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'Bitcoin Could Cost Us Our Clean-Energy Future' ( 466

An anonymous reader shares an article: Bitcoin wasn't intended to be an investment instrument. Its creators envisioned it as a replacement for money itself -- a decentralized, secure, anonymous method for transferring value between people. But what they might not have accounted for is how much of an energy suck the computer network behind bitcoin could one day become. Simply put, bitcoin is slowing the effort to achieve a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. What's more, this is just the beginning. Given its rapidly growing climate footprint, bitcoin is a malignant development, and it's getting worse. Digital financial transactions come with a real-world price: The tremendous growth of cryptocurrencies has created an exponential demand for computing power. As bitcoin grows, the math problems computers must solve to make more bitcoin (a process called "mining") get more and more difficult -- a wrinkle designed to control the currency's supply. Today, each bitcoin transaction requires the same amount of energy used to power nine homes in the U.S. for one day. And miners are constantly installing more and faster computers. Already, the aggregate computing power of the bitcoin network is nearly 100,000 times larger than the world's 500 fastest supercomputers combined. The total energy use of this web of hardware is huge -- an estimated 31 terawatt-hours per year. More than 150 individual countries in the world consume less energy annually. And that power-hungry network is currently increasing its energy use every day by about 450 gigawatt-hours, roughly the same amount of electricity the entire country of Haiti uses in a year.

'Bitcoin Could Cost Us Our Clean-Energy Future'

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  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @11:57AM (#55688371) Homepage Journal

    Lots of computing is done, and few people complain about the energy consumption. It's only when it's computation for the sake of expensive computation that it becomes offensive. Is there any way to do some kind of real work in the process of generating this data, or would that inherently compromise the security of the system (or render it impossible?)

    • by Bing Tsher E ( 943915 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @12:01PM (#55688415) Journal

      You can always do your cryptocurrency computation only in the winter, in a northern climate, and use the heat to warm your house.

      • by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @12:08PM (#55688509)

        It's ok to kill puppies and kittens too as long as they make a good coat.

        The real problem with what you say is there are better ways to heat your home than electricity. And if you do have to use electricity to do it even a modern heat pump is better than straight electric heating.

        • What are those other methods? Burning fossil fuels? Do we all have to move to geothermal areas for your plan?

        • An air-to-air heat pump basically becomes an electric heater (the air is heated in the air handler using resistive elements) when the temps drop below 35-40 deg F.
          • by mellon ( 7048 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @12:49PM (#55688949) Homepage

            Nope. If your heat pump works that way, get a better heat pump. A Mitsubishi Hyper-Heat, for example, or one of the Toshiba heat pumps. These use a dual-stage process, which allows the unit to actively pump heat with air temperatures down to -17F. Our heat pump has kept our house toasty through the coldest Vermont winters, and it does not use a resistive element. If the temperature drops below -17, it just shuts off until it rises again; in that case you would need to either make up the heat loss with a resistive element, or just coast through it. If we lived in Minnesota, we'd definitely have a resistive backup, and it would run once or twice a year.

          • The heat pump is more efficient than resistive heating down to about -10F (-23C). Many units *also* have an auxiliary resistive element that can kick in around 35F to assist in heating.

      • If we colonize Antarctica, not only will we be able to use the miners to heat the place during the northern summer, we can use it year round - and it would better than a heat pump because there is no heat to pump.
      • by Thud457 ( 234763 )
        I apologize for my vile slander accusing Canananadians of conspiring to use bitcoin to secretly increase global warming.
        After further consideration, bitcoin is obviously an evil plot by the Big Entropy lobby to accelerate the heat death of the universe.
    • by Troed ( 102527 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @12:02PM (#55688419) Homepage Journal

      The value of the computation is that it's what secures the immutability of the ledger.

      Complaining about it is like saying the Internet wastes electricity because ... fax machines, or something.

    • by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @12:11PM (#55688543)

      More and more people are using Rube Goldberg logical arguments to derive some kind of statement that X is Bad.

