Energy-Hungry Bitcoin Can Reduce Emissions by Changing Code, Activists Say

Bitcoin mining infrastructure in Canada
Bitcoin mining infrastructure in Canada. LARS HAGBERG / AFP via Getty Images

One of the most controversial aspects of cryptocurrency Bitcoin is the massive amount of energy needed to mine it. Currently, the currency uses about 136.79 terawatt hours of energy a year, more than both Ukraine and Norway, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index. 

But now, activists say they have found a relatively simple solution: changing the way that the cryptocurrency is coded. 

“The science is clear: to prevent run-away climate change, we need to start phasing out fossil fuels and investing in the clean energy economy,” Greenpeace USA chief program officer Tefere Gebre said in a press release. “No matter how you feel about Bitcoin, pushing those with the power to ensure a code change will make our planet and communities safer from the destructive impacts of climate change. What we do have is a solution: Change the Code. Not the Climate.”

Change the Code Not the Climate” is the name of a campaign launched by Greenpeace, the Environmental Working Group and other organizations fighting new Bitcoin mining facilities in their communities.  One of the major concerns prompted by Bitcoin is that miners have begun buying and using fossil fuel facilities that would have otherwise fallen into disuse in order to power their transactions. 

“Bitcoin miners are eager to take advantage of lax regulation in Pennsylvania,” Penn Future senior director for energy and climate Rob Altenburg said in the campaign press release. “Power plants burning highly polluting waste coal have been turned into mining operations. Portable generators and mining hardware have shown up unannounced at fracked-gas well sites. Not only are taxpayers and ratepayers paying the price, we all pay the price of increased pollution.”

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Bitcoin currently uses a code called “proof of work” to validate and secure transactions, The Guardian explained. This requires using a massive amount of computer power to prove a miner has solved the difficult mathematical problems needed to release more bitcoin. But rival cryptocurrency Etherium has already switched to a different code called “proof of stake” that requires miners to put up their coins against inaccurate transactions. Etherium said the new method could reduce its emissions by 99 percent. The campaigners said that Bitcoin could also move to proof of stake or find another low-energy solution.

“If only 30 people — the key miners, exchanges, and core developers who build and contribute to Bitcoin’s code — agreed to reinvent proof-of-work mining or move to a low-energy protocol, Bitcoin would stop polluting the planet,” the campaigners said on their website. 

In addition to the green groups, the push is supported by Ripple co-founder and executive chairman Chris Larsen, who said that lower-emissions transactions were the wave of the crypto future.

“Now with Ethereum changing, Bitcoin really is the outlier,” Larsen said to Bloomberg, as Cointelegraph reported. “Some of the newer protocols, Solana and Cardano are built on low energy.” 

However, the campaigners also noted that Bitcoin has an incentive not to change because it has already put funds into building up the infrastructure to support the energy intensive proof-of-work calculations. Further, Coin Shares Bitcoin researcher Chris Bendiksen said that Bitcoin users valued the security of its current protocol.

“I’d put the chance of Bitcoin ever moving to PoS at exactly 0%,” he said, as Cointelegraph reported. 

The campaigners seem to believe otherwise. They are calling on industry leaders with interests in Bitcoin like Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey, as well as financial organizations like Goldman Sachs and PayPal, to back their efforts. 

“We call on leaders in tech and finance to use their power to stop Bitcoin from using ours,” the campaigners concluded. 

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