The carbon footprint of the US bitcoin industry is growing at breakneck speed, according to a report by environmental groups released on Friday, now rivaling the emissions of six million cars each year.
The groups urged US states to consider banning new mining operations to help protect the planet.
Emissions from the energy-intensive sector could undermine climate change goals, said Jeremy Fisher, energy analyst at the nonprofit Sierra Club and co-author of the report.
“We are at an inflection point,” he said. “We’re trying to decarbonize quickly…Bitcoin mining has the potential to undo some of that progress.”
The industry’s carbon footprint, according to the groups, was 27.4 million tonnes from mid-2021 to 2022 – three times that of the largest US coal plant – or nearly six million annual emissions. cars, according to an Environmental Protection Agency calculator.
Bitcoin mining involves a network of power-hungry computers that verify bitcoin transactions and compete for new coins. According to a recent White House study, only 3.5% of global bitcoin mining was in the United States in 2020 – it is now approaching 38%.
The groups urged US states to consider blocking new mining operations. This year, the New York legislature passed legislation to suspend any new operations in the state that run on fossil fuels.
According to the White House report, bitcoin industry groups claim that the cryptocurrency sector is greener than other heavy industries and uses a relatively small amount of electricity – between 0.09 pc and 1 .7 pc of the total power of the United States.
The Bitcoin Mining Council, which represents some major players in the industry, released data showing that more than half of the energy used by its miners comes from renewable sources.
The council did not respond to a request for comment.
“Bitcoin is a technology with a lot of positive and negative climate potential,” said Elliot David of Sustainable Bitcoin Protocol, a company that works with miners to promote clean energy use.
“It’s a matter of perspective – if you’re going to compare it to other industries, like cement for example, then it’s relatively clean,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“But every industry must be part of solving the climate crisis.”
The report, co-authored by Earthjustice, an environmental law nonprofit, relies on public documents, utility records, regulatory filings and financial information, as well as news articles. and testimonials from activists across the United States.
Earlier this year, a coalition of green groups launched a campaign to pressure Bitcoin to change its software – known as “proof of work” – to a less power-intensive method, known as of “proof of stake”.
“We’ve seen a relatively large increase in mining here in the United States very quickly, since it was banned in China,” said Mandy DeRoche, an attorney at Earthjustice, who represents clients who are studying how to challenge mining claims. local mining operations.
“And we are concerned about the direction this is taking.”
In 2021, China severely restricted bitcoin mining, leading many companies to relocate or expand their presence in the United States.
Earlier this year, Democratic lawmakers asked publicly traded bitcoin mining companies to reveal the energy they use.
Environmental groups say the industry’s environmental toll, energy consumption and long-term impact on communities have been largely hidden from scrutiny.
Friday’s report highlights instances where bitcoin miners have extended the life of fossil fuel power plants, raised electricity rates, strained power grids and broken promises to the local community .
Some miners say they benefit energy grids by providing stability and funding for renewable energy generation.
In Texas, some miners have signed agreements with renewable energy providers and subscribed to flexible use to smooth demand.
Others mark themselves as green; Publicly traded CleanSpark claims its energy is more than 96% carbon-free.
“It’s not just that miners can be more efficient and use clean energy for their operations,” said Zach Bradford, CEO of CleanSpark. “But this bitcoin mining can actually accelerate the low-carbon energy transition.”
But in Kentucky, bitcoin mining has moved in the opposite direction, said Lane Boldman, executive director of the Kentucky Conservation Committee, an environmental group.
Many of these operations will support bad or dirty energy projects – that’s exactly what happened here, she said.
The report also examines what it says are the industry’s unsubstantiated environmental claims.
These include the use of carbon credits or renewable energy “offsets” – tactics which, according to the Sierra Club’s Fisher, aim to mask the true impact of crypto mining on the climate.
“There’s a lot of greenwashing going on,” he says.