Scientists from the University of Hawaii in Manoa came to a conclusion that mining cryptocurrency is the most important negative factor accelerating climate warming on Earth. This is stated in the relevant study published by the Nature Climate Change journal.
According to the experts' conclusions, by 2033 the average global temperature will rise by 2ºC due exclusively to the bitcoin mining, which results in several million tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. The consequences can be catastrophic, the study authors warn.
If mining technology will develop at a more active pace than it is now, it will accelerate the process of global warming, and humankind may face the first tangible consequences in 15 years.
It is noted that scientists took into account the energy efficiency of computers used by miners. During the calculation, they used data regarding the locations of the bitcoin mining hubs and the amount of carbon dioxide emissions driven by power generation in each country. According to researchers, last year alone, mining produced 69 million tons of CO₂ emissions. To put it in perspective, 9 million people populating Austria produce the same amount of carbon dioxide.
Previously, Katrina Kelly-Pitou, an employee of the U.S. University of Pittsburgh and an expert in computer and electrical engineering, published an article ‘Stop worrying about how much energy bitcoin uses’ where she stated that the danger of mining for the environment is greatly overrated. She believes that all environmental concerns about cryptocurrencies are far-fetched and are caused by a lack of understanding of the new technology.
Another group of experts has already expressed skepticism about the results of the study published in Nature Climate Change Journal.
Critics point out that it is impossible to accurately calculate the consumption of electricity for mining, and the existing assessment methods are imperfect.
In addition, the authors of the publication for some reason claim that the popularity of bitcoin will grow, although in the past 10 months the demand for the cryptocurrency, on the contrary, has fallen.
One of the first speakers to express his opinion on the matter was the co-founder of CoinMetrics, Nick Carter:
For this study to make sense— nic "bring back favs" carter (@nic__carter) October 29, 2018
- bitcoin's issuance would have to become fixed, with no decrease
- all L2 tech would have to evaporate
- btc would have to scale up to 310b txns ON CHAIN
- miners would need to use the local energy mix precisely
- blocks would have to be 3.2 GB (!!)
Bitcoin Core developer Peter Todd joined the discussion, calling the published facts a fraud caused by ignorance.
"Any time you see someone calculating Bitcoin's energy usage like this they're either incompetent or a fraud,” said the developer.
The website ThinkProgress has taken an interview with three leading experts in the field of energy in the IT-sector, and all of them criticize the analytical methods and conclusions the authors of the report come to.
According to Dr. Jon Koomey, who has been working in the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) for more than 20 years, the methods that the authors apply to calculate energy consumed for bitcoin creation are artificial.
“One thing we should NOT do is recklessly extrapolate recent growth rates for Bitcoin into the future, as the Nature Climate Change article published today [Monday] appears to do. I cannot emphasize enough how dangerous, irresponsible, and misleading such extrapolations can be, and no credible analyst should ever extrapolate in this manner, nor should readers of reports on this topic fall for this well-known mistake,” Koomey wrote in an analysis published on Monday.
Attempting to keep the global warming temperature level below 2°C (3.6°F) requires solving the problem of atmospheric pollution with carbon dioxide. Transport, construction, and industry are primarily to blame for such pollution. It is therefore irresponsible and dangerous to create the impression that a new source of pollution has arisen and requires investing huge resources to fight it. The mining process is really energy-intensive, but how much so is a question to debate.
However, it is not easy to calculate the exact amount of electricity spent on the scale of the entire planet for each bitcoin transaction.
Professor Eric Masanet, a specialist in the field of mechanical engineering and head of Energy and Resource Systems Analysis Lab at Northwestern University, notes in an interview with ThinkProgress that one can easily refute the conclusions of the analysis, pointing out three glaring mistakes.
“We know that the global power sector is decarbonizing and that IT (including cryptocurrency data mining) are becoming much more energy efficient. It appears that the authors have overlooked these two latter trends in their projections,” he explained
The third omission the authors of the article have made, according to Masanet, is that "they insist on allegedly widespread distribution of cryptocurrencies in the future, which will lead to an increase in carbon emissions.
Arman Shehabi, an employee of the LBNL, agrees. According to Shehabi, it is absurd to assume that the power consumption for the individual bitcoin transactions and carbon emissions generated by the demand for electricity will remain unchanged for a century. Shahabi explains:
“That’s a crazy assumption in general, but downright bananas for blockchain mining, which has already increased efficiency by an order of magnitude or more in the last few years.”
Indeed, as Shahabi says, a number of universities and companies are now working to make blockchain more energy-efficient. As CNBC reported in February, some developers were trying to introduce a new method of validation, which would use computers much less intensively and save more energy.
According to Koomey, the author of the book ‘Turning Numbers into Knowledge,’ mining Bitcoin consumes only 0.1% of all world electricity now, which gives no reason to talk about any threat to the climate.
Thus, experts agree the energy (and environmental) crisis caused by bitcoin is a myth. The problem of energy consumption does exist, it must be solved, and engineers and scientists are doing their best to find a solution. However, the bitcoin is far from being the only one to blame.
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