Bitcoin's effect on the planet is worse than 1 million flights
October 29, 2018 2:50 PM   Subscribe

From the Guardian, Jan. 2018: Bitcoin’s electricity usage is enormous. In November, the power consumed by the entire bitcoin network was estimated to be higher than that of the Republic of Ireland. Since then, its demands have only grown. It’s now on pace to use just over 42TWh of electricity in a year, placing it ahead of New Zealand and Hungary and just behind Peru, according to estimates from Digiconomist. That’s commensurate with CO2 emissions of 20 megatonnes – or roughly 1m transatlantic flights.

From Motherboard, Oct. 29, 2018: If Bitcoin is adopted at rates similar to other technologies, like credit cards, it could increase global temperatures by two degrees Celsius by 2033 according to a study published on Monday in Nature Climate Change.

From Axios, Oct. 29, 2018: No, Bitcoin won't destroy our climate by 2033.
posted by Bella Donna (79 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
While just another good reason to hate on bitcoin fiends, this is the definitive best reason to oppose bitcoin fiendery. People burning coal to fuel their monopoly money scam bubble, creating nothing of value, adding to the world's destruction out of yet more greed. You have to try pretty hard to be worse than banks, yet bitcoiners managed to do it all the while thinking themselves a better alternative.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:53 PM on October 29, 2018 [56 favorites]


I guess I get it but where the hell are all these mining rigs? China? It seems hard to believe that a bunch of warehouses can use as much electricity as Ireland. There have to be a lot of physical boxes right?
posted by GuyZero at 2:54 PM on October 29, 2018 [6 favorites]


Of all the ways for the world's environment/economy/society to collapse, overheating because of tech bros' wish to stick it to the man and buy drugs anonymously is one of the dumbest.
posted by signal at 2:54 PM on October 29, 2018 [25 favorites]


It's worse than that. A million flights never cornered me at a party and told me that I didn't understand economics.
posted by chrchr at 2:57 PM on October 29, 2018 [167 favorites]


How do we stop it? Do we just make Bitcoin illegal and start seizing Bitcoin mining machines?
posted by JDHarper at 2:58 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


You have to try pretty hard to be worse than banks

Nowadays most big bitcoin traders are bankers.

Oh, sorry, I said that wrong. Well, actually nowadays most big bitcoin traders are bankers.
posted by phooky at 3:03 PM on October 29, 2018 [31 favorites]


We need someone to invent a wacky anti-bank investment scheme that combines carbon capture/offset with "THE BLOCKCHAIN." Implementation details left as an exercise for the reader.
posted by Western Infidels at 3:09 PM on October 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


These studies seem to start by giving credence to bitcoiner delusions about the usefulness (and hence likely mass adoption) of the technology.
If Bitcoin is adopted at rates similar to other technologies, like credit cards
Fortunately that's unlikely to happen. If one bitcoin transaction uses as much electricity as it takes to power a house for a week (as an article linked from the Motherboard article claims), then surely it is going to cost about as much? Or at least as much as powering a house for a week costs in China? In that case, how will it ever reach credit card level rates of adoption?
To predict Bitcoin’s environmental footprint in the future, the University of Hawaii researchers looked at the adoption rates of other new technologies, such as credit cards and dishwashers, in the United States. These technologies were selected based on their incredibly rapid adoption, as was the case for credit cards, or their slow uptake, i.e. dishwashers. If Bitcoin is adopted at the average rate of these technologies, according to the study, it could produce enough emissions to warm the planet by two degrees Celcius in just 16 years. Even if it follows the slowest adoption rate, it will reach this same threshold within 22 years, the researchers concluded.
How about if bitcoin follows the adoption curve of beanie babies or collectible tulip bulbs? What then?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 3:15 PM on October 29, 2018 [9 favorites]


We need someone to invent a wacky anti-bank investment scheme that combines carbon capture/offset with "THE BLOCKCHAIN." Implementation details left as an exercise for the reader.

Create large blocks of captured carbon, and chain bankers to them before sinking them in the sea?
posted by agentofselection at 3:16 PM on October 29, 2018 [36 favorites]


Yes, bitcoin mining happens primarily in China. This is due to cheaper (domestic) access to ASIC manufacturing (a one-time cost), as well as cheaper energy (an ongoing cost). From the rebuttal article:
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.
...which is bullshit: mining already migrated to china because of cheap coal power. It will continue to migrate to wherever costs are lowest. And if the low cost power is coal (because no one wants it, and there's still lots of mines), then bitcoin will continue to contribute disproportionately to coal-based pollution.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:17 PM on October 29, 2018 [17 favorites]


Maybe we could call it Fakeblock.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:21 PM on October 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


It seems hard to believe that a bunch of warehouses can use as much electricity as Ireland

From this report, the 3 mines described consume 0.1TWh/year in a footprint of just over 0.01 km^2. and there are many, many other similar sized mines.

