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How blockchain and cryptocurrencies can help build a greener future

WEF | Stephen Stonberg | Jun 17, 2021

Blockchain greener future - How blockchain and cryptocurrencies can help build a greener futureAs with the feverish debate around Bitcoin and its carbon footprint, there has been no shortage of discussion surrounding cryptocurrencies and the energy they consume. But this back and forth around crypto’s environmental impact is missing a glaring point. It is important to recognize that crypto is still in its very early stages, not dissimilar to where the internet was in 2002. The entire space is going through its Amazon moment. The first decade of this cryptocurrency experiment has grown far beyond anybody’s wildest expectations. At the same time, it has allowed those of us in the industry to identify what works and what doesn’t.

For example, the proof-of-work consensus algorithms (the mathematical problems that Bitcoin miners must solve) that power the Bitcoin network do indeed require a lot of energy. But what these arguments about Bitcoin’s environmental impact obscure is that the broader crypto ecosystem is in the midst of a shift towards a cleaner, greener, more sustainable future that will result in significantly lower carbon emissions.

See:  Ethereum cryptocurrency to slash carbon emissions

This can be seen with the launch of Ethereum 2.0 and the move from a proof of work (PoW) consensus to a proof of stake model (PoS) allowing miners to mine and validate block transactions based on the amount of coins that they hold. Because PoS demands significantly lower hardware requirements than PoW, the energy needed to facilitate secure transactions will only continue to fall in the future. Some forecasting models show that Ethereum 2.0’s PoS model will be 99% more energy efficient than PoW models.

We are already seeing the results of what we can expect from PoS, with the Ethereum network consuming almost 100 Twh less than the Bitcoin network. Ethereum is hardly alone in this consensus revolution, with ascendant, next-generation blockchains like Cardano, Polkadot, EOS and Cosmos each implementing their own versions of PoS.

But even if we put aside these developments and focus strictly on the assertion that crypto is a threat to the planet, it is important to distinguish the sources of energy that crypto miners use, with data indicating that most of the electricity used for crypto mining comes from renewable sources.

Research from the University of Cambridge shows that the renewable share of these energy mining pools is as high as 78%. Although there are exceptions depending upon which region of the world you’re focusing on, hydroelectric power, in particular, is rapidly emerging as the de facto power source for crypto-mining operations.

Another factor to consider is that crypto miners are increasingly using excess electricity that would otherwise go to waste. The emergence of crypto mining farms has soaked up extra capacity and prevented the waste of unused renewable energy.

See:  Cryptocurrency and energy consumption debate

It is also important to note that the traditional international financial system requires significantly more energy than the Bitcoin network. All of the disparate parts that make up the whole of the global banking network – banking data centres, card network data centres, ATMs and bank branches – use a lot of energy. In fact, the traditional financial sector provides financing for some of the most environmentally damaging projects on Earth.

If we’re really looking for an ecologically destructive force, we should focus on gold mining. After all, this is an industrial sector that is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels. Even the industry’s main lobbying arm, the World Gold Council, has acknowledged the metal’s huge carbon footprint, highlighting in a recent report that the industry's emissions need to fall by 80% over the next 30 years in order to meet the Paris Climate Agreement targets.

So if we acknowledge that traditional finance and mining account for a significantly larger share of greenhouse gas emissions than crypto, the question we should be asking ourselves is how crypto and blockchain can actually lead the way and become a positive, transformative force for the energy sector, slashing operating costs and opening up a new window of transparency.

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NCFA Jan 2018 resize - How blockchain and cryptocurrencies can help build a greener future The National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association (NCFA Canada) is a financial innovation ecosystem that provides education, market intelligence, industry stewardship, networking and funding opportunities and services to thousands of community members and works closely with industry, government, partners and affiliates to create a vibrant and innovative fintech and funding industry in Canada. Decentralized and distributed, NCFA is engaged with global stakeholders and helps incubate projects and investment in fintech, alternative finance, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer finance, payments, digital assets and tokens, blockchain, cryptocurrency, regtech, and insurtech sectors. Join Canada's Fintech & Funding Community today FREE! Or become a contributing member and get perks. For more information, please visit: www.ncfacanada.org

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