We need to talk about cryptocurrency, because as far as I can tell, all our little tweaks around the margins — fuel efficient cars, planting trees, new lightbulbs, windmills — pale in comparison to the enormous damage being done by the cryptocurrency mining industry. In 2020 “40 billion tons of carbon dioxide [were] produced by US Bitcoin mining alone.”
Additionally, every four years or so, the amount of Bitcoin that is distributed for solving the puzzle and updating the blockchain is cut in half. The last halving took place in 2020, when the reward was cut from 12.5 coins to 6.25. After each halving, the carbon emissions required to create one coin is doubled overnight.
Elizabeth Kolbert writes in The New Yorker, “Why Bitcoin is Bad for the Environment”:
According to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, bitcoin-mining operations worldwide now use energy at the rate of nearly a hundred and twenty terawatt-hours per year. This is about the annual domestic electricity consumption of the entire nation of Sweden.
The New York Times reports that the situation has worsened since Bitcoin was banned from China with its renewable hydroeclectric power.
China’s crackdown on cryptocurrencies upended the world of Bitcoin last year, triggering a mass exodus of “miners” — who use power-hungry computers to mine, or create, new Bitcoins — to new locations around the world.
There is no mention of cryptocurrency’s effect on the environment on the EPA Climate Change page.
The Big Blue Marble image comes courtesy of NASA and the crew of Apollo 17.
(In past years our Earth Day focus has been the problem of plastic in the environment and we still hope to see progress on that front.)