Study: Bitcoin Mining Could Push Global Warming Over the 2C Threshold

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Will Silicon Valley give up its energy intensive cryptocurrency to save the planet?

Bitcoin Mining Alone Could Raise Global Temperatures Above Critical Limit By 2033

By Daniel Oberhaus
Oct 30 2018, 2:02am

A recent UN climate report said that if global temperatures rose above 1.5 C it could lead to catastrophic climate change. Bitcoin alone could raise global temperatures by 2 C within two decades.

Bitcoin requires massive amounts of energy to run the computers that secure the record of transactions that have occurred on the network, which are stored in a digital ledger called a blockchain. Each computer is simultaneously searching for the solution to a complex math problem—a process known as mining since the first computer to solve the problem is rewarded with newly-minted Bitcoin.

Bitcoin’s environmental footprint has been a serious point of criticism for years, mostly thanks to the work of the Dutch economist Alex de Vries. De Vries’ work has long lived on his blog Digiconomist, and more recently in Joule, a peer-reviewed academic journal. As Motherboard has previously reported, de Vries’ research has found that Bitcoin’s energy consumption likely roughly equivalent to the energy needs of Austria and may be more resource intensive than mining gold.

Yet even de Vries was surprised by the new research, which suggests that Bitcoin’s success could mean bad news for everyone on Earth.

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From the study;

Globally, ~314.2 billion cashless transactions are carried out every year, of which Bitcoin’s share was ~0.033% in 20175. The environmental concern regarding Bitcoin usage arises from the large carbon footprint for such a small share of global cashless transactions, and the potential for it to be more broadly used under current technologies. Bitcoin usage has experienced an accelerated growth (Supplementary Fig. 1), which is a common pattern during the early adoption of broadly used technologies8. Should Bitcoin follow the median growth trend observed in the adoption of several other technologies (Fig. 1b), it could equal the global total of cashless transactions in under 100 years. Yet, the cumulative emissions of such usage growth could fall within the range of emissions likely to warm the planet by 2 °C within only 16 years (red line in Fig. 1b). The cumulative emissions of Bitcoin usage will cross the 2 °C threshold within 22 years if the current rate is similar to some of the slowest broadly adopted technologies, or within 11 years if adopted at the fastest rate at which other technologies have been incorporated (that is, the red area in Fig. 1b). Projections in this analysis assume that the portfolio of fuel types used to generate electricity remains fixed at today’s values (see Supplementary Table 3).

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Note: The full study is available without paywall by clicking the link to the study from the Vice article.

Studying the imaginary climate impact of a fantasy digital currency in my opinion is the modern equivalent of arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin – though it is entertaining to see green bitcoin enthusiasts defend their actions.

One point of interest is that this climate catastrophe is predicted to occur even if Bitcoin continues to make efforts to source their electricity from renewables. Though I doubt in practice whether Bitcoin will actually grow to consume such vast amounts of electricity, unless consumer electricity bills in climate obsessed countries come way down.

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October 29, 2018 1:33 pm

So mosh is single handedly driving climate change by his bit coin activities. Does he need to adjust the BEST data to account for this?


Reply to  Tonyb
October 29, 2018 2:16 pm

Woods Hole shark jumping-nado…

Tge only thing at woods hole is a taxpayer blackhole.

Walt D.
October 29, 2018 1:38 pm

What a bunch of dopes.
This is like analog gauges on the Star Trek Enterprise.
Like many of these “planes won’t be able to fly due to global warming” doom and gloom scenarios, they ignore advances in technology.
Besides the 2C limit is purely arbitrary – pulled from a place that emits no sunlight, and I’m not talking about a black hole!

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  Walt D.
October 29, 2018 2:23 pm

You’re talking about a brown hole?

October 29, 2018 1:39 pm

Is the global increase in temperature from the fever people will have when they wake up one morning to find all their virtual currency is wiped out, stolen or missing? Or from all the computers working overtime each putting out a few 100 watts of heat, all for nothing. Bitcoin is a sham, although I wish I would have bought 3-4 years ago and sold last December. I still don’t understand where the real actual value comes from by solving a mathematical puzzle. Out of thin air, or CO2?

Reply to  Earthling2
October 29, 2018 1:57 pm

I call it digital fools gold.

Reply to  Earthling2
October 29, 2018 2:17 pm

Earthling2, the answer is faith. It is no different than any other currency. People can claim that government gives currency value, but they don’t see the Venezuela fiasco.

