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Why bitcoin mining is so terrible for the environment

The study calls for potential regulation on Bitcoin mining to make it more sustainable.

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By Alice Clifford via SWNS

Bitcoin mining is more damaging than beef production and almost as environmentally unsustainable as crude oil, according to new research.

And the digital currency is causing more damage to the climate over time, scientists at the University of New Mexico warn.

While Bitcoin has been compared to 'digital gold,' the study suggests that it is much more energy intensive, and is impacting the environment similarly to beef, natural gas and crude oil.

Study co-author Professor Benjamin Jones, of the University of New Mexico, said: “Globally, the mining, or production, of Bitcoin is using tremendous amounts of electricity, mostly from fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas.

"This is causing huge amounts of air pollution and carbon emissions, which is negatively impacting our global climate and our health.

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“We find several instances between 2016 and 2021 where Bitcoin is more damaging to the climate than a single Bitcoin is actually worth.

"Put differently, Bitcoin mining, in some instances, creates climate damages in excess of a coin’s value. This is extremely troubling from a sustainability perspective.”

The research team examined how Bitcoin damages the environment according to three sustainability criteria: whether the estimated climate damage is increasing over time, whether the climate damages of Bitcoin exceeds market price, and how the climate damage as a share of market price compares to other industries and products.

Their results show that CO2-like emissions from Bitcoin mining have increased 126 times from 0.9 tonnes per coin in 2016 to 113 tonnes per coin in 2021.

The study estimates that each coin mined in 2021 caused $11,314 (£10,434) of climate damage, adding to the total global damages that exceed $12 billion (£11.06 billion) between 2016 and 2021.

The climate damage hit its peak in May 2020, according to the report, as 156 percent of the coin price caused environmental harm, making its climate damages more than the coins' actual value.

Each US Dollar of Bitcoin market value generated led to $1.56 in global climate damages that month, according to the findings.

via GIPHY

While climate damages for Bitcoin averaged 35 percent of its market value between 2016 and 2021, it is still lower than other unsustainable industries and products.

Climate damages for electricity produced by natural gas averaged at 46 percent and for gasoline produced from crude oil it was at 41 percent.

However, Bitcoin's environmental damage exceeds beef production, where climate damages make up 33 percent of the market value.

The study calls for potential regulation on Bitcoin mining to make it more sustainable.

Study co-author Professor Robert Berrens, also of the University of New Mexico, added: "Across the class of digitally scarce goods, our focus is on those cryptocurrencies that rely on proof-of-work production techniques, which can be highly energy intensive.

"Within broader efforts to mitigate climate change, the policy challenge is creating governance mechanisms for an emergent, decentralized industry, which includes energy-intensive proof-of-work cryptocurrencies.

"We believe that such efforts would be aided by measurable, empirical signals concerning potentially unsustainable climate damages, in monetary terms.”

Prof. Jones added: "We find no evidence that Bitcoin mining is becoming more sustainable over time.

“Rather, our results suggest the opposite: Bitcoin mining is becoming dirtier and more damaging to the climate over time. In short, Bitcoin’s environmental footprint is moving in the wrong direction.”

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