Bitcoin is Bad for the World, Literally

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Last semester, I was invited to tag along with a friend as he made a visit to his friend’s house. Before we went in, they both explained to me that we would have to talk loudly in order to hear one another. Sure enough, as soon we stepped into the bedroom, everything else was drowned out by the sound of loud fans. I looked around the room, and tried to make sense of all the technology that was present. I finally made the connection between a stack of graphics processing units (GPUs), and what appeared to be a stock display screen — I was looking at a bitcoin mining rig.

My first question was “how high is this guy’s electricity bill?” followed by “What is the point of this?” As I was a guest, and I didn’t want to ask invasive questions, I decided to do the research myself.

I had heard of cryptocurrency and bitcoin before, but I considered it a foreign concept, as it didn’t seem like something small-town Georgians would be invested in. Last December, however, the Tifton City Council held a meeting to review enacting a temporary moratorium for permitting cryptocurrency mining operations, which resulted in establishing a 90-day period of time that allowed the city to do research. This came when a controversial proposal seeking to rezone 94 acres of land for the construction of a cryptocurrency facility became public. It was initially planned to be presented before the Greater Tift County Planning and Zoning Commission, but that was quickly rethought after citizens expressed concerns and began a petition against it. The issues raised included how noisy the facility’s fans would be, and the increased electrical costs needed to run it. There was also thought of Adel, a city less than 40 miles away from Tifton, where citizens have complained about the Bitcoin mining facility that was established by the company Blockstream.

Bitcoin (BTC) is not the only form of cryptocurrency but is currently the most popular. Cryptocurrency relies on the “blockchain,” a digital ledger of transactions that claims to make hacking and altering the stored information impossible. It is a peer-to-peer system that ensures the verification of all transactions and users. Senses of “security” and “control” are held by its users. It’s supposed to act as a digital wallet. Though this concept has been around for a while, it is still considered fairly new, despite the amount of exposure it has recently received.

This may seem interesting and worth looking into, but the computers, servers, and software used in securing cryptocurrency need massive amounts of electrical power. An analysis conducted by the University of Cambridge estimated that 121.36 terawatt-hours a year are consumed by Bitcoin mining — more than Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft combined. The entire country of Argentina uses less energy. Less than 50% of the energy is from renewable sources and combined with all the other detrimental factors, Bitcoin is devastating to the planet. A massive amount of electronic waste is also generated, as miners must restock on hardware that only has a lifespan of a few years. These issues will be further exacerbated by more people wanting to try out Bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency.

Aside from the facilities themselves, investors are enabled to grow their possible profits now that banks, businesses, and celebrities have been creating and promoting the usage of cryptocurrency. Normal people are even encouraged to create mining rigs from the comfort of their homes via internet tutorials. With cryptocurrency gaining popularity as fast as it has, we will eventually have to face the environmental consequences — and determine if it was worth it. We all have our own responsibilities when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint, but it is especially difficult to understand how people can support a growing threat to the state of the environment, for what may or may not even be financially profitable in the years to come.

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