Just new mines alone in 2014, not existing ones,in Wenatchee, WA made requests for 220MW worth of power accounting for almost 2 TW/h/year and places like wenatchee are all over the world in places with cheap power. you dont need to take up much space to use massive amounts of power
posted by Dr. Twist at 3:21 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


Make Bitcoin miners power their rigs using only power-harvesting stationary bicycles and their own legs
posted by Existential Dread at 3:24 PM on October 29, 2018 [12 favorites]


Well, actually we can fix global warming by allowing bitcoin miners to attach themselves directly to the sun. Within a couple years, competition to produce the next coin will lead to solar dimming (and eventually solar extinction, but we can burn that bridge when we come to it).
posted by kaibutsu at 3:28 PM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


Unfortunately, electrical power is purpose-agnostic, so I'm having a hard time figuring out how you'd enforce this bikecoin scheme. I have complete faith that techbros will find a way to bring about a next-generation electrical grid in which different subscription tiers determines which varieties of electricity you get. Lights-and-Appliances is baseline; the Entertainer gets the ability to run most varieties of Audio/Video playback devices. The premier Squadleader package is necessary for most gaming devices, and this is where you'll start to really see the mining rig taxes start to appear.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 3:34 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


How about if bitcoin follows the adoption curve of beanie babies or collectible tulip bulbs? What then?

With those high peaks? Probably just as bad, if not worse. :/
posted by sexyrobot at 3:35 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


you dont need to take up much space to use massive amounts of power

Forget the greenhouse gasses, how do these things not glow red hot? How is there not a plume of visibly heated air making them visible from miles away? My limited impression of these mines/farms is that they're pretty basic by DC standards and are not exactly like the tidy blue-LEDS and colour-coded coolant pipes of a US internet company DC.
posted by GuyZero at 3:36 PM on October 29, 2018


I mean unlike bitcoin, at least you can eat tulips and beanie babies
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:36 PM on October 29, 2018 [15 favorites]


Hyperreality
posted by nikoniko at 3:39 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


I saw this misconception in the other thread, too-- that watching video takes appreciable amounts of power. It doesn't, not nowadays. You can watch a movie on your smartphone and consume less power than an incandescent nightlight. /derail
posted by phooky at 3:48 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


One of the problems with bitcoin itself (beyond the many listed here) is that a major portion of this power consumption is likely due to the control exerted by big traders/exchanges/banks on the BTC and "small block" side of the fork that happened last year. The "small block" camp is keeping control of this to keep mining profits artificially inflated.

While the "Classic" BCH fork isn't a whole lot better, it can definitely address part of the power issues by scaling the network towards lower rewards and fees.

There are a number of cryptocurrencies that exist now that consume much, much less power by using proof of stake or proof of trust networks over proof of work networks like Bitcoin itself.

Whether or not you take any of this blockchain stuff seriously, it's not going to go away any time soon and the cat is out of the bag, and for better and worse (usually worse) it's gaining major traction and support from trading and finance industries.

This is going to be as profound of an impact as the invention of the web. One way to think about this is that they've managed to invent a workable scheme to digital artificial scarcity that's almost impossible to copy, clone or crack.

This is currently and will have profound implications on our future. I highly recommend that people become at least somewhat familiar with what's going on so it doesn't sneak up on you.

Because trying to support banning it outright could have dire consequences on the personal use of cryptography for privacy and privacy in general. I rarely grab anything near the libertarian side of the stick but banning private cryptography would be the easiest way to ban cryptocurrencies. The use of the two related technologies is almost identical from the network side of things. Blockchain network traffic might as well be an encrypted email client or a netflix stream or political free speech.
posted by loquacious at 3:49 PM on October 29, 2018 [13 favorites]


how do these things not glow red hot?

Some of them glow brighter than others
posted by Dr. Twist at 3:54 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Make Bitcoin miners power their rigs using only power-harvesting stationary bicycles and their own legs

It would take about ~13,000 Tour de France winners, going at attack speed, without rest, 24 hours a day for 365 hours to power one of those 0.1TWh farms. That's approaching 5.5 million Chris Froome's going full on for 12 months for the whole 42TWh.
posted by biffa at 4:00 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


so i guess having a central bank control the money supply, for all its flaws, is maybe a better, more advanced and less harmful model than a pseudo-mercantilist approach where specie is mined like a natural resource in direct proportion to how rapacious the miners want to get.
huh, go figure. what in the history of natural resource exploitation could possibly have suggested that result?

sarcasm aside, this is yet another example of techno libertarians needing to actually, personally re-make all of the mistakes of history in order to believe they are real. hey guys, maybe try reading a book!
posted by wibari at 4:02 PM on October 29, 2018 [27 favorites]


I guess I get it but where the hell are all these mining rigs? China? It seems hard to believe that a bunch of warehouses can use as much electricity as Ireland. There have to be a lot of physical boxes right?

In the US they're mostly located near hydroelectric dams because it's a lot of fucking power that doesn't involve carbon. The electricity is cheap and it's very low-impact.

