Bitcoin mining is a growing concept in the world today. With more countries looking forward to establishing fin-tech in the world, it is imperative for users to understand the impact of cryptocurrency. Once feasible with home computer setups, crypto mining now demands extensive computing power, cooling systems, and sophisticated hardware due to its corporate transformation. This substantial energy consumption is frequently met by burning fossil fuels.
As per a White House report, cryptocurrency mining contributes to the release of 140 million metric tons of CO2 annually, accounting for 0.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This figure surpasses emissions from numerous individual countries, including Argentina and the Netherlands.
So, what are the impacts of Bitcoin mining on the environment and what are the perspectives that should be taken into consideration? Let’s find out.
Bitcoin Mining’s Environmental Impact
Bitcoin mining is an energy-intensive process. As per the NRDC report, each day, the Greenidge facility withdraws 139 million gallons of water from Seneca Lake, equivalent to 27,000 full tanker trucks, for cooling purposes. Subsequently, it discharges the heated water, reaching temperatures of up to 108 degrees Fahrenheit, back into the lake.
This elevated water temperature can worsen the proliferation of harmful algal blooms, which have emerged in recent years, posing a threat to both public health and the drinking water supply for 100,000 residents. Additionally, the thermal pollution may accelerate the decline of the lake’s trout population, which experiences significant stress at temperatures exceeding 70 degrees.
Furthermore, the plant extracts water through large pipes without implementing even basic measures, such as adding screens—a requirement under the Clean Water Act for water withdrawals—to prevent the inadvertent capture of fish and other aquatic organisms.
The Broader Picture
Bitcoin mining in New York and its relationship with climate is one of the most pivotal to discuss at this point. On November 23, 2022, New York’s governor, Kathy Hochul, approved a two-year suspension of cryptocurrency mining activities within the state. This legislation mandates the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct an examination of the environmental consequences associated with the cryptocurrency industry.
Earlier, on June 30, 2022, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation rejected Greenidge Generation’s request to extend its Title V air permit, asserting that it doesn’t align with the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) and that continued operations would contradict the greenhouse gas emission limits established by the CLCPA.
Cryptocurrency’s Environmental Challenges
Cryptocurrency mining has brought about several significant environmental challenges, raising concerns about its sustainability. Two primary areas of concern include energy consumption and associated carbon emissions, as well as the use of toxic materials in mining equipment. Data from the White House and a report from the United Nations University-MERIT (UNM) shed light on the scale of cryptocurrency’s environmental impact.
1. Energy-Intensive Nature:
Cryptocurrency mining, particularly proof-of-work (PoW) systems like Bitcoin, demands an immense amount of computational power. Miners utilize high-performance computers, often referred to as mining rigs, to solve complex mathematical puzzles. This process, while essential for securing the blockchain, consumes a staggering amount of electricity.
According to the White House, cryptocurrency mining globally consumes a substantial amount of energy, comparable to the energy consumption of some entire countries. This energy-intensive nature is primarily due to the competitive race among miners to solve mathematical equations faster than their peers, which has led to the creation of massive mining farms with thousands of powerful machines. The UNM report notes that Bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity annually than some European countries.
2. Carbon Emissions:
The excessive energy consumption associated with cryptocurrency mining translates into significant carbon emissions. Much of the electricity used by miners is generated from fossil fuels, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
The White House reports that cryptocurrency mining accounts for a substantial 140 million metric tons of CO2 per year, making up 0.3% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. This figure exceeds the emissions produced by several individual countries, including Argentina and the Netherlands. As cryptocurrencies continue to gain popularity, these emissions are a growing concern for environmental sustainability.
3. Toxic Materials in Mining Equipment:
The production and disposal of mining equipment used in cryptocurrency mining also pose environmental challenges. These mining rigs contain various electronic components and materials, some of which are toxic and harmful to the environment if not disposed of properly.
Toxic materials like lead, cadmium, and mercury are used in electronic components, and their improper disposal can result in soil and water contamination. The UNM report highlights the need for responsible electronic waste management practices within the cryptocurrency mining industry to mitigate environmental damage.
The Path Forward
With problems associated with Bitcoin mining currently in place, the importance of addressing the environmental concerns associated with Bitcoin mining cannot be undermined. As rules and regulations continue to evolve, let’s see how it turns out in the future.