Reply to  Derg
October 29, 2018 2:39 pm

It’s like any other currency, what is that value of a piece of paper with $1 printed on it other than the pledge to reimburse you with……another dollar bill. I may be wrong about the US but in the UK I believe the right to demand gold in return for a £1 coin is no longer available.

And I’m far from an authority on the matter but the intrinsic value of any currency these days seems to be in the desire to trade with it. The Dollar still reigns supreme in world markets, but it seized the baton from dominant European currencies didn’t it.

The value of a currency, it seems to me, is intrinsic with the value of a nations produce otherwise the Arabs would have nothing without oil. Oil is their currency.

So if a few million people want to speculate a few quid on Bitcoin (and I also wish I had done so a few years ago, which I did consider) it’s value is no less that the belief that Saudi oil will continue. Meanwhile the Saudies are getting out of oil, probably into Bitcoin.

Is Bitcoin of any value? Well, as it’s now trading at around £4,800 a coin, from zero in less than ten years, there’s something going on and one would be a fool to discount it.

When was the last time you bought an item from Amazon with a Dollar bill?

Reply to  HotScot
October 29, 2018 3:25 pm

“but the intrinsic value of any currency these days seems to be in the desire to trade with it.”

Indeed, and I agree. A digital currency is brilliant, as are credit cards to buy and sell on Amazon. Although law enforcement has issues with anonymous transactions…and bitcoin is much more than just a digital currency. It can be ‘mined’ out of thin CO2.

My concern was, where did the bitcoin value come from for solving the mathematical puzzle? It not like something of value was created that somebody benefited from in the process. I understand the blockchain value, but that is a simple transaction. Which is like at the end of the day, we all print out this article, and if Anthony decides to edit all our comments to something we never said, we all have a ledger to compare and all be on the same page. Can’t mess with the record and that is good and straight forward.

And then this article itself was wondering about the electricity usage to run all the computers to ‘mine’ the mathematical puzzle. What a waste of good electricity, whether it is renewable or not. But especially if it is with renewables, because it costs 3 times as much. So now we are effectively subsidizing bitcoin through renewables.

I understand the Federal Reserve and Central Banking. Sort of. At least the Fed and the USD currency will be the last to fall. But who is Satoshi Nakamoto, and why does he have the right to create $5-$6 Billion out of thin air for himself which is his current estimated net worth. My theory is that Satoshi Nakamoto is the NSA/CIA and 5 Eyes. And they created this to track all the nefarious and criminal activity by rogue states, criminal triads, gangs and mafiaso. And when they are done with it, poof, it will evaporate in the blink of an eye.

Reply to  Earthling2
October 30, 2018 8:00 am

The mathematical puzzle is just the counterfeit deterrent. Like a pretty picture and serrations on coins.

Like any other currency, from notches on a stick, to knots in a piece of string, to ledgers, to tulip bulbs, to discs made of metals controlled by the King, to rare minerals cut in pretty shapes, the value is in the belief that the other party will honor it with real world goods or services. The intrinsic value of gold is zero. You can’t eat it, you can’t burn it and it is useless for making knives. Diamonds at least have the same intrinsic value as charcoal ….. if needed, you can burn them to get warm.

Reply to  HotScot
November 4, 2018 12:57 pm

Bitcoin is too risky for me. Besides I don’t understand why people give it value. I’m sinking all my money into tulip bulbs.

Reply to  Derg
October 29, 2018 3:46 pm

Yes indeed Derg, it is all an act of faith. Or at least has been since Nixon preempted Bonanza on a Sunday night in 1971 and took the USA off the gold standard. Thence came rapid inflation.

The Correction is equal and opposite to the Deception that preceded it. That can be applied to a lot of things, such as the forthcoming re-flation to account for all the cheap money that has been flooding the economy since 2008/09. Now we are in uncharted territory. They haven’t even been keeping track of M3 money velocity since 2005.

I don’t think this ends well, especially when we see schemes like bitcoin mining. Something doesn’t add up as a lot of us instinctively know, but there will come along a snake oil salesman who will explain it all, and make it sound all wonderful. Drumroll…enter Mosher.

October 29, 2018 2:02 pm

I suggest moving into Earth orbit. You got constant sunshine, free energy, plenty of cooling available and all you have to do is send down some bits now and then when you get lucky.

