Story at a glance
- Environmentalists say they’re worried about the growing popularity of cryptocurrency in the U.S. because of its massive carbon footprint of mining cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum.
- A single bitcoin transaction uses the same amount of power used to power an American home for more than two months.
- Residents along Seneca Lake in New York, where a nearby power plant is running a bitcoin operation, say the lake has warmed so much it now feels like a hot tub.
Environmentalists are warning against U.S. leaders’ embrace of cryptocurrency, urging policymakers to confront the adverse environmental and climate impacts of mining operations.
Mining cryptocurrency is infamous for being environmentally unfriendly, environmentalists say, and globally, the annualized carbon footprint of bitcoin mining is comparable to that of Chile.
According to Digiconomist, a platform aiming to unearth the unintended consequences of certain digital trends, a single bitcoin transaction uses the same amount of power needed to power an average American home for more than two months.
While the annualized global carbon footprint of the cryptocurrency ethereum is less than half that of bitcoin, it's still comparable to the footprint of Hong Kong. A single ethereum transaction has the carbon footprint equivalent to that of nearly 200,000 Visa transactions.
Those numbers become even more troubling when considering crypto’s rising popularity in the U.S., with the mayors of major cities like New York and Miami advocating to reshape them into crypto hotspots.
New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams said earlier this month that he plans to take his first three paychecks in bitcoin, responding to a tweet from Miami Mayor Francis Suarez which said he would be taking his next paycheck “100% in bitcoin.”
The cryptocurrency conference “Bitcoin 2021,” touted as the largest bitcoin event ever, took place in Miami over the summer and plans to return there this spring for “Bitcoin 2022.”
People globally should be concerned about the environmental and climate impacts of cryptocurrency mining like bitcoin, which require miners to compete to validate transactions on their blockchains using power-hungry servers, Benjamin Jones, an economist at the University of New Mexico, told the Guardian. That energy is mostly generated from fossil fuels, he said, which increases carbon emissions and air pollution.
Jones last year co-authored a paper that found in 2018 each $1 of bitcoin value created was associated with a $0.49 increase in health and climate damages in the U.S., meaning the negative health and climate impacts stemming from bitcoin mining were half as large as the per-coin value.
A group of 70 climate, economic, and racial justice groups wrote to Congress last month asking leaders to address the adverse environmental and climate impacts of cryptocurrency. The effects of which have already reached U.S. communities like Dresden, New York, where residents say Seneca Lake, 80 miles from the Canadian border, feels like a hot tub.
Carbon emissions from Greenidge Generation, a former coal plant in Dresden that converted to natural gas and began a bitcoin operation, were up nearly tenfold in 2020 from 2019.
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