As digital currencies surge, so do their carbon footprints: 3 stories you may have missed

© brongaeh

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. In Coinbase’s rise, a reminder: Cryptocurrencies use lots of energy 

The recent boom in digital currencies is raising awareness of their environmental toll.

The story: Coinbase, a popular online platform for buying and selling digital currency, made its mark on the financial world last week, becoming the first major cryptocurrency company to list its shares on a U.S. stock exchange. But digital currencies are raising environmental alarms due to their massive energy footprints. They rely on specialized computers which race to solve complex mathematical equations that verify secure transactions. This process, known as “cryptomining,” uses vast amounts of energy, rivaling the electricity consumption of entire countries, writes Hiroko Tabuchi for the New York Times. 

The big picture: A study published this month found that the energy consumption associated with the mining of Bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency, could undermine China’s efforts to reduce its carbon emissions under the Paris climate agreement. China, the world’s largest carbon polluter, is home to about two-thirds of the world’s cryptomining.

“Without any policy interventions, the carbon emission pattern of the Bitcoin blockchain will become a non-negligible barrier against the sustainability efforts of China,” according to the study. “The peak annual energy consumption and carbon emission of the Bitcoin blockchain in China are expected to exceed those of some developed countries such as Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Czech Republic.” 

Read the story here.

The pandemic offers lessons for fighting climate change — if humanity is willing to heed them.

The story: The COVID-19 pandemic has been a “stress test” for regional and international cooperation, providing lessons for combating another global threat: climate change. Like the pandemic, climate change lays bare underlying social inequities, with poor communities and communities of color facing the gravest consequences of pollution, extreme weather events and environmental degradation, reported Eva Rothenberg and Drew Kann for CNN. 

“By bringing these systemic inequalities to the forefront of the public consciousness, experts say the pandemic could inspire us to see the world as truly interconnected,” Rothenberg and Kann wrote. “As a result, we may be able to design equitable programs and offer resources to combat the growing divide between rich and poor.”

The big picture: “The pandemic has given us a trial run,” Alice Hill, a senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNN. “But the big difference between pandemics and climate risk is that the climate has undergone permanent, irreversible damage. And so we need to focus on how we build resilience quickly and effectively on a global scale.”

"All of our planning going forward needs to account for the increased risk for vulnerable populations," Hill added. "Those who have the least means, those who have faced historic discrimination — they suffer the most."

Read the story here.

More affordable clean energy means emissions are dropping as some economies grow.

The story: Massive carbon footprints were once thought a necessary byproduct of a booming economy — but that’s no longer true, writes Ben Geman in Axios. A recent analysis found that since 2005, emissions have become "decoupled" from economic growth in 32 countries — from Belarus to Belgium and Jamaica to Japan. Experts say this is largely due to more affordable solar power and other clean and renewable energy sources. 

The big picture: Scientists overwhelmingly agree that we have until 2030 to drastically cut carbon emissions, or humanity will suffer devastating consequences. While clean energy technologies have helped lower emissions in some wealthy countries with economies driven by the information technology and service sectors, fewer examples of this trend exist in low and middle-income countries that rely on energy-intensive manufacturing. 

With rapid reductions in clean energy costs, “it is only a matter of time before absolute decoupling [of emissions from growth] becomes the norm,” states climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, who authored the analysis. “The extent to which this will occur rapidly enough to avoid dangerous levels of warming depends on both the degree of technological progress and the willingness of governments worldwide to invest in mitigating climate change.”

Read the story here.


Vanessa Bauza is the editorial director for Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

Cover image: Singapore skyline (© brongaeh

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