The article using total power use of bitcoin's fucking miners and translating that entirely into carbon-burning power sources is bullshit. It's a startling statistic when you first look at it, but if you live in, say, Washington state and your community has had to interface with miners looking to put in a mining box, you know full well that the miners are coming to where the power is cheap, not setting up shop in the middle of the eastern seaboard where everything is coal-powered.
posted by hippybear at 4:13 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Also, and I don't know this entirely to be true, but bitcoin may be the worst of the entire lot with how it has structured its mining game, making it more and more difficult for anyone to get a new coin even while a zillion servers are thrown at the problem. I don't think all blockchain currencies are similarly structured, with many of them using blockchain that doesn't require an aluminum smelter's worth of power to keep the chain maintained.
posted by hippybear at 4:15 PM on October 29, 2018


(I am not a cryptocurrency supporter. But it's worth noting there's alarmist things going on in this article that may not reflect actual reality.)
posted by hippybear at 4:16 PM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


(I am not a cryptocurrency supporter. But it's worth noting there's alarmist things going on in this article that may not reflect actual reality.)

it's a good point about the direct carbon comparison, but if the article was about how in 1990, the equivalent energy use of Norway was tied up in making tamagotchis you'd be appalled right? something so trivial taking such an outsize percentage of resources.
posted by Dr. Twist at 4:25 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Not a cryptocurrency supporter.
posted by hippybear at 4:27 PM on October 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


This is not a problem with bitcoin. This is a problem with the fact that people can use energy sources, for whatever purpose, that involve dumping CO2 into the atmosphere, and they do not have to bear the cost of removal of that CO2 from the atmosphere.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:13 PM on October 29, 2018 [31 favorites]


How do we stop it? Do we just make Bitcoin illegal and start seizing Bitcoin mining machines?

“Proof of Stake” is an alternate way of securing (mining blocks) on a chain that does away with the energy waste inherent in “Proof of Work” presently used by Bitcoin. Ethereum is due to
posted by oxidizer at 5:22 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


... switch to POS in 2019/2020. i anticipate this to be a game changer and Bitcoin will have to follow suit or run the riak of losing market share.
posted by oxidizer at 5:29 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Using encrypted data for financial transactions does NOT require an algorithm like bitcoin that grows exponentially in difficulty.

How do we stop it?

Legislation, international banking treaties. Shooting the idiots that refuse to listen.

Having free time a few weeks ago there were some crypto conferences (a small growing industry in itself) that I got to see up close... crazy crazy... but there are some good ideas mixed into the whacked out flim flam ICO (initial coin offering) purveyors. Many were blatant creepy con men but very hard to tell the misguided from the occasional good idea from the smart scammers.

The gods of finance (Federal Reserve) will issue some kind of crypto currency at some point. One good thing about the crypto landrush is that many mistakes and bad ideas are bubbling up to the surface quicker than if bureaucrats were carefully designing the system in conference rooms with academic experts devising theoretical approaches and pouring serious value into a breakable system.
posted by sammyo at 5:41 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


The summary of this paper sounded like complete nonsense, so I went and read the paper in Nature Climate Change (it's just a short comment article and not a full scientific paper).

It is complete nonsense. Or at least, it doesn't say anything useful other than "small number multiplied by large number equals large number".

It's difficult to know where to start criticizing the paper, because it makes several breathtaking leaps that are so cleverly obscured I question the editors' decision to publish it. This is academic clickbait.

Leap #1: Look closely at the graphs. The terrifying tipping point "only 16 years" out is where Bitcoin accounts for around 40-50% of all 300+ billion cashless transactions, globally. This is an extrapolation from its current share of...0.033%, growing at a rate of...um...well the growth rate of bitcoin transactions is negative year-over-year at the moment. [1]

Leap #2: Bitcoin will keep using proof of work, and will not be displaced by a cryptocurrency that doesn't use proof of work, despite sucking up all of the electricity in the world.

Leap #3: The electricity going into the massive adoption of Bitcoin will be accompanied by a 1:1 increase in the carbon emissions from electrical generation, which means every single kWh in this extrapolation is new generating capacity that did not displace any other use of electricity, and all that generating capacity was actually built in 16 years completely incremental on top of all existing demand, and none of it got reused from any of the global banking and credit card infrastructure's servers that are suddenly idle. [2]

[1] https://www.blockchain.com/charts/n-transactions?timespan=2years

[2] Admittedly that server infrastructure is so much more efficient than Bitcoin that it doesn't amount to much. But in this "100% bitcoin" scenario, we are basically replacing the global financial industry with a decentralized libertarian techno-utopia so there's probably some additional energy savings from burning investment bankers for heat.
posted by allegedly at 6:26 PM on October 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


This is a problem with the fact that people can use energy sources, for whatever purpose, that involve dumping CO2 into the atmosphere

Are you trying to shame me for breathing?
posted by grog at 6:36 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


banning private cryptography would be the easiest way to ban cryptocurrencies

uh - if your point is that it's essentially impossible to outright ban either, sure

Wouldn't the easiest way for a state to crack down on cryptocurrency be simply to make it as difficult to exchange as possible? That's not going to kill cryptocurrency, because you can trade your bitcoins for Amazon gift cards or whatever - as people already do. But it might help restrict it to its god-given purpose of facilitating small-to-medium scale drug dealing.
posted by atoxyl at 6:45 PM on October 29, 2018