      The argument usually has an excessive number of premises, each premise depending on the previous, and bordering on, if not explicitly, being a non sequitur.

      Somewhere, someone probably has created a proof that shows that the likelihood of an argument being correct diminishes with the number of premises it requires.

      • Somewhere, someone probably has created a proof that shows that the likelihood of an argument being correct diminishes with the number of premises it requires.


        • by trg83 ( 555416 )
          If I understood correctly, his was a philosophical assertion, not a proof. For most of us, the empirical wisdom of it is unmistakable anyway.
    • The problem with Bitcoin is the fact that it growing at a rate far exceeding any sane inflation.
      It has gone to stupid level. Because they are so valuable, no one will actually buy anything real with them, unless they will be the pizza guy who bought a Pizza with 20 bit coins a few years ago.

      The increasing calculation cost in mining them, is happening faster then the speed computation to figure it out. In general it has became a valuable currency that only an idiot will spend. So we have massive computers

    • It does do real work, it validates transaction chain hashes. There is something like a salt, a randomly generated string that gets puts on each one in an attempt to guess at a hash that meets the "difficulty" of the network, if it does that transaction closes the current block of transactions resulting in a new bitcoin award.

      I'm more than a little skeptical of these power figures, I can't help but wonder if they are mixing up the GPU mining power requirements of other cryptocoins with the ASIC mining poweri
    • Bitcoin is creating an anarcho capitalist paradise where you can make $87 million dealing drug and hire hitmen to take out rival drug dealers, all without leaving the house []. How is that not 'real work'?

  • controlled currency, it will be worth the struggle. A day when no government can create or destroy money is a win for the world.

    • by Bing Tsher E ( 943915 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @12:03PM (#55688431) Journal

      There have been utopian no-government proposals in the past.

      People always show up, and when enough people have arrived, they need to be governed.

      • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @12:38PM (#55688815)

        People who want to get rid of government generally imagine themselves as being more successful once that government is gone, and rarely consider what other people just like them will do in order to be the winners in the new system.

        You get rid of the current system, it will be quickly replaced with tens of thousands of little vicious despotic governments practicing feudalism, with all the reductions in quality of life that implies.

      • You're absolutely right. If you've ever watched a group of two or three year old kids, one or two kids tend to be leaders/bossy. The others follow the leader(s). The same happens in any business meeting after a few minutes. It's basic human nature. Mammal nature, actually - other mammals do the same.

        Even it it weren't human nature, when a bunch of people get together, conflicts happen and rules are needed to resolve and reduce conflicts. Those rules need to be enforced. Rules for large groups are also

    • by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @12:05PM (#55688465)

      Oh, you summer child. You are so naive.

    • A day when no government can create or destroy money is a win for the world.

      It is not clear this is true. In the past many countries used currencies based on gold, and that didn't really work out so well. As economies grew, and the supply of gold grew more slowly, the result was deflation, which inhibits growth. It was difficult to stimulated the economy out of recessions.

      Once gold was demonetized, it became a store of value rather than a currency. Bitcoin seems headed the same way. People mostly buy bitcoins as speculation, not for use as a currency.

    • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @12:36PM (#55688783) Homepage Journal

      The two alternatives available.

      1. You can decide you're going to prioritize preventing the government from "controlling" currency, even if that means switching to a nonsensical "currency" whose value fluctuates between dramatic extremes and makes billionaires and paupers of people simply due to luck. Almost nobody ends up financially where they are due to luck. The government will continue to have the same problems you're concerned about, can still prosecute you for unfair reasons, can still benefit those with power and harm those without.

      2. You can decide you're going to prioritize fixing the government by improving accountability. The currency remains more or less stable, with its value fluctuating only slightly, generally losing value by a tiny amount each year. Fewer people owe their financial status to luck. The government is less likely to prosecute you for unfair reasons, and less likely to benefit those with power and harm those without.

      The Bitcoin way is (1). It's stupid, it's papering over a problem and pretending it only affects one thing. Worse, the cure is worse than the disease.

      The correct thing to do is (2).

