining (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). This ambiguity in the crypto mining process engenders an even intense competition among minders. In March of 2021, it was reported that Bitcoin energy consumption increases almost 62 times the amount in 2015 (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). Proponents of crypto mining argue that there are more sustainable options available, including co-location with resources with no carbon emissions. (Joshua, “Is Bitcoin Inherently Bad”). On the contrary, this idea is unsound because it contradicts the entire premise of crypto mining’s aim: financial profitability. In fact, this idea requires an exorbitant upfront capital expenditure, which, considering that issue, is not feasible (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). Additionally, it was articulated that China, who monopolized the Bitcoin network with over 65 percent of control, has hindered crypto mining (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). All in all, of all the 15,400 cumulative components in the cryptocurrency system, it is elaborated that none of them consider the data accounting for the energy consumption for coin development and administration (“What’s the Environment Impact”). The fact that the U.S. relies mostly on fossil fuel for energy consumption manifests the relative viability of moving away from the crypto mining trend.
Moreover, crypto mining operations facilitate significant e-waste. Machines designed for mining the most ubiquitous cryptocurrencies, the Application-Specific Integrated Circuit miners, especially pertain to this trend of moving away from hardware mining. Around 35 thousand tons of electronic waste is generated annually by the Bitcoin network, according to May 27, 2022, data (“What’s the Environmental Impact”). The advent of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) exacerbates this issue. Ethereum, who creates the NFTs, expends 440 pounds of carbon for the average NFT (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). This is the same amount of energy expended as driving 500 miles in a gasoline car (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). This energy expenditure produces 10 times the emissions than the average Ethereum transaction (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). Validating this point, the carbon footprint of an average NF is more than an EU resident’s monthly electricity expenditure, as estimated by a digital artist (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). Unfortunately, NFTs are highly profitable, ensuring that this harmful environmental action is only expected to continue. In fact, it was emphasized that one NFT sold for more than $69 million by the digital artist Beeple (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). Supporters of crypto mining cite the Crypto Climate Accord and co-location with oil fields as energy-efficient options (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). However, this endeavor entails a less decentralized system that grants the holders of the most ETH more monopolized power (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). Moreover, since crypto mining is an occupation available to anyone with little required resources, the number of crypto miners have boomed, along with the bitcoin production. Consummating this point, an approximate 18.8 million bitcoins have already been created (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”).
Furthermore, there is little financial sustainability of bitcoins. The maximum number of bitcoins that could be produced is around 21 million (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). This figure is close to the current circulating amount of around 21 million (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). Hence, this trend is unlikely to be sustained for a long period of time. Moreover, the environmental impacts of crypto mining poses risks to other profitable industries, including the fishing and tourism. This decreases the over financial viability of the practice. Power plants, such as Greenidge, utilizes up to 139 million gallons of fresh water out of Seneca Lake (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). Also, the power plant’s discharges cause a stark temperature change from 30 to 50 degrees hotter (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). This poses a threat to the ecological balance in the lake. Reinforcing this issue, the large intake pipes of Greenidge inadvertently kill off the larvae, fish, and other lake inhabitants (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). Greenidge, however, planned to double its mining capacity between 2019 and 2020 and again in 2022 (Cho, “Bitcoin’s Impacts on Climate”). This ensures a persisting threat to the ecosystem. Those who support crypto mining state the new alternative energy installations of the practices (“What’s the Environmental Impact”). On the contrary, in May of 2022, it was reported that the Ethereum mining production produces around 48.69 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. This is the same amount of carbon emissions as Bulgaria. Thus, the financial viability of the crypto mining practice is still limited by its environmental impacts and its ever-growing figure.
Ultimately, crypto mining poses an overall negative impact because of its harmful environmental footprint, e-waste, and lack of financial viability. Our society is at the decisive crossroads of the technology and environmental debate. At the end of one path is a bleak future marauded of a healthy environment and financial profitability. At the end of the other path lies a future of a preserved environment and sustained financial viability. Safeguard society from the risks of crypto mining.
Rhodes, Joshua. “Is Bitcoin Inherently Bad For The Environment?” Forbes, 8 October 2021, Accessed 27 June 2022.
Kelly, Jeffrey, et al. “Crossing the Wires of Energy and Cryptocurrency Policy: U.S. Congress Investigates the Environmental Impact of Crypto Mining.” The National Law Review, 8 June 2022, Accessed 27 June 2022.
Cho, Renee. “Bitcoin’s Impact on Climate and the Environment.” Columbia Climate School, 20 September 2021, Accessed 27 June 2022.
“What’s the Environmental Impact of Cryptocurrency?” Investopedia, Accessed 27 June 2022.