Bitcoin Mining Has a ‘Very Worrying’ Impacts On Climate Land & Water: UN Study

Bitcoin Mining Has a ‘Very Worrying’ Impacts On Climate Land & Water: UN Study

  • A study shows that the global Bitcoin mining network consumed about 173.42 Terawatt hours of electricity during 2020-2021.
  • The water footprint of BTC mining amounts to about 1.65 cubic kilometers (km3) between 2020 & 2021.
  • There's a need for immediate policy interventions for monitoring, regulating, and mitigating the environmental consequences of digital currencies – UNN.

In a recent study conducted by UN, scientists discovered that Bitcoin mining activities have significant environmental footprints, which include carbon, water, and land footprints. The study also revealed that the global Bitcoin mining network consumed a high amount of electricity and relied heavily on fossil energy sources. 

As Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have increased in market share, critics seem to be mainly concerned about their heavy carbon footprint. In the latest study, the UN scientists evaluated the environmental impacts of Bitcoin, the most popular and renowned cryptocurrency, across the world by investigating the activities of 76 Bitcoin mining nations between the 2020 and 2021 sessions.

According to the results published in the journal Earth's Future, aside from its substantial carbon footprint, global BTC mining activities have major effects on water and land footprints.

A director at United Nations University, Kaveh Madani, who led the new study, said in part that the findings were "quite interesting but very concerning" because demand is rising rapidly. He added that even with the increase in energy-efficient mining approaches, as long as the demand continues to increase, so too will mining's environmental footprints.

However, his conclusion stated that "technological innovations are mostly associated with unintended consequences, and Bitcoin is no exception."

BTC total market cap, Source: <a href='https://www.tradingview.com/x/B7lYFPpY/'>TradingView.com</a>
BTC total market cap, Source: TradingView.com

Bitcoin mining consumes significant amounts of water, carbon, and electricity.

The study further showed that the global Bitcoin mining network consumed about 173.42 Terawatt hours of electricity between 2020 and 2021. The resulting carbon footprint equaled that of operating 190 natural gas-fired power plants or burning 84 billion pounds of coal.

In addition, Bitcoin's water footprint was similar to the amount of water needed to fill over 660,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, enough to cover the current domestic water needs of over 300 million people in rural sub-Saharan Africa.

Further, the land footprint of worldwide BTC mining activities in this period was 1.4 times the area of Los Angeles. Also, the UN scientists report that BTC mining greatly relies on fossil energy sources, with coal accounting for about 45 percent of Bitcoin's energy supply mix, which is followed by natural gas (21 percent).

Hydropower, a renewable energy source with high water and environmental impacts, is the most essential renewable source of energy for the BTC mining network, meeting 16 percent of its electricity demand.

Nuclear energy has a considerable share of 9 percent in Bitcoin's energy supply mix, while renewables like solar and wind only provide 2 percent and 5 percent of the total electricity used by Bitcoin. 

The report also revealed that together, the top 10 Bitcoin mining countries — US, China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Canada, Malaysia, Germany, Ireland, Iran, and Singapore; with regards to environmental footprint are responsible for about 92-94 percent of Bitcoin's global water, carbon, and land footprints.

Professor Madani, however, noted that the findings "aren't meant to discourage the use of digital currencies." Rather, it should encourage stakeholders to invest in regulatory interventions and technological advancements that will improve the efficiency of the global financial system without endangering the environment.

Concluding Thoughts 

The manner in which Bitcoin mining impacts water, climate, and land, as revealed by the UN evaluates the mining activities of different nations. It emphasizes the need for urgent policy interventions to monitor, evaluate, regulate, and mitigate the environmental effects of digital currency mining. Instead of focusing only on the benefits, we should also consider the negative effects and find effective ways to tackle them for the betterment of all.

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