WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 – Researchers at University of Hawaii at Manoa found that Bitcoin, if implemented at similar rates at which other common technologies have been incorporated, could produce enough emissions to raise global temperatures by two degrees Celsius 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 published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The verification process by bitcoin miners, who compete to decipher a computationally demanding proof-of-work in exchange for bitcoins, requires large amounts of electricity, according to the study.
The 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 carbon dioxide emissions of producing electricity in those countries.
The team found that the cumulative emissions from bitcoin would be enough to push global warming beyond 2C in 22 years. If the average rate of technology uptake is used instead, this number is closer to 16 years.
The report’s authors warned that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, such as coral reef extinction and Arctic ice disappearance, warming must be limited to 1.5C.
They estimated that the use of bitcoins in the year 2017 emitted 69 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
“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 master’s student at University of Hawaii, Manoa and coauthor of the paper.