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Getting rid of bitcoin could help save the planet

Written By: - Date published: 9:09 am, November 1st, 2018 - 39 comments
Categories: business, capitalism, climate change, Economy, Environment, global warming, internet, sustainability, youtube - Tags:

There is a rather simple way for the world to do something significant about climate change and global warming. All that we have to do is work out how to get rid of bitcoin.

From Alex Hern in the Guardian:

Bitcoin’s electricity usage is enormous. In November, the power consumed by the entire bitcoin network was estimated to be higher than that of the Republic of Ireland. Since then, its demands have only grown. It’s now on pace to use just over 42TWh of electricity in a year, placing it ahead of New Zealand and Hungary and just behind Peru, according to estimates from Digiconomist. That’s commensurate with CO2 emissions of 20 megatonnes – or roughly 1m transatlantic flights.

That fact should be a grave notion to anyone who hopes for the cryptocurrency to grow further in stature and enter widespread usage. But even more alarming is that things could get much, much worse, helping to increase climate change in the process.

Burning huge amounts of electricity isn’t incidental to bitcoin: instead, it’s embedded into the innermost core of the currency, as the operation known as “mining”. In simplified terms, bitcoin mining is a competition to waste the most electricity possible by doing pointless arithmetic quintillions of times a second.

The more electricity you burn, and the faster your computer, the higher your chance of winning the competition. The prize? 12.5 bitcoin – still worth over $100,000 – plus all the transaction fees paid in the past 10 minutes, which according analysts’ estimates is another $2,500 or so.

This is a winner-takes-all game, where the prize is guaranteed to be paid to one, and only one, miner every 10 minutes. Burning more electricity increases your chances of winning, but correspondingly decreases everyone else’s – and so they have a motivation to burn more electricity in turn.

But it is not only bitcoin that is the problem. Internet data centres also are major contributors to energy consumption.

John Harris in the Guardian analyses the power consumption that occurs in Louden County, Virginia which houses many of the world’s major data farms. He states this:

But there is a big problem, centred on a power company called Dominion, which supplies the vast majority of Loudoun County’s electricity. According to a 2017 Greenpeace report, only 1% of Dominion’s total electricity comes from credibly renewable sources: 2% originates in hydroelectric plants, and the rest is split evenly between coal, gas and nuclear power. Dominion is also in the middle of a huge regional controversy about a proposed pipeline that will carry fracked gas to its power plants, which it says is partly driven by data centres’ insatiable appetite for electricity. Clearly, then, the video streams, digital photographs and messaging that pour out of all those servers come with a price.

I was reminded of all this by the recently published book New Dark Age, by the British writer James Bridle. He cites a study in Japan that suggests that by 2030, the power requirements of digital services will outstrip the nation’s entire current generation capacity. He quotes an American report from 2013 – ironically enough, commissioned by coal industry lobbyists – that pointed out that using either a tablet or smartphone to wirelessly watch an hour of video a week used roughly the same amount of electricity (largely consumed at the data-centre end of the process) as two new domestic fridges.

If you worry about climate change and a cause celebre such as the expansion of Heathrow airport, it is worth considering that data centres are set to soon have a bigger carbon footprint than the entire aviation industry. Yet as Bridle points out, even that statistic doesn’t quite do justice to some huge potential problems. He mentions the vast amounts of electricity consumed by the operations of the online currency Bitcoin – which, at the height of the speculative frenzies earlier this year, was set to produce an annual amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to 1m transatlantic flights. And he’s anxious about what will happen next: “In response to vast increases in data storage and computational capacity in the last decade, the amount of energy used by data centres has doubled every four years, and is expected to triple in the next 10 years.”

If we are going to get on top of climate change we are going to have to address power consumption.  And burning so much power on keeping Bitcoin going and on streaming youtube videos may be something that we will need to rethink.

39 comments on “Getting rid of bitcoin could help save the planet”

  1. Gabby 1

    Rethink? I’d already decided against it. What’s holding up the process micky?

    • mickysavage 1.1

      I have never invested in bitcoin myself. Seemed like a really stupid idea. By “we” I am referring to the world’s population.

      • Antoine 1.1.1

        ‘The world’s population’ is not a decision making body.

        A.

