Jul 9, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning and welcome back!

This is cool: Coming this Wednesday, we’re launching Axios Cities, a new once-weekly newsletter penned by Axios’ own Kim Hart.

  • Expect news and analysis of the technological and demographic trends shaping cities, the economic engines of the world. Sign up here to receive the first edition in your inbox.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,186 words/<5 minute read

Onto music. Exactly 35 years ago, Bruce Springsteen was atop Billboard's album charts with "Born in the U.S.A," so my favorite cut is today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Don't panic about Bitcoin cooking the planet
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Adapted from an IEA chart; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

A new International Energy Agency analysis provides a useful look at a tricky problem: tracking the energy consumed by digital Bitcoin "mining" to process transactions.

Why it matters: Growing use of cryptocurrencies is spurring fears that power-sucking hardware and data centers (and associated cooling and lighting) will make it even harder to fight global warming.

The big picture: The IEA primer is a helpful comparison of the conflicting estimates piling up and offers some big takeaways on Bitcoin energy use.

  • Yes, it's a substantial amount and, no, it's not the apocalypse at all.

What they did: Check out the chart above. IEA analyst George Kamiya looked at one widely used estimate on the higher end, which is Digiconomist's Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index.

He then offers a more conservative "benchmark," which assumes use of the efficient Antminer S9 hardware but does not factor in cooling and lighting, and then plots where various studies fall.

By the numbers: The IEA analysis estimates that Bitcoin mining consumed around 45 terawatt hours (TWh) last year, but it's on track to be "much higher" this year.

  • For a sense of scale, IEA estimates that global electricity demand overall grew by 900 TWh last year.
  • But Kamiya also cites analyses showing much of the mining is in countries with lots of renewable electricity or in renewables-heavy regions of China.

The bottom line: Don't panic!

"Based on these analyses and data from IPO filings of hardware manufacturers and insights on mining facility operations and pool compositions, bitcoin mining is likely responsible for 10–20 Mt CO2 per year, or 0.03–0.06% of global energy-related CO2 emissions," he writes.

But, but, but: Bitcoin energy use is growing, and it's just one cryptocurrency. Even there, estimates vary considerably, there are competing methods, and it's not a static thing either.

  • The amount changes depending on the rate of mining and equipment used.
  • Looking forward, there are variables around efficiency of the mining tech, where data centers are located and what powers them.

What's next: "While these early estimates provide a rough indication of bitcoin energy use today, it is clear that researchers need more data, in particular from mining facilities, to develop more rigorous methodologies and accurate estimates," Kamiya writes.

Go deeper: No, Bitcoin won't destroy our climate by 2033

2. Chart of the day: A Texas-sized surge
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Reproduced from EIA; Chart: Axios Visuals

This chart says everything! A new Energy Information Administration note explores how U.S. oil production sailed past 12 million barrels per day earlier this year.

The short answer? Texas.

By the numbers: Crude oil production in Texas jumped 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) between January 2018 and April of this year to reach roughly 5 million bpd.

The chart above shows the growth in Texas and 2 other centers of the surge in production from onshore shale formations. North Dakota and New Mexico production is increasing (which also includes some of the prolific Permian Basin formation that's largely in Texas).

  • The chart also shows Alaska's long-term decline in output.

Where it stands: The domestic surge isn't stopping. But it appears to be slowing. The EIA's most recent estimate is that U.S. crude oil production growth will be 1.4 million bpd this year and 900,000 in 2020, which is a lot, but not as large as last year's jump.

What's next: The next set of EIA 2019 and 2020 estimates arrives later today.

3. Bernie Sanders' climate emergency

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are floating a nonbinding resolution Tuesday to declare a "climate emergency" that demands a sweeping mobilization in response.

Why it matters: They're two of the highest-profile figures on the left. The resolution is also the first written product on climate that anyone has seen from White House hopeful Sanders in a while.

The intrigue: The resolution, like the Green New Deal, steers clear of policy specifics — something in short supply from Sanders thus far during his presidential run.

  • The Sanders campaign, unlike several key rivals, hasn't yet released a detailed platform.
  • And he hasn't yet unveiled the detailed climate legislation that his Senate office has been working on (though he's authored numerous bills in years past).

The big picture: The resolution offers a series of statements on the state of global warming — noting for instance that the last 4 years are the 4 hottest on record — and science on existing and anticipated harms.

  • It says global warming "demands a national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization of the resources and labor of the United States at a massive-scale to halt, reverse, mitigate, and prepare for the consequences of the climate emergency and to restore the climate for future generations."
  • It also says the economic, social and health benefits of said mobilization "far outweigh the costs of inaction."

What's next: Sanders, AOC and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democratic and co-sponsor of the resolution, are holding a press call about it at midday.

Go deeper: Read the resolution

4. Parsing Trump's enviro speech

Here are a couple quick notes on Trump's environmental speech yesterday.

The big picture: The president and top aides lauded U.S. air and water quality.

  • Overall, levels of key air pollutants — including smog-forming compounds and soot — have generally been on a decades-long decline.
  • Yesterday, the EPA highlighted how combined emissions of 6 pollutants — sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, fine particulates and more — are down 74% since 1970.
  • And carbon emissions have been on a generally downward trend since the mid-2000s, thanks largely to coal losing ground to gas and renewables in power markets.

But, but, but: The administration is easing a suite of environmental regulations. The Associated Press reported last month that air quality progress has stagnated over the last 2 years.

  • Their piece didn't lay that at the foot of Trump's policies (plenty of things cause air quality to fluctuate), but noted scientists' concerns that the administration's looser rules and looser enforcement could turn "what has so far been a modest, two-year backslide into a dangerous trend."
  • Also, carbon emissions moved back upward last year, and while the federal EIA projects declines this year and in 2020, the trajectory is far off track for meeting U.S. goals under the Paris Agreement.

The intrigue: On the politics side, my colleagues Jonathan Swan and Amy Harder wrote earlier this week:

  • "A senior administration official said the White House crafted the speech to present the president as pragmatic and to appeal to suburban women, a demographic that has moved away from him and which his advisers believe he needs to win back to be re-elected in 2020."

Go deeper:

Bonus: Counting Trump's carbon
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Data: fromAtoB; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

President Trump has racked up a staggering carbon footprint last year, Axios' Kaveh Waddell writes.

Last year, his plane emitted about 11,500 tonnes of CO2, more than 700 times of the average American, according to an analysis by fromAtoB, a flight booking company.

Ben GemanAmy Harder