Bitcoin can push global warming above 2 C in a couple decades

Bitcoin can push global warming above 2 degrees C in a couple decades
Associate Professor, Geography, College of Social Sciences, University of Hawaii at Manoa. Credit: UH College of Social Sciences

A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change finds that if Bitcoin is implemented at similar rates at which other technologies have been incorporated, it alone could produce enough emissions to raise global temperatures by 2°C as soon as 2033.

"Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency with heavy hardware requirements, and this obviously translates into large electricity demands," said Randi Rollins, a master's student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and coauthor of the paper.

Purchasing with bitcoins and several other cryptocurrencies, which are forms of currency that exist digitally through encryption, requires large amounts of electricity. Bitcoin purchases create transactions that are recorded and processed by a group of individuals referred to as miners. Miners group every Bitcoin transaction made during a specific timeframe into a block. Blocks are then added to the chain, which is the public ledger. The verification process by miners, who compete to decipher a computationally demanding proof-of-work in exchange for bitcoins, requires large amounts of electricity.

The electricity requirements of Bitcoin have created considerable difficulties, and extensive online discussion, about where to put the facilities or rings that compute the proof-of-work of Bitcoin. A somewhat less discussed issue is the environmental impacts of producing all that electricity.

A team of UH Manoa researchers analyzed information such as the power efficiency of computers used by Bitcoin mining, the geographic location of the miners who likely computed the Bitcoin, and the CO2 emissions of producing electricity in those countries. Based on the data, the researchers estimated that the use of bitcoins in the year 2017 emitted 69 million metric tons of CO2.

Researchers also studied how other technologies have been adopted by society, and created scenarios to estimate the cumulative emissions of Bitcoin should it grow at the rate that other technologies have been incorporated.

The team found that if Bitcoin is incorporated, even at the slowest rate at which other technologies have been incorporated, its cumulative emissions will be enough to warm the planet above 2°C in just 22 years. If incorporated at the average rate of other technologies, it is closer to 16 years.

"Currently, the emissions from transportation, housing and food are considered the main contributors to ongoing climate change. This research illustrates that Bitcoin should be added to this list," said Katie Taladay, a UH Manoa master's student and coauthor of the paper.

"We cannot predict the future of Bitcoin, but if implemented at a rate even close to the slowest pace at which other technologies have been incorporated, it will spell very bad news for climate change and the people and species impacted by it," said Camilo Mora, associate professor of Geography in the College of Social Sciences at UH Manoa and lead author of the study.

"With the ever-growing devastation created by hazardous climate conditions, humanity is coming to terms with the fact that is as real and personal as it can be," added Mora. "Clearly, any further development of cryptocurrencies should critically aim to reduce demand, if the potentially devastating consequences of 2°C of global warming are to be avoided."

Explore further

Q&A: What is bitcoin?

Journal information: Nature Climate Change

Citation: Bitcoin can push global warming above 2 C in a couple decades (2018, October 29) retrieved 15 October 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Oct 29, 2018
This isn't science, this is insane BS from alarmist idiots who think people will continue to believe their horse chit.

Oct 29, 2018
They have run out of the old FUD excuses, this is the new FUD excuses.

Oct 30, 2018
"This isn't science, this is insane BS from alarmist idiots who think people will continue to believe their horse chit."

Says who? You? What have you contributed to science?

Oct 30, 2018
"They have run out of the old FUD excuses, this is the new FUD excuses."

Who is "they"?

Oct 30, 2018
Carbon tax already.

Oct 30, 2018
Since bitcoin's value is essentially backed by energy wastage, it's a bad idea to begin with. That's quite aside from its insane fluctuations in exchange rate and numerous other failings.

Oct 30, 2018
1) Most large mining operations are physically located at hydro plants due to the extremely low costs of electricity. In that sense they are a very green technology.
2) Compare the cost of mining its closest rival gold which is extremely capital intensive,or paper currency which also has significant production, logistical and security costs.
3) Mining represents a physical security barrier. The energy is used to solve a cryptogaphic math formula that secure transactions on a distributed public ledger called a blockchain. The more energy required to mine a bitcoin the harder it is to seize control of the mining to achieve 51% dominance. Compute for mining is well over 1000 x the total of the worlds top 500 super computers. To date bitcoins blockchain has never been hacked. It should be noted that mining initially ran on a single PC and its difficulty increased proportional to the increase in mining activity. Difficulty growth has been exponential.

Oct 30, 2018
No hacking? Today's news:

There have been others also. I think you may have trolled us expecting a big knee-jerk reaction, but it was a feeble attempt at "faking us out."

Oct 30, 2018

Oct 30, 2018
Bitcoin is one of the biggest scams in our history! A currency based on nothing. Fools are they who spend their time getting rich from nothing.

Oct 30, 2018
Bitcoin is one of the biggest scams in our history! A currency based on nothing. Fools are they who spend their time getting rich from nothing.

To be fair, we did have a guy at work who retired this year because he made ~$8 million off bitcoin. So some people have made money. It seems insane to me, though.

Oct 30, 2018
3% of the currency is in the form of notes and coins- the rest is pulled out from the anus of banksters.
Such a currency is as fraudulent as global warming- they share a similar stench...

Oct 31, 2018
Bitcoin is generated by hours of useless computer energy deciphering meaningless large prime-numbers via complex algorithms. To make a few investors wealthy. Brilliant!
At least other contributors to global warming are byproducts of actual work! Bitcoin is diabolical because it's destructive AND useless!

Nov 05, 2018
I agree with all saying this is a nonsense. How about, for example, annoying Adds running in browsers and eating processor power every second, and wanna-be "scientists" consuming power while making up such a demagogy without proper research. If the "researcher" did the job properly he should know that Bitcoin will very soon become impossible to mine and Adds will continue to run indefinitely or at least until 2033.
Or another example, how about educating our children not to play "diabolic" games which are burning a tons of fossil fuels, also every second, day and night.
I could add few more such examples. This article is obviously written by jealous person who wasn't smart enough at right point in time to figure out that Bitcoin will sky rocket in such a short time and make some people rich.

Nov 05, 2018
I just have to go on …
Anyhow Bitcoin is a fiat as any other currency having better features than older fiats controlled by banks. Bitcoin in controlled by many not by a few legal thief institutions. Banks are doing the same these days by implementing the same technology, because it is obviously better. How about we turn the banks off. That would save us from many other global problems not just global warming.

Nov 05, 2018
Bah, they've assumed the current efficiency and power sources of energy generation, as well as the current efficiency of computing. Two fatal flaws in their analysis. Here's a third: how much does it take to make all that folding money?

Boogaboogabooga bitcoin's gonna eat the world. Get over it.

Nov 05, 2018
Am I the only one who finds this research bizarre? Surely what's important here is the underlying source of the power used to fund something, rather than the thing itself? The amount of electricity required for Bitcoin is surely irrelevant if that power is renewable? Isn't this just another way of saying that technology development requires better ongoing energy sources? Surely "electrical grid needs to shift rapidly to renewables" is the real conclusion of this research?

Nov 06, 2018
What is better - to get addicted to the internet porn or to the bitcoin mining? Can we combine these marvelous activities, like for simplicity and efficiency? Blockchain and cryptocurrency is a sure way to build a global super casino! The brightest unimaginable future!

Nov 20, 2018
People, do you think ordinary money doesnt have giant servers with every Bank using energy?
I sure if you add them up the use will be greater than Bit Coin. This does have the ring of Hystria.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more