        • mickysavage 1.1.1.1

          *whoosh*

          MS

          • Antoine 1.1.1.1.1

            Well, good luck getting rid of bitcoin, report back in a few weeks and let us know how you got on?

            A.

            • Dukeofurl 1.1.1.1.1.1

              Its easy , jack up their electricity prices

              “Less than three hours east of Seattle, on the other side of the Cascade Mountains, you could buy electricity for around 2.5 cents per kilowatt, which was a quarter of Seattle’s rate and around a fifth of the national average”

              This Is What Happens When Bitcoin Miners Take Over Your Town
              https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/03/09/bitcoin-mining-energy-prices-smalltown-feature-217230

              “Across the three rural counties of the Mid-Columbia Basin—Chelan, Douglas and Grant—orchards and farm fields now share the rolling landscape with mines of every size, from industrial-scale facilities to repurposed warehouses to cargo containers and even backyard sheds.
              …..
              watches workers set the roof on a Giga Pod, a self-contained crypto mine that Carlson designed to be assembled in a matter of weeks. When finished, the prefabricated wood-frame structure, roughly 12 by 48 feet, will be equipped with hundreds of high-speed servers that collectively draw a little over a megawatt of power and, in theory, will be capable of producing around 80 bitcoins a month.

              Most of the story is a really good explanation of the block chain and bit coin mining process

              The weird bit is as more computers mine bitcoins ever faster the process gets more difficult and energy intensive- it stays at roughly one coin mined every 10 mins.
              But the other side is the coins have gotten much more valuable even faster- as so we think

  2. Gosman 2

    I have a first step for you. Shut down The Standard. Imagine the savings in electricity that will come from that.

    (Only kidding!)

    • Dukeofurl 2.1

      The Standard would be run on a multi core processor about the size of a large microwave.

      I reduced the power consumption of my desktop by fitting an SSD disk drive to replace the mechanical one which can be hot and noisy- from the fan to expell the heat- as well as comparatively slow. Other advantage was extended the life of this all -in -one unit as the disk is common failure point from 4- 5 years on. Its now over 6 yrs

  3. tc 3

    Bitcoin is a factor but it’s also the migration of corporate compute resources into the cloud providers such as amazon, Microsoft etc.

    You’ll struggle to get that data as commercial confidentiality shields it but it’s a huge paradigm shift as corporates give up their infrastructure to the cloud.

    • Gosman 3.1

      Ummm… regardless of where Computer processing takes place (In the cloud or on local servers) it will still need electricity to do so.

      • Dukeofurl 3.1.1

        You should have seen the power consumption of the large mainframes of the 80s and 90s. and then there was the power to run the large laser printers – the size of a small SUV- to print all the output.

      • tc 3.1.2

        yes but the price point means in cloud alot more compute resources are ‘spun up’ as it’s overall cheaper.

        Alot of org’s increase their VM’s, Disk and CPU’s significantly once in the cloud as it’s just so easy to do.

        Also the existing /former infrastructure is often left to run the test systems they never had room for before but they do now.

        • WeTheBleeple 3.1.2.1

          It is kind of self perpetuating isn’t it.

          I’m suspicious when things are very cheap or free, and thus widely adopted. It creates dependency which is so easily converted in the future to holding us over a barrel for cash.

          • tc 3.1.2.1.1

            Already happening in some cases however org’s that let the skillsets and infrastructure go will be unable to go back.

  4. Morrissey 4

    Bitcoin ads are featuring on Kiwiblog. Mark Bryers (former head of Blue Chip) is one of the salesmen.

  5. One Two 5

    Won’t be stopping WAR inc…better just model in the environmental damage caused by that industry perpetually…

    Low hanging fruit and ‘easy targets’…etc

  6. Bill 6

    Well, since about 80% of NZ’s electricity generation is renewable (so more or less non-carbon emitting), then a NZ bit-coin miner is only doing about 1/5 of the damage of some others.

    Maybe they should get some sort of bonus green walk ‘n buy points?

    Bit coin? Bit player.

    As for road transport, shipping, aviation and energy generation…y’know, those things that we do that guzzle huge amounts of fossil and that produce huge amounts of carbon.

    Drill, dig and mine for all the bitcoin you desire, it’s hardly the type of drilling, digging or mining that need worry us.

