The Catastrophic Carbon Footprint of NFTs

Temperatures are skyrocketing. Icecaps are melting, millions of habitats are failing, and the outcome of the Earth’s future rests in the hands of nearly eight billion humans. It is more important than ever to notice the effect we have on the environment; however, the introduction of NFTs to society has done nothing but increase the size of our deadly carbon footprints.

NFTs stand for non-fungible tokens, digital assets representing real-world objects like art, music, and videos. The term “fungible” means another token cannot replace another. Unlike cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, NFTs are not mutually interchangeable. One NFT is unique from another NFT – they can’t be swapped like how you can trade a dollar bill for another dollar bill. 

Now, what exactly is the difference between crypto art and traditional art? First off, NFTs are completely digital items. These pieces of artwork are stamped with a unique code string and stored on a blockchain. Essentially, these code strings act as watermarks certifying the owner of an NFT, perpetuating digital scarcity. A digital asset—which might normally be copy-and-pasted to the high heavens—is now limited in quantity and, therefore, more valuable. After all, supply and demand are the name of the game for any economy.

Here’s where the issue lies: NFTs are encoded with the same software as cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, a process that requires an intense amount of computing power. 

When an artist uploads a piece of art and clicks a button to “mint” it, they start a process known as “mining,” which involves solving complicated cryptographic hash puzzles via computers. To add an asset to the blockchain’s ledger, you have to be the first person to mine the puzzle. The more puzzles solved, the more complex they get, requiring more attempts by computers to figure them out. It sounds a little confusing, but the purpose of these puzzles is to provide the miners with a sense of security.

Unfortunately, these puzzles consume a massive load of energy; the energy consumption of these computers racing to the finish line is no joke. Each transaction means a giant exhale of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s fragile atmosphere. According to Fortune, the annual energy consumption of traded NFTs is comparable to that of the Netherlands and its average yearly footprint to Belarus’. 

Bitcoin, Dogecoin, NFTs, and other “cool” trendy tokens have flooded dozens of headlines as people flock to hop on the crypto-train. Investing in these digital currencies seems revolutionary; Who doesn’t want to get rich quickly (or attempt to)? However, their continued usage will be anything but beneficial for the future of humanity if its carbon emissions pile onto the already damaged climate.