The following is a republishing of Hass McCook’s “Comparing Bitcoin’s Environmental Impact…,” which was first published here.
NOTE: The methodology and underlying figures (specifically, emission rates for gold and banking) mentioned throughout are generally derived from my 2014 and 2018 works. The 2018 work is available as an easier-to-digest 10-part medium series here.
Bitcoin’s energy consumption and environmental impact are commented on very regularly, but ultimately, they are rarely understood. The majority of arguments stem from comparisons of Bitcoin’s electricity use to that of particular countries, or some other apples-to-oranges comparison. Critics can’t even separate “energy use” from “electricity use.”Energy = Electricity + Heating + Transport
Over 1 billion people have no access to the electrical grid but still have access to energy via physical fuels. Just like they don’t need the grid to survive, neither do bitcoin miners, many of whom are now using flared methane in remote oil fields to mine bitcoin. Of the 160,000 TWh of energy generated worldwide each year, 50,000 TWh is lost to inefficiency, and only 25,000 TWh is generated by electrical grids Bitcoin consumes around 120 TWh, a mere 0.25% of the energy wasted each year, or 0.5% of the world’s grid electricity, representing less than 0.1% of human energy production. Pick your poison with the framing.
Although Bitcoin’s energy use is trivial to define and calculate, this is not the case for the industries with which Bitcoin is regularly compared. Where does the environmental impact of the gold industry end? Does it end with the deep gashes in the earth that open-cut gold mines leave that are so massive they can be seen from outer space? Do we also factor in the electricity costs of all of the world’s jewelry shops and gold dealers? Furthermore, what about the environmental impact of the banking system? Does it include all of the bank buildings, ATMs, and cotton, plas...