Bitcoin and the environment

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The year 2009 was declared by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as the then second warmest year on record. The same year, the world’s first bitcoin was mined.

Bitcoin is the leading cryptocurrency that offers a novel type of transaction method, as it does not involve the exchange of conventional currencies. Digital currency has the potential to revolutionize the economy in many ways.

Bitcoin’s total worth is about $1 trillion. The cost of it, however, is the environment. In an interview, Bill Gates said, “Bitcoin uses more electricity per transaction than any other method known to mankind, and so it’s not a great climate thing.” Some researchers have claimed that the cryptocurrency alone could shatter global climate goals.

Bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies are not printed by state institutions. They are generated via a process called mining. Mining refers to the use of supercomputers to verify bitcoin transactions by solving highly complex mathematical equations. In return, the miner is rewarded with some bitcoins. These computers are connected to cryptocurrency networks. The faster the computing, the higher the processing capability. To increase their likelihood of winning bitcoins, miners have established large-scale warehouses and industrial parks.

Almost all mining processes run on supercomputers called mining machines. These computers consume an enormous amount of energy. The consumption increases with the deployment of additional equipment necessary for the maintenance of the computers. Coolants are among the essentials to keep the computers’ temperature low for efficiency. For this reason, many miners tend to move towards cooler areas to set up their mining networks. Iceland, for instance, has giant hubs of mining.

The consumption of mass scale electricity creates a significant amount of carbon footprint. It is estimated that ten minutes of mining costs GBP200,000 worth of electricity. Bitcoin mining power usage per year is more than twice the amount of power consumed by Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google combined. This is equivalent to 120TWh (Tera Watt Hour) of electricity. This figure roughly represents the amount of electricity used by Norway per year. Some sources have matched bitcoin’s energy draining to that of Switzerland’s.

Increase in temperature by 1.5 C is catastrophic for climate. It is noteworthy that the contemporary stage of cryptocurrency mining is just the tip of the iceberg. With the increasing operations of e-cash mining, global temperature could increase by 2 C.

Carbon emission is not the only environmental hazard of bitcoin mining. The devices installed in the process are not reusable. The devices become part of electronic waste once they become out of date. Only 20 percent of electronic waste is recycled worldwide. The rest adds to the electronic waste pollution as many components are made up of plastic and other non-recyclable materials.

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