October 29, 2018 2:09 pm

Since Bitcoin Mining is not a mission critical enterprise, it would be a good application of marginal energy production.

October 29, 2018 2:11 pm

Mosh buys dispensations for his uge footprint.
Well at least that’s what he tells us . . .

Walter Sobchak
October 29, 2018 2:11 pm

The difference between bitcoins and tulip bulbs, is that after the price of tulip bulbs crashed you could plant them and have pretty flowers in the spring.

Reply to  Walter Sobchak
October 29, 2018 9:39 pm

I bought some Bitcoin from Walmart online — think they cost about $4 a piece. They’re not really Bitcoin, but I like the design, and they make great conversation pieces. Don’t know if they’re still selling them – that was about 4 months ago.

Stephen Singer
October 29, 2018 2:36 pm

Bitcoin operations in central Washington state near our Hydro-Electric dams are eating up a lot of the dams electricity surplus intended for all the farms, towns, cities of Washington state. Some of the cities and towns in central Washington state are refusing permits to build anymore Bitcoin farming operations. Though some farmers have fallen for the scam.

Andrew Dickens
October 29, 2018 2:41 pm

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay – essential reading for every climate sceptic. Published 1841, and covered crusades, alchemy, witch persecution, tulipmania (thanks for reminding me Walter), and many other crazy obsessions. Since MacKay’s day we’ve had eugenics, global warming and now Bitcoin. And many others I can’t think of just now.

October 29, 2018 3:22 pm

The UN-bitcoin problem can be very easy simplified.

The one thing that UN never had and never will have, no matter how much or hard it may try, is having any kind of authority over bitcoin…regardless.

And as far as I can tell, bitcoin is not a currency…as in the same way that gold is not a currency either.


Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  whiten
October 29, 2018 5:10 pm

Gold sovereigns are legal currency in the UK. No sales tax (VAT) and no capital gains tax when sold as a profit because of that.

October 29, 2018 3:45 pm

How does it compare to currency trading energy use?

October 29, 2018 3:47 pm

Didn’t this bitscam [pruned] get enough ridicule and scorn heaped on it before? Why is the same retarded [prunued] here again?

October 29, 2018 4:30 pm

“Bitcoin requires massive amounts of energy to run the computers that secure the record of transactions that have occurred on the network, which are stored in a digital ledger called a blockchain. Each computer is simultaneously searching for the solution to a complex math problem—a process known as mining since the first computer to solve the problem is rewarded with newly-minted Bitcoin.”

This is a joke, surely.
Lucky the computers are able to do what I and the rest of the world want to do with the miserable amount of space and power left over,

Alan Tomalty
October 29, 2018 8:21 pm

Everybody misses the fundamental law of supply and demand with reference to basic commodities. Energy is a basic commodity that comes in many forms. If electricity demand goes up the prices go up. When the prices go up, the government regulatory bodies that control electricity (assuming that there is a free market for electricity in the wholesale market) will put out tenders for more supply. Raw electricity producers will invest in more production because the prices have gone up. There is no such thing as peak oil. The amount of electricity potential of nuclear is for all intents and purposes almost infinite at the right prices. The world is wallowing in natural gas. Coal supplies are good for 150 years. Every bitcoin miner has to pay for their electricity. A lot of it is done in China and Mongolia and Iceland where the electricity is cheap. Actual bitcoin electricity usage worldwide has been flat for the last 6 months. And bitcoin mining has been getting less profitable. Currently bitcoin coding yields about 12 coins every 10 minutes , but the yield falls by 50% every 4 years.

Scott Manhart
October 29, 2018 10:24 pm

Lions and Tigers and Bitcoin OH MY!
You have to love arguments made in a vacuum. If bitcoin and other Cryptos continue to eat the legacy financial system you will see a DROP in overall energy consumption by the financial sector by 2-3x. Name any other analog system that was displaced by a digital one where total energy consumption increased.

Farmer Ch E retired
October 31, 2018 6:20 pm

Let me see . . . we could eliminate Bitcoin mining and save the globe from crossing the 2C warming threshold in 22 years or the US could stay in the Paris Accord and save the globe from 0.2C of warming in 82 years (2100). What do you bet that the socialist scientists and bureaucrats will push for the Paris Accord.

Scott manhart
November 1, 2018 8:30 am

Best realistic review of Bitcoin mining power use by Bitcoin core contributor Jimmy Song

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