    • the other pat 6.1

      still i wonder how NZ will fare if we have an extended drought….

      • Dukeofurl 6.1.1

        Wind has filled in a lot of that gap we used to have last century. As wind is variable keep the hydro as a peak load only when wind is down- which is easy to do as they can open the water gates fairly quickly to spin the turbines .

        • Pat 6.1.1.1

          wind produces approx 5% of electricity as opposed to hydros typical 50-60%……some way to go before wind can provide that which hydro currently does.

    • bwaghorn 6.2

      IfBitcoin is a pointless ponzi scheme though . As opposed to emissions from real mining . How are you going to post here if we stop mining and transporting all the bits that go into your device??

  7. Draco T Bastard 7

    In simplified terms, bitcoin mining is a competition to waste the most electricity possible by doing pointless arithmetic quintillions of times a second.

    Another great example proving that the profit motive brings about uneconomic results.

    If we are going to get on top of climate change we are going to have to address power consumption.

    Not really. Shifting to renewable sources of electricity generation eliminates the GHG emissions from power consumption.

  8. Dennis Frank 8

    “The cryptocurrency uses as much CO2 a year as 1m transatlantic flights. We need to take it seriously as a climate threat”. Hard to argue with that, eh? Bitcoin using more power than nations like NZ & Hungary is startling enough, without even considering it equal to a million transatlantic flights.

    Hang on, you’ll be thinking, if it uses that much CO2 then it’s a good thing, right? Extracting it from the atmosphere. Well, he elaborates: “commensurate with CO2 emissions of 20 megatonnes – or roughly 1m transatlantic flights.” Just a wee problem with language & logic.

    Seems like just another capitalist game, in which polluters compete with each other to see who can grab imaginary gold fastest…

  9. Dukeofurl 9

    That claim about the hour of video per week on a smartphone or tablet using as much as 2 x a fridge per year seems to be false

    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/20/iphone-energy-refrigerator-controversial-study_n_3782211.html

    The story of the power company for Virginia seems skewed as for various reasons theres a glut of data centres in that area, but the really really big ones run by say Microsoft and Amazon are mostly located near very cheap power such as hydro
    https://www.bisnow.com/washington-dc/news/data-center/why-ashburn-has-emerged-as-a-national-hub-for-data-centers-77030

  10. Ad 10

    An NZ company was awarded $325,000 taxpayer dollars through Callaghan Innovation for their Bitcoin platform.

    As Kordia Chief Executive Aaron Olphert said yesterday:

    “Please explain to me what benefit New Zealand gets out of chucking cash at yet another Bitcoin startup.”

    Awaiting the answer.

    Hope the CGT kills these trades here.

    Not even taxed. Black money.

    • Antoine 10.1

      Maybe the answer is to get rid of Callaghan.

      > Hope the CGT kills these trades here.

      I’d be surprised. Isn’t the whole point of cryptocurrency that it’s hard for Governments to interfere with?

      A.

      • Ad 10.1.1

        IRD is working on it with Aussie IRD. Tax capture will happen.

      • Draco T Bastard 10.1.2

        Yes and that’s pretty much what makes it unworkable.

        Currencies need to be backed by an actual economy and not just faith.

    • tc 10.2

      Sure it wasn’t a blockchain rather than bitcoin grant ?

      Blockchain has immense potential even if they don’t resolve it’s slow transactional throughput.

  11. Cricklewood 11

    Hmm our hydro is renewable how bout we close the smelter and go for gold or bitcoin anyways… could be a win both ways

  12. infused 12

    Posts like this are so stupid.

    Most newer datacenters are build next to rivers and use renewable power. They cool themselves using rivers or by opening up their datacenter at night to let cooler air in.

    Without these datacenters, the world would cease working.

    Cryptography is only getting stronger. It provides freedom and anonymity. I’m surprised you’re against it.

    Don’t post topics like this when you clearly know nothing about them. I mean, ‘internet datacenters’ what are you on about?

  13. Me 13

    There are only 21,000,000 bitcoins.

    If the miners weren’t making money they wouldn’t be able to pay their power bill. Problem solved.

    Lots of the newer ecurrencies now don’t have mining.

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