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Bitcoin use tied to global warming

October 31, 2018

A new study published in Nature Climate Change finds that Bitcoin use may be tied to global warming. According to a team of researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Social Sciences, if Bitcoin is implemented at similar rates at which other technologies have been incorporated, it could produce enough emissions to raise global temperatures by 2°C as soon 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 paper.

The electricity requirements to process Bitcoin transactions have created considerable difficulties, and extensive online discussion, about where to put the facilities or rings that compute the proof-of-work of Bitcoin. A somewhat less discussed issue is the environmental impacts of producing all that electricity.

The team found that if Bitcoin is incorporated, even at the slowest rate at which other technologies have been incorporated, its cumulative emissions will be enough to warm the planet above 2°C 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. This research illustrates that Bitcoin should be added to this list,” said Katie Taladay, a UH Mānoa PhD student and coauthor of the paper.

“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 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°C of global warming are to be avoided.”

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