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Climate change impacts of mining surged 126 times from 2016

Carbon footprint of Bitcoin mining surged 126 times more than in 2016

Sep 30, 2022
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A study from the University of New Mexico estimates in $12bn climate damages caused by Bitcoin mining between 2016 and 2021.

According to an analysis published in Scientific Reports by researchers at The University of New Mexico, the CO2 equivalent emissions from electricity generation for Bitcoin mining have increased 126-fold from 0.9 tonnes per coin in 2016, to 113 tonnes per coin in 2021.

The report warns that in 2020 Bitcoin mining used 75.4 terawatt hours of electricity (TWh), a higher electricity usage than Austria (69.9 TWh) or Portugal (48.4 TWh) in that year. According to the UNM researchers, the climate change impacts of mining the digital cryptocurrency Bitcoin is comparable to the impacts of energy-intensive products such as beef, natural gas, and crude oil.

Calculations suggest each Bitcoin mined in 2021 generated 11,314 US Dollars (USD) in climate damages, with total global damages exceeding 12 billion USD between 2016 and 2021. Damages peaked at 156% of the coin price in May 2020, suggesting that each 1 USD of Bitcoin market value generated led to 1.56 USD in global climate damages that month.

We find no evidence that Bitcoin mining is becoming more sustainable over time,” said UNM Economics Associate Professor Benjamin A. Jones. “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.”

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,” said Jones. “We find several instances between 2016-2021 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.”

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