    • How so?
      Even in the United States the actual value of the dollar is different across different towns.
      Upstate NY 2k a month can pay for a mortgage of a good size house with about an acre of property. In Downstate NY 2k a month would get you a small apartment.
      Food, Fuel prices are different.

      A world dollar wouldn't really do too much. as 1WD could buy 10kg of rice in one area. while in others it would get you 1kg.

    • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @12:44PM (#55688879)

      If it creates a worldwide non-government controlled currency, it will be worth the struggle. A day when no government can create or destroy money is a win for the world.

      Its not really on a path to do so. Yes it was designed to do so but designs often lose to reality. The reality of bitcoin is that we do NOT have decentralized mining.
      In 2014 a mining pool reached 50% of the hashrate, IF they made it to 51% and had bad intentions there could have been a successful attack on the blockchain.
      Today Chinese mining pools control 70% of all the hashrate, that seems vulnerable to the wishes of a single government.

      Bitcoin was designed so that individuals and their computers did the mining. Instead we have mining performed by exotic and expensive ASIC hardware that it under the control of only a few. Even when individuals "own" the hardware they often have it colocated somewhere where there are inexpensive fees and low cost electricity. Their bitcoin mining rig is not really under their control and may be in a different country.

      • To be clear, while bitcoin has many design flaws and problems and may very well be displaced by a different digital currency in the not so distant future, the blockchain is likely here to stay. But the blockchain and bitcoin are two very different things. Bitcoin is nothing more than one user of blockchain technology, blockchain technology could care less about bitcoin or any particular cryptocurrency.
      • by Trogre ( 513942 )

        Bitcoin was designed so that individuals and their computers did the mining. Instead we have mining performed by exotic and expensive ASIC hardware that it under the control of only a few.

        If this site is still News For Nerds (and not Echo Chamber For Morons), then there won't be a single person here who didn't see that logical conclusion coming from the very start.

    • False premise (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @01:05PM (#55689129)

      If it creates a worldwide non-government controlled currency, it will be worth the struggle.

      You say that as if it is somehow axiomatic. I reject your framing of the argument. If you can provide some airtight argument that government involvement in currency has some fatal flaw then please provide it and collect your Nobel prize. But frankly I don't buy the argument that bitcoin or any analog of it really fixes any problems in any form of government issued currency without creating new and potentially worse ones in the process. If you distrust governments as a philosophical position I can understand that but it doesn't automatically follow that because governments aren't perfect that a solution that doesn't involve them will necessarily be better.

      Then of course there is the problem that there is absolutely no way that governments are going to allow a currency that they have no influence over. Even if government leaders honestly and earnestly wanted to not be involved with the currency the first moment there is a dip in the market there will be people screaming for the government to do something about the problem. The governments would HAVE to be involved in regulating currency even if they didn't want to. Not to mention that truly unregulated markets tend to crash and burn hard. There will never be a currency market without government regulation no matter what the mechanics of the currency might be.

    • All they have to do is turn off the electricity to it's citizens. All their money is useless.

      In the age where everything requires an energy efficiency rating, bitcoin is obsolete.

  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @11:59AM (#55688391)
    The only value they have, is the value you place on them. Sure, you can say the same about any currency, if you're willing to ignore governments. So you're ultra rare gold hologram charazard card might be worth a lot today (lets pretend those words make sense), but you're a fool if you think that will be the case tomorrow. Just look at Beenie Babbies.
  • No, it won't. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aardvarkjoe ( 156801 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @12:03PM (#55688435)

    No, it won't "cost us our clean-energy future." As the article points out itself, the growth rate in the energy cost of bitcoin is unsustainable. Eventually bitcoin transactions are going to become more and more infeasible.

    I can't see how anyone expects that Bitcoin will be able to maintain its value if you can't transfer it to other people. And if its value goes down, then so will the demand for energy to keep it running.

