Cryptography has a climate problem and there is no easy fix

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When the website ArtStation announced its plans to start offering NFT: t, short for non-convertible tokens, the last thing it expected was a setback. But within hours of its intentions to tweet, that’s exactly what it got.

Almost immediately, the patrons of the site loudly expressed their opposition to the movement, citing concerns about putting art on the blockchain. The noise so high that before the end of the day, ArtStation decided to pull the plug out of its NFT initiative before it even started.

“Given the critical reception of social media from NFTs, it is clear that now is not the time for NFT on ArtStation,” the company wrote blog post. “We are sorry for all the negative feelings this has caused. Despite our attempts to strengthen our approach, we clearly made a mistake and admitted our fault. “

The people behind ArtStation aren’t the only ones who didn’t take into account the amazing carbon footprint of cryptography before they tried to cash in on the NFT’s golden moon.

Joanie Lemercier hopes to know about it before she sold her six light-bending works as an NFT. Lemercier, a French artist who has become a climate activist, has in recent years tried to reduce his annual emissions by 10 percent through significant measures such as extending air travel and integrating rainwater into his studio. His NFT publication swept the progress of these efforts within minutes.

Austrian architect Chris Precht was much happier. Just before he decided to sell 300 publications of his artwork as an NFT – with the added condition that he plant enough trees to offset the emissions of this technology, his partner warned him, “You need the Amazon, not the trees to compensate for the NFT,” he told him.

The rise of NFTs, which are essentially certificates of ownership of any virtual property, from painting images to tweets, has risen sent the art world passionately – and understandably so. As artists face a recession caused by a pandemic in the absence of personal exhibitions and auctions, NFTs have emerged as much-needed savings for many.

Although NFTs have been around for a while, they came into the spotlight when one of them was bought for $ 69 million more than a month ago. Since then, NFTs have raised millions of dollars from memes, cover magazines, online articles and more. But NFT property has serious costs, as artists like Lemercier and Precht found: They are remarkably harmful to the environment.

A new hot NFT trend is warming the planet

The end-to-end event of a single NFT is on average estimated emit the carbon equivalent of a two-hour flight or a month of EU resident electricity consumption. This is the subject of only one digital asset being traded. The numbers only get worse given that multi-print artists are putting up for sale. Last month alone, more than 100,000 such events occurred at some of the leading NFT trading venues per monitoring site. Does not burn.

For example, Lecermier’s six-edition NFT drop, which sold out in just 10 seconds, consumed more electricity than his entire studio consumes in two years.

Joanie Lemercier Studio vs. NFT power consumption
Joanie Lemercier

Alex de Vries, a data scientist and its creator Digonomists, a site that has been following the carbon footprint of cryptocurrencies for years, says: “mining cryptocurrencies has already wiped out all our net gains from the introduction of electric vehicles”.

But NFTs are just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. The reason for NFT’s carbon footprint is so great because of the way its underlying substrate, Ethereum, works. Creating a JPG image on your computer does not take much energy. But to get the NFT – a unique, untapped ownership of it – its data has “hit” Ethereum’s chain of curb, which is not designed to be green at all. The person acquiring the digital property pays for access to this information.

The roots of the problem: Ethereum

In order for NFT data to be successfully stored in the Ehtereum and a new block added to the chain, miners must use power-hungry computer hardware to crack complex encryption techniques. The more power their calculator has, the faster it can solve the dilemma. The winner will be rewarded with Ethereum coins, which at the time of writing were trading at about $ 2,500 pop.

It may not sound like much, but these machines are not your usual ready-made computers. Their calculations involve breaking down large mathematical equations that can take hours or even days to complete. Not to mention that this happens on thousands of machines as everyone tries to get to the finish line before others.

Therefore, one Ethereum store can collect the same amount of electricity as the average U.S. household in 2.56 days. The NFT process from start to finish often includes several such events. According to the digiconomist, Ethereum’s power consumption is so far the same as in the whole of New Zealand.

Ether cryptocurrency coin
Nurphoto / Getty Images

Aurora Sharrard, director of sustainable development at the University of Pittsburgh, compares the virality of the NFT to fast fashion and believes it is not in line with our sustainable development goals.

