How Much Pollution Does Bitcoin Mining Really Produce?

The National Development and Reform Commission has included “cryptocurrency mining” on its list of activities that it is looking to restrict or prohibit. The purported reason is to “clean up the environment” — but the evidence does not back this up.

One of the most common criticisms levied at cryptocurrency mining is that it uses too much energy. Many of taken this to mean that mining Bitcoin (BTC) is, effectively, killing the environment. This is the same rationale used for potentially banning cryptocurrency mining in China — a country with a long history of hostility towards cryptocurrencies — so this argument definitely deserves further scrutiny.

bitcoin gpu mining

Do You Drive to Work?

Firstly, cryptocurrency mining does not create any real pollution as automobiles do. One valid criticism is, however, that Bitcoin uses far too much energy. Yet, this should be taken as a separate discussion from the claims of Bitcoin mining being “environmentally damaging.” One user (@khannib) found that 10 years of Bitcoin mining has produced the equivalent energy consumption as all American cars in three or four days.

This is compounded by the fact that, when compared to the electricity used by the global banking sector, Bitcoin’s energy usage is actually quite good. For just private banks, analyst Carlos Domingo estimates that they use some 100TW a year by conservative estimates — excluding central banks, which use multitudes more. Given that Bitcoin now uses around 40 to 50TW annually, the energy expenditures of the global banking system is many multitudes greater.

It should also be noted that, unlike most of the banking sector, the majority of Bitcoin’s energy consumption is energy renewable.

It should be kept in mind that Bitcoin’s proof-of-work (PoW) consensus model is only getting less costly, as algorithm-cracking becomes most energy-efficient due to technological innovation. Bitcoin’s energy consumption will only improve over time.

bitcoin mining hardware

The Problem Is Not Energy Usage, But How We Create Energy

The potential bans by China and calls for similar efforts by Bitcoin skeptics are fundamentally short-sighted. It really does not matter how much electricity Bitcoin mining uses. Of course, it is always good to lower energy consumption when possible — but that is more of cost issue rather than an environmental one.

In the last 10 years, Bitcoin mining has used as much electricity as 3 to 4 days of all American cars. Over 75% of Bitcoin’s energy consumption comes from renewable resources. Environmentalists, Bitcoin is not the enemy. Click To Tweet

What we really should be asking is: ‘how does our energy get produced?’ Bitcoin is just using the energy that is available. You can’t blame infrastructure running on electricity for pollution when, for example, coal is being used to create energy. You should instead blame the coal producers.

We need more renewable means of creating electricity, but it seems that some would prefer to blame Bitcoin. This is because, if they were honest about assessing where the energy was coming from, it would implicate the entire energy consumption model of the world.

Do you think Bitcoin has an energy problem? Or is it just a scapegoat? Let us know your thoughts below. 

Images courtesy of Twitter, Shutterstock. 

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