Are NFTs bad for the environment? The answer to this question is a controversial “it depends.” This post will give you insight into NFTs, how they impact the environment, and some adverse effects and potential solutions.
What are NFTs
To understand the environmental concerns of NFTs, you’ll first need to know what they are. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are digital asset that is often used to represent collectibles or digital items that have been cryptographically secured. Non-fungible tokens (NFT) are cryptographic collectibles that can represent unique digital assets such as artwork or jewelry.
I cover NFTs in-depth on my website here.
There are pros and cons to using NFTs. On the one hand, they can be more secure and efficient than other digital assets. They are also unique, which can make them more valuable. On the other hand, they require more computational power to create and use.
Non-fungible tokens: why are they controversial?
One thing that makes blockchain technology so promising is the ability to track digital assets as they change hands. This has allowed platforms like Ethereum to become a marketplace for anything from access keys to collectible cartoon cats.
However, this same feature is also a source of controversy within NFT circles. Many people believe that non-fungible tokens could increase carbon emissions due to their use in online games and digital marketplaces.
The issue has been brought up several times from both inside and outside the crypto community. Still, it remains difficult for anybody but experts within industry circles to understand just how significant NFTs could impact our environment.
A large part of the confusion surrounding this issue is that it’s not immediately clear what actions (if any) need to take to reduce the environmental impacts caused by NFTs. There are several different metrics for measuring the environmental impact of blockchain technology, and they all have their own unique intricacies.
One of these metrics is carbon footprint — specifically, CO2-equivalent emissions from electricity consumption. For example, a metric ton of coal produces 1.986 CO2-equivalent kilograms when burned. On average, Ethereum uses 467 kWh per transaction or roughly 0.18 kWh per gas. This means that, on average, about 1.14 metric tons of CO2 are produced each time a smart contract is executed within the Ethereum network.
While this number is small enough to not have much environmental impact in isolation, this may change if blockchain becomes more widely adopted in the global economy. For example, if someone decided to develop a non-fungible collectible card game with 100 million users, it would take approximately 751 billion transactions to transfer assets between players. As it turns out, that’s just over half of the total energy usage worldwide during 2017, which was estimated at 1374 trillion watts per year.
It should be noted that there are some caveats to this analysis. It is difficult to determine whether or not all of the electricity on a blockchain network is being produced by green energy sources. Most ERC-721 marketplaces rely on a proof-of-work consensus algorithm, which can be highly energy-intensive depending on the specific type of hardware used for mining.
In addition, the Ethereum blockchain doesn’t actually utilize all available computing power. For example, the tracking site Cryptocompare reported that as of 10/15, Ethereum was running at around 25% of its total capacity. However, even if we assume that all transaction activity took place at total capacity and none depended on proof-of-work mining, it would still take about 562 trillion transactions to reach the total estimated energy usage for 2017.
The bottom line is that it’s difficult for many people to understand why NFTs might be bad for the environment. Are they using more electricity? Are there viable alternatives for reducing their environmental footprint? Are some types of tokens “greener” than others? These questions require answers before any hard conclusions can be drawn.
What can be done to mitigate the environmental impacts of NFTs?
As NFTs continue, the environmental effects of their creation are now under scrutiny. NFTs are not inherently bad for the environment. New technologies and ideas have emerged, making them more sustainable. Lazy minting is a popular method used on the $ETH network. It’s a way that doesn’t create an NFT until its first purchase. Sidechains and bridge protocols also make creating tokens easier and more efficient, including marketplaces that have emerged focused on being eco-friendly.
One of the biggest things we can do to mitigate the environmental impacts of NFTs is to find alternative sources of energy. Or clever use of our current energy systems. Alternative energy is any source that provides an alternative to the status quo. Renewable sources of power, such as solar and wind farms, do not produce carbon dioxide emissions or other greenhouse gasses contributing to human-caused climate change.
There are different types of alternative and renewable energy sources. They can be solar, wind, biomass, tidal power, or geothermal energy. Solar Power involves harnessing light energy and then converting it into electricity, plus solar thermal energy. Wind power has been used to pump water, mill grain, and push ships across oceans for thousands of years. Today’s windmills use turbines that convert rotational energy into electricity.
Biomass is a renewable energy source that can be used in many ways, such as for heat and power generation or transportation fuels. It is an excellent alternative with little impact because its production process does not involve combustion! Tidal power is an alternative source of energy that can be harnessed by regions with high tidal ranges. It produces electricity using turbines, much like hydroelectric plants. Geothermal energy is an underestimated resource that offers clean, renewable power potential. It comes from geothermal sources like hot water deep below ground or gasses trapped by rocks near volcanoes.
The global renewable energy market is projected to grow strongly in the coming years. It will soon be more than double what it was 5 years ago. Several countries have already reached this milestone, generating over half their electricity from wind turbines or solar panels. A few nations generate all theirs using nothing but clean prevention technologies such as hydropower dams. The world is quickly embracing renewable energy resources. With the rise in popularity, there’s been an increase in investment in sustainable sources across many countries; this trend can be seen as one way to mitigate climate change.
While it is clear that NFTs are not without their environmental impacts, they are not necessarily bad for the planet. To make more informed decisions about whether or not to invest in this technology, we need to better understand the full extent of its ecological footprint. With growing concerns over climate change and the ever-growing demand for data storage, alternative and renewable energy sources may be the key to a more sustainable future for blockchain technologies.
What do you think? How do you see this evolving?