“While NFTs and cryptocurrencies are ways for various industries and artists to circumvent economic barriers,” he added, “environmentally speaking, they are today’s fast digital fashion that requires large amounts of electricity to produce objects whose positive social benefits have not been shown to outweigh their negative environmental impacts. . “

What’s worse, Ethereum’s current system, called proof of work, is built to gradually become more complex and require more power as people continue to compete for it – to make it more competitive, to prevent cheating and to raise prices as new blocks are scarce.

Replacing this system with a more environmentally friendly system that doesn’t involve thousands of giant mining equipment that mocks energy will, according to most experts, prevent Ethereum (and other blockchain-based platforms) from killing the Earth.

This option is already here and is called proof of contribution. In this model, Ethereum’s algorithm simply selects a miner to verify a new block based on how many coins they already own – so miners don’t have to compete and emit huge emissions to break up the puzzle.

Proof of the contribution has been developed for years, but the organization behind Ethereum has remained in its vague publication and has repeatedly postponed the launch schedule.

The rise of environmentally friendly block chains

Fortunately, the share certificate model is not exclusively for Ethereum, and a handful of NFT trading venues have grown that leverage investment barrier chains to provide a more environmentally friendly alternative to Ethereum-based services.

While popular platforms such as the NBA Top Shot, where you can buy highlights and trading cards for NBA videos, have succeeded in the batch test block chains, artists are wary of their volatility, which prevents such climate models from being achieved. same popularity as Ethereum.

NBA NTF packages - TopShot
NBA best shot

London-based artist Alice Bucknell believes the timid response to breeding media is also due in part to “general ignorance of Ethereum’s gigantic energy consumption” and points out that “currency or Nstream auctions are not interested in making these figures open for fear that it will scare potential buyers.”

Ethereum-based platforms such as NiftyGateway and SuperRare have been unusually secret about their carbon emissions and refused to disclose them, forcing artists and everyone else to rely on third-party tracking devices. Nifty Gateway and SuperRare did not respond to Digital Trends’ comment requests.

However, Christina Akopova, the founder of the certificate kyrto art market called Pixeos, is optimistic. While he agrees that “education and awareness still need to be increased,” the NFT and blockchain industry will eventually turn to the green side as long as reliable alternatives exist.

Clean energy is probably not the answer

Another approach to combating Ethereum’s carbon-intensive process is to either use energy with clean energy or offset emissions later. While both of these options look good on paper, they are easier said than done.

Despite the fact that the world’s transactions are so small, Ethereum is already responsible for energy consumption as much as many countries combined and is notoriously burdened by power plants. If the environment is not monitored, there is good reason to predict that not even pure energy will be enough to make such cryptocurrencies sustainable.

“Using renewable energy alone to produce cryptocurrencies is a good start,” Sharrard told Digital Trends, “but the overall energy intensity and demand in the industry must also be considered and reduced.”

His research on renewable energy and Bitcoin mining Digiconomist’s de Vries argues that the infrastructure to supply clean energy is simply not sufficient to handle the growing appetite for cryptocurrency. He adds that electronic waste from heaps of obsolete mining chips is projected to “significantly exceed the generation of electronic waste in the banking sector”.

For the time being, however, offsetting emissions may be the best way forward. On platforms such as Offset, people can choose the amount of carbon they use and invest directly in the climate-enhancing project of their choice.

Offsetra founder Brendan McGill argues that set-off is the most practical solution at the moment because it is something that artists and miners can do right away instead of putting their NFT plans to wait and wait for Ethereum’s testimony date. Environmental initiatives, McGill adds, are also in dire need of resources, and they could use some of the ongoing NFT golden age.

In the long run, however, government reform that commits to environmentally friendly systems and emission offsets may be the only option for sustainable future technologies such as NFTs. Otherwise, reckless mining ecosystems could put an end to the risk of the fate of the cryptocurrency. For example, China recently banned the consumption of fossil fuels by the world’s largest mining center in Inner Mongolia.

“Disrupting encryption methods that cause great environmental and social damage is not good, fun entertainment – it’s a wasteful fast fashion,” Sharrard said. “We only have one planet suitable for human life, and we need to make sure we don’t let wasteful and harmful tendencies destroy the only place we can call home.”

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