Mar 30, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Climate groups push together for greener bitcoin

Illustration of a pixelated world map overtop an image of a bitcoin pattern.

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Environmental groups just launched a campaign aimed at pressuring bitcoin miners to adopt more climate-friendly practices.

Why it matters: Verifying and recording transactions involves power-hungry computing equipment, spurring fears about growing CO2 emissions.

Driving the news: Greenpeace and the Environmental Working Group lead the "Change the Code, Not the Climate" campaign.

  • Chris Larsen, the billionaire co-founder of the digital payments company Ripple, personally provided an initial $5 million.
  • Former Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune is advising the campaign.
  • It launched with digital ads in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Facebook and elsewhere.

Zoom in: Activists want bitcoin miners to ditch the "proof of work" process for validating transactions.

  • They point out that bitcoin rival Ethereum is transitioning to code that requires vastly less energy.

Reality check: It's a steep and maybe impossible uphill climb, says Axios' Brady Dale, who adds:

  • The two leading blockchains have wildly different cultures. Yes, Ethereum is shifting to a new consensus mechanism but it also launched without a supply cap (the limit of 21 million bitcoins is hard-coded in). They are fundamentally different projects that attract different crowds.
  • Proof-of-work has persevered in a hyper adversarial environment since 2009. Bitcoin changes very slowly anyway, but that probably never will.

Threat level: "Some researchers estimate that cryptocurrencies use more electricity each year than many individual countries in the world, including some industrialized nations," states a recent White House solicitation for input on crypto's impact.

What's next: One goal is convincing investors to apply pressure. “Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, PayPal, Venmo, Fidelity — there are lots of companies we anticipate will be helpful to this effort," Brune tells Bloomberg

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