A new study warns that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies like it could help push the Earth’s temperature past the 2°C global warming threshold in only a couple decades. The reason lies in how bitcoin and similar digital money works: by utilizing substantial hardware resources, gobbling up electricity and helping fuel harmful emissions.
Climate scientists have long warned the public about the 2-degree threshold, urging for policies and regulations that help prevent our planet from drastically warming. An overall temperature increase of that degree would have a substantial impact on the availability of freshwater, the duration of heatwaves, decreases in certain crop production, coral bleaching, and more.
Experts have previously expressed concerns over the amount of electricity needed to mine cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Estimates released in 2017, for example, claimed that Bitcoin’s annual energy requirement was nearing 42TWh/year, this resulting in the CO2 emissions equivalent of approximately 1 million transatlantic flights.
A new study published in Nature Climate Change underscores these concerns, warning that cryptocurrencies could push Earth past the 2-degree global warming tipping point as early as the year 2033.
The study’s co-author Randi Rollins explained, “Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency with heavy hardware requirements, and this obviously translates into large electricity demands.” The researchers crunched numbers to determine the amount of emissions resulting from Bitcoin last year: 69 million metric tons of CO2.
The researchers were modest in their estimate of Bitcoin’s potential impact, using the lowest rate of technological adoption rather than the average. At the slowest rate, the cryptocurrency could nudge Earth past 2C in 22 years, but at the average rate, that threshold may only take 16 years to reach.