Just wait till we switch to wetware and people start selling off neural cycles for cryptocoin mining. Easy money for the long-term unemployed after the knowledge economy crashes. You’ll have warehouses of people zoned out in tubs of ice, their heads practically steaming, glucose drips running in both arms.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:19 PM on October 29, 2018 [17 favorites]


I love where you went with this, dephlogisticated. Now that is a dystopia I can sign on to.
posted by daq at 7:23 PM on October 29, 2018


And it will appear on the next season of Black Mirror!
posted by hippybear at 7:29 PM on October 29, 2018


It would take about ~13,000 Tour de France winners, going at attack speed, without rest, 24 hours a day for 365 hours to power one of those 0.1TWh farms. That's approaching 5.5 million Chris Froome's going full on for 12 months for the whole 42TWh.

Incorrect metric. You need to translate into either P90Xs or Crossfit WODs.
posted by srboisvert at 7:37 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Are you trying to shame me for breathing?

It should be uncontroversial that we need to heavily tax sources of GHG emissions. From an article in response to the recent IPCC report, UN Says Climate Genocide Is Coming. It’s Actually Worse Than That:
They have also, thankfully, offered a practical suggestion, proposing the imposition of a carbon tax many, many times higher than those currently in use or being considered — they propose raising the cost of a ton of carbon possibly as high $5,000 by 2030, a price they suggest may have to grow to $27,000 per ton by 2100. Today, the average price of carbon across 42 major economies is just $8 per ton. The new Nobel laureate in economics, William Nordhaus, made his name by almost inventing the economic study of climate change, and his preferred carbon tax is $40 per ton — which would probably land us at about 3.5 degrees of warming. He considers that grotesque level “optimal.”
The average human produces about 1 kg of CO2 per day, according to a cursory google. That suggests that each human should be taxed about $10,000 / year, going with the proposed 2100AD rate of $27,000 / tonne. Triathletes get taxed a lot more of course, as is only right and just.

Obviously that would create a highly regressive tax, and would be impossible and undesirable to implement for any number of reasons, although I suppose that [in an imaginary world where we could implement any useful carbon taxes at all under any circumstances at all, including our own imminent extinction hahahahahaha, spitballing here obviously lol], after taxing powerplants, car owners and cattle farmers, maybe we should tax parents for any kids they have above two (i.e. above replacement rate), starting at $10,000 per year for poor people and increasing as an equally-or-more painful proportion of wealth and income for those richer.

Anyway, those are the numbers that the IPCC came up with; albeit not with the intention that they be applied to people respiring. Still, for recent parents like me or those considering parenthood, it puts the effect of our choice on the planet into an intuitively understandable format. Ten grand?? A year?? On top of buying nappies, and college?? Maybe I should do my bit for Mother Nature and get a cat instead.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 7:38 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


dephlogisticated,

Is this a blockchain-leads-to-the-Matrix argument? Because I can easily see the Matrix as away to distract humans from realizing that all their real brain power is being used to mine crypto-currencies for the Architect. At least that makes some kind of actual sense.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 8:13 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


Any step we take today, even cutting all carbons emissions to zero magically tomorrow and forever would have to be subject to our commitment to warming which means what we've done today doesn't take full effect until 30-ish years from now. so whatever brakes we put on today can't undo a generation or two or more of horror.

This bitcoin thing is good to know about and let's mitigate that and let's also mitigate everything else and then what?

Yes, I'm Cassandra. I know.
posted by hippybear at 8:28 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


whatever brakes we put on today can't undo a generation or two or more of horror

Building a giant sunshade in space at the earth-sun L1 point is physically plausible, can fix the problem, and will be the greatest engineering achievement of our species.
posted by allegedly at 8:45 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


*paging unintended consequences. please pick up the white courtesy phone*
posted by hippybear at 8:57 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


Is this a blockchain-leads-to-the-Matrix argument?

Superintelligent AIs will be built to run corporations, and thus their most fundamental imperative will be to maximize profit, even if that profit is just a number with no actual meaning or purpose. Cryptocoin is the simplest, most direct way of turning energy into money. The AIs already conceptualize humans as nothing more than tools for generating wealth. Thus it makes perfect sense for them to enslave humans to mine cryptocoin, even if there are no more markets left in which to spend it.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:12 PM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


This is not a problem with bitcoin. This is a problem with the fact that people can use energy sources, for whatever purpose, that involve dumping CO2 into the atmosphere, and they do not have to bear the cost of removal of that CO2 from the atmosphere.

Wasting massive amounts of power would be a problem whether or not the people wasting the power were charged for CO2 externalities, because it's diverting power from non-wasteful activities.

I suspect I'm more pro-market than the median MeFi poster but I'd need a lot more faith than I have in market pricing to think that the profits justify the massive consumption of power.

