3. No, Bitcoin won't destroy climate by 2033
A new study predicts that a sharp increase in Bitcoin use will cause a surge in greenhouse gas emissions, potentially dooming the world to global warming levels that would exceed the targets set under the Paris Climate Agreement, Axios' Andrew Freedman writes.
Why it matters: Bitcoin has an energy problem, requiring high amounts of electricity to process transactions. Determining the implications of such energy use is of concern for climate scientists, particularly if this new currency takes off in popularity.
What they did: The study estimates that Bitcoin usage emitted 69 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2017, while accounting for just 0.033% of cashless transactions in the same year. They then project future emissions based on a variety of scenarios of growing Bitcoin usage in coming years.
The researchers, from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, found that Bitcoin could be responsible for emissions emissions sufficient to propel climate change past 2°C, or 3.6°F, above preindustrial levels within just the next 11 to 22 years.
- As noted by the study, published in Nature Climate Change yesterday, a lot of Bitcoin mining takes place in China and other parts of Asia, which currently depend on coal for a lot of their electricity.
- Therefore, if Bitcoin is increasingly utilized as a cryptocurrency, emissions could skyrocket, per the authors.
But, but, but: The study makes a number of questionable assumptions, experts said. For example, the projections assume that the fuel types used to generate electricity will remain the same as they are today.
- This ignores the rapid rise of renewables worldwide and phaseout of carbon-intensive coal plants from many countries.
- They also didn't take into account the likelihood that Bitcoin mining will migrate between countries, potentially shifting from nations with a more carbon-intensive electricity base, like China, to cleaner ones, such as Iceland or the U.S.
- Also, accurately predicting future use of a novel technology is difficult, and many observers expect Bitcoin to serve more as an investment vehicle than a currency.
Go deeper: Read Andrew's full story in the Axios stream.