When it comes to environmental harm, Bitcoin mining is worse than extracting gold and comparable to the environmentally destructive industries tied to crude oil and cattle farming, a new study has found.
Published in the journal Scientific Reports, new research out of the University of New Mexico makes a bold assertion that runs counter claim that the crypto mining is becoming more sustainable.
"We find no evidence that Bitcoin mining is becoming more sustainable over time," Professor Benjamin Jones of UNM's economics school said in a university press release. "Rather, our results suggest the opposite: Bitcoin mining is becoming dirtier and more damaging to the climate over time."
The researchers suggested that Bitcoin mining is as energy-intensive as beef farming and crude oil drilling and refining, two of the most environmentally destructive industries on Earth.
"In short," Jones added, "Bitcoin’s environmental footprint is moving in the wrong direction."
Though the researchers admitted that there's still a lot to be learned about the extent of the damage done by the king of crypto, their approach — categorizing the mining energy usage as a share of Bitcoin's market price — does provide a jarring perspective on just how serious its environmental impacts appears to be.
What's worse: given how wildly the cryptocurrency's value has fluctuated between 2016 and 2021, the research window the UNM economists studied, there were times when the coin was literally not worth the damage mining it would cause.
"We find several instances between 2016-2021 where Bitcoin is more damaging to the climate than a single Bitcoin is actually worth," the economics researcher and paper co-author said in the UNM statement. "Put differently, Bitcoin mining, in some instances, creates climate damages in excess of a coin’s value."
Since 2016, the researchers calculated that Bitcoin's electricity-generating missions have increased a whopping 126 percent, from 0.9 tons per coin in 2016 to 113 tons/coin in 2021.
"Calculations suggest each Bitcoin mined in 2021 generated 11,314 US Dollars (USD) in climate damages, with total global damages exceeding 12 billion USD between 2016 and 2021," the statement continued. "Damages peaked at 156% of the coin price in May 2020, suggesting that each 1 USD of Bitcoin market value generated led to 1.56 USD in global climate damages that month."
With Ethereum, the world's second-largest cryptocurrency, making its groundbreaking "merge" shift away from the energy-intensive proof-of-work mining methodology and towards the greener proof-of-stake system, there may be a path out of the outrageous environmental harm caused by Bitcoin mining.
But for now, there's nothing stopping anyone from mining mining Bitcoin — whereas oil drilling, at least, requires some very expensive equipment.
READ MORE: Technology: UNM researchers find Bitcoin mining is environmentally unsustainable [University of New Mexico]
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