STUDY: Using Bitcoin Will Raise Global TemperaturesNovember 1, 2018, 8:00 AM HST (Updated October 31, 2018, 6:47 PM)
A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (UH Mānoa) indicates that the digital currency Bitcoin could contribute to global temperatures by as much as 2 degrees Celsius as early as 2033.
“Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency with heavy hardware requirements, and this obviously translates into large electricity demands,” said Randi Rollins, a master’s student at UH Mānoa and coauthor of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Use of bitcoin and other similar cryptocurrencies—encrypted forms of electronic cash that exist in the digital world—requires large amounts of electricity. Bitcoin transactions themselves are recorded and processed by a group of individuals known as miners who group the events into block chains which serve as public ledgers. Miners must verify transactions by deciphering a computationally demanding proof-of-work in exchange for bitcoin—which also happens to require large amounts of electricity.
Bitcoin’s energy demands have created challenges and ongoing discussion about where to put facilities that compute the proof-of-work. The UH Mānoa study addresses the perhaps less-discussed issue of the potential environmental impacts of producing sufficient electricity to power cryptocurrency.
In the study, researchers analyzed variables including power efficiency of computers used by Bitcoin miners, the geographic location of the miners who likely computed the Bitcoin, and the likely amount of carbon dioxide emissions by country. Based on their data, researchers estimate that Bitcoin use in 2017 created and emitted 69 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
Researchers also studied how other technologies have grown and been assimilated into everyday life to understand the cumulative emissions that Bitcoin might have if it continues growing. The team found that even if Bitcoin is incorporated at the slowest rate at which other technologies have been incorporated, its cumulative emissions will be enough to warm the planet more than 2 degrees Celsius in just 22 years. If incorporated at the average rate of other technologies, it is closer to 16 years.
“Currently, the emissions from transportation, housing and food are considered the main contributors to ongoing climate change,” said Katie Taladay, a UH Mānoa master’s student and coauthor of the paper. “This research illustrates that Bitcoin should be added to this list.”
“We cannot predict the future of Bitcoin, but if implemented at a rate even close to the slowest pace at which other technologies have been incorporated, it will spell very bad news for climate change and the people and species impacted by it,” said Camilo Mora, associate professor of geography in the College of Social Sciences at UH Mānoa and lead author of the study.
“With the ever-growing devastation created by hazardous climate conditions, humanity is coming to terms with the fact that climate change is as real and personal as it can be,” added Mora. “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.”