I actually think a comparison with miracle weight loss chemical DNP works really well, though maybe it's too wonky? DNP actually works, in that it causes your body to use energy for non-productive ways that meet superficial goals. But then you overheat and die.
posted by mark k at 9:30 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


The average human produces about 1 kg of CO2 per day,

Now link another fun fact, the actual mechanism of weight loss is an elaborate chemical process but ending in increased CO2. So skinny people should be taxed more.

Perhaps vast couches of sedentary carbon storage vessels watching kardashian reruns will save the planet?
posted by sammyo at 9:33 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


So it wasn't a paper, but a graduate student project published as a comment in a climate change journal. I guess the intention is to discuss and voice the problem, as any actual results would not have been the work of a full-blown detailed analysis of the issues.
posted by polymodus at 10:01 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Create large blocks of captured carbon, and chain bankers to them before sinking them in the sea?

I was thinking a carbon tax on cryptocoin-to-fiat, but your way is better.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:17 PM on October 29, 2018


Is this still a thing? I thought people figured out that it's like a roach motel for money. Your money goes in, but never comes out.
posted by mikelieman at 10:27 PM on October 29, 2018


Make Bitcoin miners power their rigs using only power-harvesting stationary bicycles and their own legs

BTC mined with solar power are obviously better.
posted by mikelieman at 10:31 PM on October 29, 2018


Before bitcoin cheap inland northwest power was used for electricity-hungry operations like refining aluminum. Then at least you got a physical something that could be forged into bicycle cranks, riveted into cute travel trailers, or milled into elaborate yo-yos.
Something something tarrifs, China, Trump?
Something something WPPSS (Whoops!)?
Something something aluminum powered vehicles?
posted by St. Oops at 12:06 AM on October 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


I mean unlike bitcoin, at least you can eat tulips and beanie babies

Bitcoin is the worst possible currency: like gold (but even more so), it takes physical resources to produce. And like fiat money, it has no inherent value.
posted by nnethercote at 1:04 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Whether or not you take any of this blockchain stuff seriously, it's not going to go away any time soon and the cat is out of the bag, and for better and worse (usually worse) it's gaining major traction and support from trading and finance industries.

I thought the trading and finance industries blow some smoke about how they're "looking into it" and "want to stay competitive", but that after careful examination and consideration they shelve each project because it's stupid?

via the always-charming kids in /r/Buttcoin:

https://www.reddit.com/r/Buttcoin/comments/9ql6tl/for_every_use_of_blockchain_there_is_something/
Denham Sadler - @denhamsadler - Oct 22

The DTA has gone cold on blockchain after it received $700,000 from the govt to research it, saying it is at the "top of a hype cycle" and "for every use of blockchain you would consider today there is a better technology". My story for @Innov_Aus:
Denham Sadler - @denhamsadler Oct 22

https://www.innovationaus.com/2018/10/DTA-goes-cold-on-blockchain
The Digital Transformation Agency appears less than impressed with blockchain’s current capabilities after it was given $700,000 in budget funding to investigate the technology.

After its initial research, the federal government’s digital office has found that blockchain is at the “top of a hype cycle” and is currently less effective than other existing technologies in delivering government services.

The DTA received $700,000 in reallocated funding in this year’s federal budget to research the benefits of using blockchain to help deliver government services, the maturity of the technology, the problems it may solve and the government’s readiness to adopt it.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:30 AM on October 30, 2018


“Proof of Stake” is an alternate way of securing (mining blocks) on a chain that does away with the energy waste inherent in “Proof of Work” presently used by Bitcoin. Ethereum is due to ... switch to POS in 2019/2020. i anticipate this to be a game changer and Bitcoin will have to follow suit or run the riak of losing market share.

Why won't the mining whales and mining fish will just switch to a different POW coin when that happens?

I'd suggest the best way to cripple cryptocoins is to make the community not trust them, by running scam exchanges and scam ICOs, and having script kiddies hack peoples' phones and computers to steal their coins. Except the market is already ahead of me.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:36 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Is this a blockchain-leads-to-the-Matrix argument? Because I can easily see the Matrix as away to distract humans from realizing that all their real brain power is being used to mine crypto-currencies for the Architect.

OMG this is why humans can only use 10% of their brain capacity!

But yeah, we need to curb GHGs comprehensively, not end up with a collection of scapegoat purported sources of emissions that we never quite get around to eliminating, like politicians perpetually promising to “eliminate government waste.”
posted by XMLicious at 2:58 AM on October 30, 2018


Couldn't we build a 'bitcoin maggie'? She was highly effective at destroying the miners last time. I guess it will be even easier as generally their libertarian bent precludes unionising.
posted by davemee at 3:43 AM on October 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


Because I can easily see the Matrix as away to distract humans from realizing that all their real brain power is being used to mine crypto-currencies for the Architect.

I had always assumed that when the corporations took over, the poor would earn their shelter and nutritionally balanced gruel allotment in focus group creches where they'd have to sit watching marketing content all day while lasers scanned their eyeballs to see what best caught their attention. I guess that's so 2005.
posted by Naberius at 5:01 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's not really a great time for alarmist Bitcoin articles given that Lightning is finally becoming a thing now, which allows for many (hundreds to thousands) of transactions to happen off-chain and be committed to the global blockchain in a couple of transactions while still guaranteeing security as much as it ever is with Bitcoin.

