Belching industrial smokestacks. Smoggy cities clogged with auto traffic. These are the types of things associated with climate change.
Now you can add cryptocurrencies.
According to a new study out of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, at the current rate of adoption bitcoin (BTC) usage alone could produce enough carbon dioxide to warm the planet by over 2 degrees Celsius, or about 4 degrees Fahrenheit, in about 16 years.
The paper added that temperatures could “cross the [2 degree C] threshold…within 11 years if [bitcoin] is adopted at the fastest rate at which other technologies have been incorporated.”
Not Just Bitcoin
It’s not all bitcoin, however. Mining in all cryptocurrencies uses a ton of electricity, as many utilities have found when they thought they could get rid of extra supply by providing miners with cheaper energy and were hit with a tsunami of users. That electricity use, in turn, produces a lot of carbon dioxide, a driver of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
In the study, which was published in Nature.com, the researchers looked at recent bitcoin-related electricity consumption. They found there are approximately 314.2 billion cashless transactions carried out every year, the researchers said, of which bitcoin’s share was 0.033 percent in 2017.
“Bitcoin usage has experienced an accelerated growth, which is a common pattern during the early adoption of broadly used technologies,” the study said.
The researchers used these assumptions: that 60 percent of the economic return of the bitcoin transaction verification process goes to electricity at 5 cents per kilowatt hour and to emitting 0.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).
The researchers also quote Digiconomist’s estimate that bitcoin usage emits 33.5 metric tons of CO2e annually, as of May 2018.
Can this trend be reversed? The researchers think higher electricity costs will “push the development of more efficient hardware. However, reducing bitcoin’s carbon footprint should not rest solely on some yet-to-be-developed hardware but include simple modifications to the overall system, such as adding more transactions per block or reducing the difficulty or time required to resolve the proof-of-work — both of which could result in immediate electricity reductions for bitcoin usage.”
And to all those who want to produce their own cryptocurrencies, the researchers have this advice: “…[A]ny further development of cryptocurrencies should critically aim to reduce electricity demand, if the potentially devastating consequences of [2 degree C] of global warming are to be avoided.”