Verifying virtuality could scorch the planet?

By Dr Silke Hesse

We should extend our concern for liberties and rights beyond just the strict legal framework, CLA member Silke Hesse writes.

She points out that people who abuse their mercantile freedom to invent “airy nothingness” that puts the planet at risk are potentially abusing the rights and liberties of other people to enjoy their freedom to live without floods, cyclones, fire and – across Australia – increasing heatwaves.

Did you know that Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency, could by itself push global temperatures up 2 degrees C by 2034, she asks?

So says a Forbes article –– which explains that vast amounts of computer power needed to verify Bitcoin comes at a huge cost to the environment:

“…verification takes an enormous amount of energy and as Bitcoin gets more broadly adopted, the energy demands increase perilously. The current analysis suggests mining data for profit could be more destructive to the planet than mining the planet itself for profit.

David Wallace-Wells, writing in “The Uninhabitable Earth. A Story of the Future” (Alan Lane/Penguin, 2019), put the Bitcoin story more succinctly:

“Five years ago, hardly anyone outside the darkest corners of the internet had even heard of Bitcoin; today mining it consumes more electricity than is generated by all the world’s solar panels combined, which means that in just a few years we’ve assembled, out of distrust of one another and the nations behind ‘fiat currencies’, a program to wipe out the gains of several long, hard generations of green energy innovation. It did not have to be that way. And a simple change to the algorithm could eliminate that Bitcoin footprint entirely.” (p33)

Wallace-Wells says, on page 169, that the crypto currency now produces as much carbon dioxide (CO2)each year as a million transatlantic flights.

While we need to fight for our liberties and rights within Australia, we must also battle the global forces who are impinging on our futures and those of our children.


* Dr Hesse was a lecturer/senior lecturer and more recently adjunct research associate in Monash University’s German Department from 1969 to 2010. She has four children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild who all deserve a hopeful future.

How Bitcoin works:

All Bitcoin transactions, without exception, are included in a shared public transaction log known as a “block chain”. This is to confirm that the party spending the Bitcoins really owns them, and also to prevent fraud and double-spending. Why does transaction verification or confirmation take so long (and consume so much power)? Because the complex algorithms involved in Bitcoin ‘mining’ take time to solve, even with immense computing power at one’s disposal.


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