That's not to say there aren't many problems still, or that Bitcoin isn't still a huge waste of electricity (though one might disagree about the "waste" thing if one had mined a few hundred BTC back when it was cheap and the mining difficulty much lower and ended up making 6-7 figures off of it), only that any extrapolation of its energy use that doesn't take Lightning into account is guaranteed to be far from reality.
posted by wierdo at 5:53 AM on October 30, 2018




L.P. Hatecraft, most of the current power consumption of bitcoin is not used in performing transactions, but the mining that secures the ledger in a distributed fashion. Mining's power consumption is correlated to bitcoin's perceived value, which is not strongly connected to its amount of use.

So you can find rationalizations by bitcoin enthusiasts that, if it did (magically) scale to CC size, it would still use no more power than the current financial system.
posted by joeyh at 8:05 AM on October 30, 2018


it’s the stupidest possible way of running a distributed system. It’s unreliable, it’s slow, it’s expensive, it’s bad for the environment. It would need to be banned even if it didn’t enable ransomware and other criminal activities.
posted by w0mbat at 9:50 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]




In the US they're mostly located near hydroelectric dams because it's a lot of fucking power that doesn't involve carbon. The electricity is cheap and it's very low-impact.

Very low impact? Tell it to the fish and farmers and everyone else who uses the water.

Maybe hydro is better than coal, but it isn't low impact. There are lots of impacts, some locations worse that others.
posted by JackFlash at 1:20 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Are you trying to shame me for breathing? ...

The average human produces about 1 kg of CO2 per day, according to a cursory google. That suggests that each human should be taxed about $10,000 / year, going with the proposed 2100AD rate of $27,000 / tonne. Triathletes get taxed a lot more of course, as is only right and just.


Seriously, did you sleep that day your ninth grade biology class talked about the carbon cycle?

Every single molecule of CO2 that you exhale into the atmosphere was a molecule that a plant sucked out of the atmosphere just days or weeks before. The net change to the CO2 in the atmosphere is exactly zero, zip.

Now, there is use of fossil fuels to produce and transport food, so that fuels used in agriculture should have a carbon tax, but the CO2 you exhale contributes not a nit to atmospheric carbon.

I realize this comment about exhaled CO2 might have been tongue in cheek, but it is an argument that Republicans take seriously. Best we not repeat it here.
posted by JackFlash at 1:33 PM on October 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


Maybe hydro is better than coal, but it isn't low impact. There are lots of impacts, some locations worse that others.

And we can use that cheap clean-ish power for societal goods like recycling aluminum, instead of burning coal to generate the power to recycle aluminum.
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:20 PM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


Every single molecule of CO2 that you exhale into the atmosphere was a molecule that a plant sucked out of the atmosphere just days or weeks before. The net change to the CO2 in the atmosphere is exactly zero, zip.

Hey, that’s half of the cycle right there! :) Quick question, though: is the plant going to absorb that carbon again in the great circle of life, or is it now in my stomach?

Let’s think this through: You’ve converted stored biomass to atmospheric CO2, which is what we’re concerned about. The net change to the amount of carbon in the world hasn’t changed, but the relative proportions of “carbon stored in delicious tasty plants” and “carbon in the atmosphere that is going to kill us all” actually has changed.

And here’s the thing: CO2 is CO2, whether it comes from burning hydrocarbons in an engine or burning hydrocarbons in a wildfire or respiring hydrocarbons in a cell. It’s source neutral. For every extra engine or wildfire or human being that you put on earth, you’re increasing the rate that carbon is converted into atmospheric CO2 and increasing the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. Whereas for every delicious cabbage that you plant, you’re increasing the rate that the carbon is removed from the atmosphere. From a cabbage’s perspective, it doesn’t care if it’s photosynthesising CO2 from my breathing or from my car or from my bonfire in the backyard.

Think of a bath, and the water represents “atmospheric CO2”. Adding more plants is like drilling more holes in the bottom of the tub so that water leaks out. Adding more animals (or combustion) is like adding more hosepipes to the top of the tub. Can you see how the water level - atmospheric CO2 concentration - might change, depending on the proportion of carbon sources (hosepipes) and carbon sinks (holes in tub)? Even if the total amount of water in the building doesn’t change?

Now, I’m perfectly willing to talk about the relative importance of different sources of atmospheric CO2, and why “burning fossils fuels” is a much, much worse idea than “respiring plant sugars”. But - unless I also slept through the part in ninth grade biology where they explained how every human birth is offset by planting an acre of rainforest - I think it might be you that’s mistaken about how the carbon cycle works in practice.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 4:38 AM on October 31, 2018


If you’re still having trouble with the idea, try thinking about why biofuels are considered to be carbon neutral. It’s because we go ahead and assume that we will constantly be growing more biomass to use as fuel, and in growing that biomass we will immediately* remove all of the CO2 from the atmosphere that we just put in by burning it in the first place.

