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Bitcoin: Why Is It Crypto Mining So Bad For The Environment?

by : Laura Sanders on : 13 May 2021 15:54

Bitcoin mining has a carbon footprint as big as the City of London’s, research has found. Concerns over the environmental impact of mining the cryptocurrency have risen after Elon Musk said Tesla would stop accepting it as a currency to buy cars. So what exactly is bitcoin mining? And why is it so bad for the environment?

Shortly after the announcement about Tesla and bitcoin on Twitter this week, Musk asked his followers if they think Tesla should accept Dogecoin. 78 per cent said yes.

‘Tesla has suspended vehicle purchases using Bitcoin. We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worse emissions of any fuel,’ tweeted Musk.

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Bitcoin: What is it and how much is it worth?

Put simply, Bitcoin is a form of digital currency, which is essentially software. 

According to Investopedia, Bitcoin is ‘the most successful of hundreds of attempts to create virtual money through the use of cryptography, the science ofmaking and breaking codes.’

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At the time of writing this article, the price of Bitcoin is at $50,216.01 (£35,728.69) according to Coindesk.

Image of a bitcoinUnsplash/André François McKenzie

Cryptocurrency is accepted as legal tender by some companies, but it’s only in it’s very early phases of becoming an alternative to traditional currency and it’s mostly just bought and traded by crypto investors online. 

A major concern with digital currencies is fraud, because it’s easier to duplicate digital money than traditional money. For this reason, developers need to prove that trustworthy transactions can be made with it.

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What is bitcoin mining?

Essentially, the developers of Bitcoin want to verify transactions made with the cryptocurrency. This is where bitcoin miners come in.

When any transaction is made online or in store using traditional currency, a “record” of that money is made by a bank, point-of-sale system or receipt. Bitcoin mimics this by clumping transactions together in “blocks” which go on to form “blockchains.” 

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In order to make these transactions and form blockchains, bitcoin miners need to use powerful computers to solve complicated maths puzzles (which are impossible to solve by hand or with a standard computer).

‘The result of bitcoin mining is twofold,’ explains Investopedia

Bitcoin on a dollar billUnsplash/Bermix Studio

‘First, when computers solve these complex math problems on the bitcoin network, they produce new bitcoin (not unlike when a mining operation extracts gold from the ground). And second, by solving computational math problems, bitcoin miners make the bitcoin payment network trustworthy and secure by verifying its transaction information.’

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This is bitcoin mining in a nutshell. There are more aspects to it than this, but in terms of understanding its environmental impacts, that’s all you need to know.

Why is bitcoin mining bad for the environment?

As mentioned, bitcoin mining, and any kind of crypto mining for that matter, requires powerful computers, which use a lot of energy. 

As the popularity of a cryptocurrency increases, so does demand for powerful hardware to mine it. Also, as the blockchain becomes longer, the calculations the computer needs to make become more complicated, and in turn require more power.

Bitcoin mining rigBitmain

Just to give you an idea, Digiconomist.net estimated that the carbon footprint of bitcoin mining is as big as the City of London’s. And Iran is responsible for 8 per cent of bitcoin emissions because the country has such chea[ electricity rates, making it an attractive location to mine bitcoin.

What’s more, Digiconomist explains: ‘Bitcoin mining rigs’ short shelf-life can mean a substantial amount of electronic waste in the coming years. Mining devices also exacerbate the current global chip shortage by competing for the same chips as personal electronics and electric vehicles, which play an essential role in combating climate change.’

How can we make bitcoin mining more eco-friendly?

Targeting both the individual miners and the manufacturers of bitcoin mining rigs with economic sanctions is one immediate answer to this issue. 

Digiconomist suggests that the big-time miners could be charged with higher electricity rates and in the most extreme cases, have their rigs confiscated. But the question remains, who would be responsible for policing this?

Companies which produce bitcoin mining rigs can also be slammed with higher production costs as an incentive to make it a greener industry. 

What’s key to note is that while Bitcoin is a decentralized currency, the ecosystem around it is relatively small at the moment, with only a few specialised manufacturers producing rigs. This is why it’s important to tackle this issue sooner rather than later.

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Topics: News, Bitcoin, cryptocurrency, Elon Musk, Environment, Tesla