Bitcoin is often criticized for its energy use and CO2 emissions, but seldom are these arguments given any context. An increasing awareness of energy usage in different sectors around the world is revealing that other pursuits are having a far more damaging effect on the environment than Bitcoin, and in particular our demand for online video.
Critics Question the Point of Bitcoin
At present, according to the crypto monitoring website Digiconemist, Bitcoin is using 77.78 TWh of electricity per year, the equivalent of Chile’s annual usage, and produces 37 megatons of CO2 each year. This energy use and resultant CO2 comes from miners creating blocks to ensure the Bitcoin blockchain continues running.
Bitcoin critics often argue that this energy use and CO2 pollution is not worth the cost to the planet. However, supporters argue that Bitcoin provides a valuable alternative means of currency for those who are either unable to partake in the mainstream financial sector or are unwilling to out of a lack of trust for traditional banking methods. For many in countries where the ruling powers have the ability to confiscate wealth, cryptocurrencies can provide a lifeline – especially if individuals need to flee the country.
Bitcoin vs Online Video
The argument that Bitcoin is not worth the cost to the planet does not stand up to much scrutiny when compared to other major pollutants, such as internet data. Data centers, which house and relay internet data such as videos, images, and messages, account for just under 200 TWh of electricity usage per year globally – over double that of Bitcoin.
Now of course there’s a lot of useful stuff on the internet, but when you consider that watching online videos accounts for between 60%-75% of the world’s internet traffic, suddenly the argument holds a little less water – anywhere from 120-150 TWh of the energy used by data centers goes towards allowing people to stream videos, generating some 30 megatons of CO2 in the process, just seven short of Bitcoin’s annual output. In terms of country equivalents, that’s around the same as South Africa.
Alternative Financial System or More Cat Videos?
What this boils down to is that the world’s appetite for watching video content online uses almost twice as much energy as Bitcoin mining and produces 81% as much CO2, with very few data centers using renewable energy to power their operations. In contrast, Bitcoin mining is moving in a much more energy-efficient direction with each new farm that opens up.
So the next time someone criticizes Bitcoin’s energy usage, ask them if they’ve ever watched anything on YouTube. The fact is, they are part of a bigger problem.