*Given the urgency of reducing emissions in the short term - years or decades at best - there may be some problems with this idea, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Can you see how that’s different from “burn down a forest for fuel, but then build apartments where it was”? That isn’t carbon neutral, because we didn’t plant more trees to remove the CO2 again.

So: two processes that involve burning biomass, but only one is considered carbon neutral. Because only one “closes the cycle” again.

Adding more humans is like the “burning biomass” part in both examples. (Respiration and combustion of plant matter are both oxidation processes that convert hydrocarbons to CO2). Overall, if there’s some mechanism to ensure that more plant biomass is produced to offset the additional person, then sure, in theory we could remain carbon neutral overall. Just like if we cut down a forest and burnt it - but then felt bad and planted another forest somewhere else. (Like airlines do when they donate to reforestation schemes to offset their emissions.)

But there isn’t some automatic process that guarantees this, and in its absence, adding more people is a lot more like the “burn forest and build apartments” example than the biofuels one.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:04 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


I mean clearly getting rid of all the CO2-spewing humans is a better long-term plan, but let's shut off the bitcoin mines first?
posted by aspersioncast at 7:54 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


You can think about carbon in terms of conservation of mass. There is never any new carbon created or destroyed. All the atoms of carbon were created and fixed billions of years ago in a supernova before the formation of the sun and earth. You can account for every molecule of CO2. Every day you exhale CO2 and every day a cabbage absorbs that same CO2. If it didn't, you would starve. When you add more people to exhale CO2, you add more plants to absorb CO2 and feed them. The carbon is neutral.

Yes, if you cut down all the forests in the Amazon, you shift the balance of carbon slighty from trees to the atmosphere, but that isn't really all that big a quantity in the big scheme of things compared to fossil fuels.

The only new, natural carbon in the atmospheric cycle comes from volcanoes. But for thousands of years, that amount of carbon from volcanoes has been pretty well balanced by the formation of new coral reefs and dead plankton settling to the bottom of the ocean. The amount of new carbon from volcanoes is balanced by natural sequestration from dying plants and animals that are buried.

But today, the new source of carbon is fossil fuels. This is carbon that was once in the atmosphere millions and billions of years ago, but plants captured and geology buried thousands of feet below the surface. So you have a billion years of volcanoes adding carbon to the atmosphere and a billion years of plants removing and burying that carbon safely as limestone, coal and petroleum. A billion years of carbon extraction and sequestration to provide an atmosphere amenable to humans.

But what we are doing now is taking a billion years of safely removed carbon from volcanoes and returning it to the atmosphere in a century or two by burning fossil fuel. The natural processes of sequestration that worked for a billion years can't keep up.

And bitcoin mining is a part of the digging up of long sequestered carbon.
posted by JackFlash at 9:03 AM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


You can think about carbon in terms of conservation of mass

Thanks, I’m aware of that - hence “the amount of water in the building stays constant” in my comment above.

Unfortunately the relevant question isn’t “how much carbon is there in the world in total”, it’s “how much of that carbon is in a particular form (CO2) in the atmosphere at any one time”.

You’re correct that we as a species have discovered a novel way to liberate vast amounts of extra carbon, and that is responsible for the bulk of the increase in CO2. Here’s where you’re getting tripped up, though:

Every day you exhale CO2 and every day a cabbage absorbs that same CO2. If it didn't, you would starve. When you add more people to exhale CO2, you add more plants to absorb CO2 and feed them. The carbon is neutral.

What’s the mechanism for this? The invisible hand of the market? Gaia? There is no rule that for every source of carbon that appears, x number of plants grow to offset that source.

If you want to reduce the concentration of atmospheric CO2, you have two choices: add less, or remove more. Human beings are on the “adding” side of the equation, along with planes, trains and automobiles. There’s no scientific reason not to tax mammals in the same way as power plants, although there may be sound moral and political reasons. Plants are on the “removing” side, along with oceans and imaginary carbon capture technologies.

Basically, you’ve understood the idea of conservation of mass in a closed system, but you may have been napping during the part about position of equilibrium.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:16 AM on October 31, 2018


When you add more people to exhale CO2, you add more plants to absorb CO2 and feed them. The carbon is neutral. >What’s the mechanism for this?

It's pretty simple. Every human consumes and exhales carbon. That carbon comes from their food. If there weren't enough plants to produce that food, the humans would starve and their number would decline. The fact that humans are increasing in number is evidence that the amount of food they are growing is increasing likewise. To a first order approximation, the amount of carbon dioxide exhaled by humans each year and the amount absorbed by plants for food is equal. The amount of carbon on the surface of the earth and atmosphere is pretty constant.

Human bodies and their exhalations, per se, don't add much to the carbon cycle. You could take every human on earth and squeeze them into New York City. In the total carbon cycle of the planet, human bodies don't amount to a hill of beans. It is all the other things attributed to human activity that require fossil fuels, like cars and planes, that is the multiplier that imbalances the carbon cycle.
posted by JackFlash at 10:39 AM on October 31, 2018


Yes, if you cut down all the forests in the Amazon, you shift the balance of carbon slighty from trees to the atmosphere, but that isn't really all that big a quantity in the big scheme of things compared to fossil fuels.