  • Is it any worse than the sheer amount of horsepower it takes to load a page on any modern web site? In addition to all the scripts that load from a thousand third party domains for tracking and embeds, you have all the responsive design code and giant images. It may not be much for one PC, but when you consider how many machines are out there grinding away parsing web sites, it adds up. The end result still doesn't present much more meat and potatoes information than the web of yore.
    • Depending on how many people load a particular browser-bogging page, one page may use more energy overall than any one BTC transaction...hey, that's a good argument for getting companies to slim down their websites! Do it for the environment!

  • Could we get this compared to the amount of power used for computers standing around in offices being idle because the tasks they run don't even use 5% of the CPU's power 99% of the time, and how those offices could lower the power footprint by way more than the bitcoin miners use?

    Could we then also see the power footprint of the global light pollution, especially during times like Christmas where everyone feels the urge to put enough light into his garden to divert planes because they think you're the airp

    • by sls1j ( 580823 )
      When computers are running at 5% of CPU then they automatically scale down its power consumption. If you were to use the "idle" CPU cycles you would would cause the computer to use significantly more power.
  • The summary seems to spend a lot of time lamenting and whining when there appears to be a straightforward solution: proof of space []

    Filecoin [] appears to be taking this route. So if you care about this issue, use something like Filecoin instead of something like Bitcoin.
  • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @12:23PM (#55688669)

    >Bitcoin wasn't intended to be an investment instrument. Its creators envisioned it as a replacement for money itself -- a decentralized, secure, anonymous method for transferring value between people.

    Bitcoin was a marginally successful experiment in creating a trustless secure distributed public ledger. It was initially used for a few fun purchases, then the crazy cryptoanarchists and libertarians took up the banner and it just started getting weirder. But hey, I'm pretty sure the mining craze drove improvements in gaming video cards, so we did get that out of it before it morphed into an 'investment' pyramid scheme.

    However secure the ledger itself may theoretically be... in practical use Bitcoin is about as secure as having a wad of cash hanging out the back pocket of your pants. It's only anonymous until a person can be linked to a ledger entry, and then it's the least anonymous way in the world to transfer wealth.

    And Bitcoin was never going to replace money, which quickly became obvious once you looked at the scaling issues. I'm sure the original coder was well aware of that and didn't worry about it because they never expected it to grow beyond a small circle of friends using it for shits and giggles. Or not.

    Bitcoin was also never going to replace money because it enforces some basic economic policies on its use that have been proven disastrous by history; the coder was obviously neither an economist nor a historian.

    As an investment, Bitcoin's a lottery ticket. If you're lucky and you get in and out at the right times, Bitcoin may still make you some money - but odds are pretty good it won't. Just ask the last round of people who invested in tulips or beanie babies.

  • How many millions of man hours are lost each day to Facebook addiction? How may YouTube data centers running 24/7/365 warehouse nothing but the digital equivalent of cat videos? How many millions have been pissed away every year by the US Mint who still mints pointless pennies at a loss?

    Hard to pin the blame on bitcoin when we have so many examples of pointless waste today.

    Bitcoin is a malignant development because Greed is a disease. Stop supporting valuations based on hype and bullshit. This applies t

  • If one thinks, one sees how foundationless this A/Câ(TM)s argument is. But hay! Being Still Born is the first thing A/Câ(TM)s have to accept.
  • Bitcoin wasn't intended to be an investment instrument.

    They created a cash analog and didn't think it would be used as an investment vehicle? Then they are (as I suspected) imbeciles with little understanding of economics and less of people. Kind of like the programmers in the early days of networks that failed to secure their networks because they naively trusted other people's incentives to match their own.

    Its creators envisioned it as a replacement for money itself -- a decentralized, secure, anonymous method for transferring value between people.

    It's not a replacement for money because it IS a form of money for all practical purposes. Just because it isn't a fiat currency doesn't change that fac

  • Bullshit... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jwhyche ( 6192 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @02:22PM (#55689909) Homepage


    Normally I would try to justify my comment, but I think my statement covers it just fine.

  • by Dwedit ( 232252 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2017 @02:31PM (#55689995) Homepage

    With transaction fees over $20, there is no reason to use Bitcoin for anything other than speculation.

The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. Seek simplicity and distrust it. -- Whitehead.