Bitcoin, a leading decentralized digital currency, uses roughly the same amount of energy in a year as entire countries such as Sweden, Greece, or The Netherlands, a study by the University of Cambridge has found.
Now, under the impetus of a new “Change The Code, Not The Climate,” campaign, led by environmental advocacy groups like Greenpeace, and crypto billionaire Chris Larsen, Bitcoin is being pressured to confront its carbon footprint by changing the ways in which it orders transactions.
Over the next month, the campaign will include digital advertising in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, MarketWatch, Politico, and on Facebook.
Some specific messages will read “Bitcoin: Proof that Money Isn't Always Green”; “Hey Jack Dorsey. You Could Help Stop Bitcoin’s Pollution With a Tweet”; and “Hey Fidelity. The Planet's Not Ready for Early Retirement.”
According to a recent Greenpeace statement, coalition members will also be mobilizing their large memberships to push Bitcoin’s biggest investors and influencers to exert leadership and call for a code change. They will also explore legal and regulatory efforts.
“This campaign is not anti-Bitcoin -- it is anti-pollution,” explained Chris Larsen. “We need to clean up our industry.”
What makes Bitcoin so harmful for the environment is its reliance on a “proof-of-work” protocol –– a consensus mechanism that early blockchain platforms use to verify transactions. By adopting an alternative model, such as “proof-of-stake,” Bitcoin could reduce its energy consumption by 99%.
Ethereum, the other dominant proof-of-work blockchain, is expected to do what many smaller crypto currencies have done: switch over to proof-of-stake as early as Q2 2022. This would leave Bitcoin front and center as the world’s leading crypto energy consumer.
However, as campaign advisor and former executive director of the Sierra Club Michael Brune explained, activists are not looking to prescribe the exact solution. “We demand urgent action to save our climate and future,” he said. “This could mean switching to proof of stake, federated consensus, or even changing Proof of Work to use far less energy.”
In the next five years, Bitcoin could consume as much power as Japan, Larsen said in a recent interview.
Bitcoin's use of electricity grows along with its price. A recent article in Nature Climate Change estimated that if use of Bitcoin becomes widespread, it could push the world beyond the 2 degree Celsius warming threshold for climate catastrophe.
Greenpeace USA’s chief program officer, Tefere Gebre explained that “No matter how you feel about Bitcoin, pushing those with the power to ensure a code change will make our planet and communities safer from the destructive impacts of climate change. What we do have is a solution: Change the Code. Not the Climate.”