Can Bitcoin Cause Catastrophic Climate Change?

A new study claims bitcoin Bitcoin emissions alone could push global warming above 2°C over the next 16 to 22 years if it’s used at the same rate as other broadly used technologies. The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

In 2017 alone, Bitcoin emissions contributed to an estimated 69 million metric tons of CO2. The cryptocurrency requires heavy hardware, which necessitates large amounts of electricity.

Individuals are known as “miners” record and process Bitcoin transactions, which are grouped into a block based on specific time frames. Blocks are added to a chain, which is a public ledger. Miners compete with one another during the verification process, and this results in high energy use.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa researchers examined the power efficiency of Bitcoin mining computers, the geographical location of the miners, and the CO2 emissions of producing electricity in those particular countries.

The team determined that if Bitcoin is used even at the slowest rate that other technologies have been adopted its accruing emissions will warm Earth above 2°C in just 22 years. If incorporated at the average rate of other technologies, it is closer to 16 years.

“We cannot predict the future of Bitcoin, but if implemented at a rate even close to the slowest pace at which other technologies have been incorporated, it will spell very bad news for climate change and the people and species impacted by it,” Camilo Mora, associate professor of Geography in the College of Social Sciences at UH Manoa and lead author of the study, stated in a release.

“With the ever-growing devastation created by hazardous climate conditions, humanity is coming to terms with the fact that climate change is as real and personal as it can be. Clearly, any further development of cryptocurrencies should critically aim to reduce electricity demand, if the potentially devastating consequences of 2°C of global warming are to be avoided.”

CO2 emission caused by Bitcoin is particularly concerning because if the technology grows exponentially, its energy demands will correspondingly increase.

“Currently, the emissions from transportation, housing and food are considered the main contributors to ongoing climate change. This research illustrates that Bitcoin should be added to this list,” noted Katie Taladay, a UH Manoa master’s student and coauthor of the paper.

Critics of the study note that it’s challenging to calculate power usage due to Bitcoin’s spread-out network, reports Forbes. They also note that the industry is making strides towards decreasing Bitcoin’s footprint.

Critics also don’t believe energy consumption will be static over the next century. Still, the report points out that Bitcoin’s impact over the next 16-22 years is potentially troubling, and steps may need to be taken sooner rather than later to reduce carbon emissions.


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