Cryptocurrency has become increasingly popular in recent years, but at what cost? A new investigation by the New York Times has revealed that the environmental and social impacts of crypto mining are even worse than we thought.
To mine Bitcoin and other “proof-of-work” cryptocurrencies, miners require an enormous amount of computing power, meaning they must use a significant amount of energy. The more miners on the blockchain, the more competitive the system, and therefore big operations need tens of thousands of computers to keep up the pace. As a result, more fossil fuels are burned to power these centers.
According to the NYT’s analysis, crypto mining’s nationwide energy toll is about the same as a second New York City. This means surging energy bills for those living nearby, but also little economic development because these mines employ computers, rather than people, to do their bidding.
The amount of electricity required to operate these computers is wild, and the nationwide amount of pollution that comes from Bitcoin mining as a whole is equivalent to 3.5 million cars. This high energy toll has led to once-dead coal-fired power plants roaring back to life and spewing hazardous emissions, overheating trout chopped up by utility water pipes, and nonstop low-frequency noise, as noted by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group in its own paper.
The most efficient Bitcoin mining computers release over 105 metric tons of carbon dioxide per Bitcoin mined, but average emissions per Bitcoin are easily double that. This is undeniably contributing to the climate crisis, and it needs to be addressed quickly.
While the crypto industry may push back on these assessments, it is clear that something needs to be done. We cannot continue to sacrifice our environment and well-being for the sake of cryptocurrency. It is time for the industry to take responsibility and find sustainable solutions that reduce the environmental impact of crypto mining.