The electricity demand of bitcoin represents 200 million tons of CO2 since its birth 13 years ago, the equivalent of a few years of consumption of an entire country like Colombia. At most, the current crisis in cryptocurrencies, as well as the decline in value of bitcoin, has slowed the growth of this demand.
The calculation comes from a group of researchers from Cambridge University who created the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index in 2019, precisely in order to evaluate the environmental cost of the thing. After starting in 2019 by assessing only the energy bill of the international network, the team says it now has enough data per country and per “mining” firm -the name given to the operation of electronically validating a transaction- to be able to tell when the servers used become profitable for this or that entrepreneur.
Earlier this month, a report from the White House Office of Science and Technology in Washington, D.C., estimated that the electricity used by the cryptocurrency industry in the U.S. was equivalent to that used by all personal computers in the country.
There is also the problem of waste: in 2021, research led by the founding researcher of Digiconomics – a platform dedicated to “highlighting the unintended consequences of digital trends”- estimated that the waste produced by the industry – hard drives and other obsolete equipment – was equivalent to the electronic waste produced in one year in the Netherlands.
Of the 200 million tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) calculated by the Cambridge team, 92% were emitted in the last four years. The reason being that as the network grows, so does the amount of calculations that computers must make to validate transactions. Researchers predict that in the next year, bitcoin alone is expected to be responsible for 48.3 million tons of CO2, which would be roughly 0.1% of global GHG emissions… or half the GHG emissions of gold mining.
About a third (37%) of the electricity comes from renewable sources, according to these researchers. A figure that, New Scientist points out, differs from that of the Bitcoin Mining Council, which instead estimates renewable sources at 59%.