Bitcoins might destroy Earth as we know it: Here's how
Not many people associate bitcoins with climate change, but it seems like cryptocurrencies can hasten humanity's march towards climate catastrophe. A new peer-reviewed study, published by University of Hawaii-Manoa researchers on Monday, has found that bitcoins alone could heat the Earth up by 2 degrees Celsius by 2033, thereby ushering in climate-associated disasters never before seen by humankind. Confused? We explain.
Bitcoins should also be considered a threat to the planet
"Currently, the emissions from transportation, housing and food are considered as the main contributions to ongoing climate change. In our paper, we show that bitcoin should now be put in the list of additional concerns," said Katie Taladay, one of the co-authors of the study.
How exactly can bitcoins contribute to climate change?
Bitcoins, and a host of other, similar cryptocurrencies exist only in the digital form, and are created, or as the technical term goes, "mined" by computers that help solve complex mathematical problems. However, bitcoin mining requires powerful computers, and hence, requires hardware capable of heavy-duty processing. Powerful hardware, in turn, requires a significant amount of electricity, and that, precisely, is the problem.
The scary findings of the study
The researchers found that if bitcoin is incorporated, or brought into the mainstream, even at the slowest rate at which other technologies have been incorporated, emissions resultant from the increased electricity demand would be enough to heat the world by up 2 degrees Celsius in just 22 years. At the average rate of technology incorporation, the 2 degree Celsius mark would be reached in just 16 years.
In 2017, bitcoins produced more emissions than Austria did
For a sense of magnitude, electricity required for bitcoin mining, leaving aside the energy required for cooling bitcoin mining rigs, produced a mind-blowing 69 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2017 - more than emissions produced by Austria in the same year.
Not everyone's convinced about the study's findings
Critics hold that bitcoins will never be adopted at the rate of other consumer technology, and that future electricity production, if done via the renewable energy route, would not lead to increases in emissions. However, considering The International Energy Agency's prediction that 55-65% of electricity in 2040 would still be produced from fossil fuels, it would be naive to underplay the study's findings.
Growth of cryptocurrencies should be strictly monitored
"Humanity is coming to terms that climate change is real...Clearly, any further development of cryptocurrencies should critically aim to reduce electricity demand, if the potentially devastating consequences of 2 degrees Celsius of global warming are to be avoided," reiterated study lead author Camilo Mora.
A dark future awaits if we can't limit emissions
A landmark IPCC report had earlier noted that if the world failed to limit emissions within a decade, climate change could go beyond human control. It painted a dreary vision of the world in 2040, which would be plagued by worsening food shortages, spiralling wildfires, extreme heat and extreme weather events, climate change-induced exoduses, and extinction of coral-reefs. Such damages could exceed $54 trillion.