A Heavy Environmental Toll
Both a technological innovation and an environmental burden, the emergence of crypto-currencies has come to exact a heavy price on energy consumption. Seen as an alternative form of monetary designation, crypto-currencies like Bitcoin have also come to represent an attractive source of investor speculation. As indicated by their recent dramatic valuations (Bloomberg), interested parties are looking to take part in what might be a monetary revolution (see How to Put Bitcoin in Perspective). Whether or not this turns out to be true is up to the future, but in the interim, the drive for expanding and maintaining the Bitcoin network (see Bitcoin mining) is consuming a colossal amount of energy. These extensive energy demands are in turn generating staggering amounts of CO2 emissions.
Fueling the Fire
The environmental impact is significant. Recent reporting (check out The Digiconomist) puts the energy consumption as quickly approaching 80 TWh (terrawatt hours). To give you some perspective, that’s greater energy consumption that some entire countries. Indeed, Bitcoin recently overtook the Czech Republic, Chile, and Austria in energy usage, and projections anticipate the demand to only continue increasing.
To compensate for this incredible energy demand, some server suppliers have decided to move to regions that are better supplied by renewable energy (see Grist). While this might be considered an excellent initiative, more needs to be done to understand the role that these currencies are to play in our world. At what point should consumption be capped, if at all?
There certainly is a lot to consider. Whether or not you think Bitcoin does represent an incredible technological break-though, it is clearly demanding a lot from our environment during a critical period of global climate change (see This Changes Everything). This summer has seen a record number of heatwaves across the planet, with energy needs skyrocketing during the peak hot and humid hours. Given the considerable energy demands humans already have, as we try to stay cool and refrigerated during the blistering months, is it truly wise to have to start competing for resources with Bitcoin?