Oh man, I’d missed this part!

Yeah, you might want to check your maths on that one. [pdf, p13]
Tropical deforestation, including both the permanent conversion of forests to croplands and pastures and the temporary or partial removal of forests for shifting cultivation and selective logging, is estimated to have released on the order of 1-2 PgC/yr (15-35% of annual fossil fuel emissions) during the 1990s. The magnitude of emissions depends on the rates of deforestation, the biomass of the forests deforested, and other reductions in biomass that result from forest use. If, in addition to carbon dioxide, one considers the emissions of methane, nitrous oxide, and other chemically reactive gases that result from deforestation and subsequent uses of the land, annual emissions during the 1990s accounted for about 25% of the total anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. Trends in the rates of tropical deforestation are difficult to predict, but at today’s rates, another 85 to 130 PgC will be released over the next 100 years, the emissions declining only as tropical forests are eliminated.
Or from the FAO?
Anthropogenic emissions of CO2 originate primarily from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation in tropical regions.
...
At the global level, 19 percent of the carbon in the earth's biosphere is stored in plants, and 81 percent in the soil. In all forests, tropical, temperate and boreal together, approximately 31 percent of the carbon is stored in the biomass and 69 percent in the soil. In tropical forests, approximately 50 percent of the carbon is stored in the biomass and 50 percent in the soil (IPCC, 2000).
...
The earth's biosphere constitutes a carbon sink that absorbs approximately 2.3 GtC annually. This represents nearly 30 percent of all fossil fuel emissions (totaling from 6.3 to 6.5 GtC/year) and is comparable to the CO2emissions resulting from deforestation (1.6 and 2 GtC/year).
Deforestation is craaazy bad for atmosphere, because trees are generally burnt (farmers want the land, not the lumber) so you’re removing a carbon sink while simultaneously adding all the sequestered carbon to the atmosphere. Tropical deforestation is a greater contributor to AGW than is transport.

For real, this is a big derail from bitcoin, but you might want to do some reading before you condescend further.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:49 AM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


The amount of carbon on the surface of the earth and atmosphere is pretty constant.

Yeah, seriously. A lot more reading.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:52 AM on October 31, 2018


Deforestation is craaazy bad for atmosphere,

Geeze, I don't understand why you are getting so angry. The point is that human activities, most importantly fossil carbon mining, are bad for the carbon cycle.

But the carbon humans exhale that you seem to be obsessed about -- it's tiny and barely measurable in the scheme of things. Adding more human exhalers doesn't change the carbon balance because it is balanced by carbon inhalers (food plants).

It's not human exhalations that are the problem. It's their carbon mining activities that are the problem. If instead humans used solar and wind for their energy needs, adding a few billion more humans really wouldn't change the carbon balance much.
posted by JackFlash at 11:06 AM on October 31, 2018


Let’s agree that you stop repeating your misunderstandings about how carbon emissions work (and ideally don’t cast aspersions about whether I’ve achieved a ninth grade understanding - I’ve got a Master’s in chemistry), and in return I’ll stop getting so angry.

One last point before, ironically, I take a flight: human respiration contributes about 2.5 GtC annually (at 1 kg / person / day, 7.6 billion population. That’s not nothing). That’s currently balanced by the biosphere absorbing about the same (though that’s just humans; not other animal respiration) and is also currently being overwhelmed by our decision to burn a lot of old hydrocarbons for energy. But sadly there isn’t a big box in the sky marked “CO2 from mammalian respiration” and another box marked “CO2 from nasty fossil fuels”. The equilibrium is as follows:

All sources of atmospheric CO2 <> All sinks of atmospheric CO2

Argue about the proportions all you want, but the sinks aren’t removing the carbon as fast as the sources are producing it, and as a result it’s building up.

Again, human respiration is on the left side of the equation, and reducing it would move the position of equilibrium to the right, ie less atmospheric carbon and more harmless sequestered carbon. That’s why my thought experiment about taxing respiration (still) makes complete sense from a scientific perspective.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 11:28 AM on October 31, 2018


[Let's leave it there on the human respiration thing, seems pretty thoroughly gone over and needlessly getting personal. ]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:18 PM on October 31, 2018


From a non-scientific standpoint I'd say we* tax individual humans in all sorts of other ways, and could maybe stand to tax/regulate mind-bogglingly wasteful poo like crypto-currency mining a little more. Sadly most of it has now moved into massively deregulated zones, hence the truly horrific extent of the waste. I'm putting my money** on the earth-destroying paperclip maximizer basically being a cross between an Alexa and a self-replicating bitcoin rig.

* For some definition of we that includes the nation state.
** Debt instead of equity, so based on my ninth-grade understanding of economics, two negatives makes an enormous positive, and I'll soon be buying you all pizza.

Of course if we're whipping credentials around, my graduate degree in Information Science tells me I'll never really make any money, even if I do in fact end up making money.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:55 PM on October 31, 2018


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