To proponents, the words “bitcoin mining” are synonymous with security, value, and financial freedom. To exponents, those same words evoke images of burning tyres, oil slicks, and crying kittens. To say that bitcoin mining evokes strong feelings is like saying Charles Manson was “a bit naughty”. While the amount of energy bitcoin mining uses is up for debate, the most hyperbolic accusations can be dismissed out of hand. They’re not just inaccurate – they’re dangerous.
Also read: Is “Zero-Waste” Bitcoin Mining Achievable?
Don’t Believe the Hype
It’s strange: bitcoin emerges out of nowhere to dominate global headlines and suddenly everyone’s an environmental expert. “REEEEE, think of the planet!” tweet bitcoin haters from their iPhones made with scarce precious metals as they wait on the runway for their kerosene-guzzling jet to take off. It’s become the latest stick to prod the digital currency with, now that the terrorism, money laundering, and drugs sticks have become blunted.
Unless you’re living in a mud hut and recycling your own urine, you’re damaging the environment. We all are. From the moment we emerge kicking and screaming into this world till the moment we disclose our wallet seed with our dying breath, we pollute. Eating packaged food; taking public transport; using the internet; it all takes its toll on the environment. Bitcoin mining is no exception. There’s expressing concern about energy consumption, however, and there’s issuing apocalyptic warnings about how bitcoin will turn our planet into a smoldering molten rock.
Statistics is the Art of Lying by Numbers
Which of the following headlines sounds more damning: “Bitcoin uses as much energy as 520,000 Canadians a day” or “Bitcoin uses 1/16,000th of the world’s annual energy supply”? Both are true and yet each presents a very different spin on the same statistic. As one rebuttal points out, “it’s easy to make this number look very small”. To back this up, it presents other examples such as “The Three Gorges Dam in China produces three times as much electricity as Bitcoin consumes” and “The energy that Bitcoin consumes in a year would only last the U.S. for 19 hours”.
There’s no need to scramble to minimize bitcoin’s carbon footprint though, just as there’s no need to over-emphasize it. But just try telling that to the mainstream media publications that have been tripping over themselves to conjure increasingly alarmist headlines.
Bitcoin Mining: Literally Worse Than Hitler
“Cyber goldmines draining the world’s power” screeches a subheading in the Daily Mail this weekend. (Link deliberately omitted.) It reads:
Given current growth rates, some experts predict that by 2020 the cyber-currency could require more electricity to process than the entire world uses today, severely impacting the fight against global warming.
That’s right, in two years’ time, bitcoin will consume more energy than is left on earth. At which stage, cities will have been reduced to rubble, with the only remaining structures above waist-height comprising towering stacks of ASIC miners. Cars, houses, and furnishings will all be gone, their metal melted as an offering to the insatiable mining gods. Today’s kettle is tomorrow’s ASIC case, while the day after tomorrow doesn’t matter because we’ll all be dead.
It would be laughable were it not for the fact that the general public – who have only the vaguest understanding of bitcoin – will lap this stuff up as gospel. As the headline to one of the more sanguine counter-pieces reads: “No, Bitcoin Won’t Boil the Oceans”.
A Little Perspective
The vast amounts of energy consumed by other currencies, precious metals, and global banking systems compared to bitcoin is well documented; gold mining alone uses 16 times as much energy as bitcoin mining. Moreover, because of a reliance on cheap power, bitcoin miners are naturally drawn to sources where renewable energy is plentiful. As mining becomes increasingly difficult, it will only be cost-effective at source, largely eliminating gas, oil, and coal, which have inherent transportation costs.
Perhaps Satoshi himself put it best though: “Gold mining is a waste, but that waste is far less than the utility of having gold available as a medium of exchange…the utility of exchanges made possible by Bitcoin will far exceed the cost of electricity used. Therefore, not having bitcoin would be the net waste.”
Ludicrous headlines about bitcoin mining will kill us all. Save yourself the rage click and you’ll live longer.
How do you counter accusations that bitcoin mining is unnecessarily wasteful? Let us know in the comments section below.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock, Comedy Central, and Zambian Astronaut.
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