Bitcoin has taken off in the past few months, and its impact is clear. Banks, businesses, and average people are all looking into what they can do to adopt or rally against this technology. However, there is one huge problem few people saw coming: the environmental impact caused by Bitcoin mining.
Bitcoin is awarded to people whose computers solve complex problems. However, the problems become increasingly difficult as more Bitcoin is awarded. What once could have been solved by a Macbook now must have custom hardware to make progress quickly enough to beat others. It can take hours to solve one problem, even with the specialized equipment.
You know how all through life people have told you to turn out the lights when you leave a room? Bitcoin miners do the opposite with their computers, instead of leaving them on all day. And considering how much Bitcoin has boomed recently, this is becoming a widespread issue around the world. In fact, there are factories in some countries (specifically China) where thousands of computers are constantly running to churn out as many Bitcoin as possible. The owners are millionaires now, but their rewards come at a steep cost.
You can easily see the impact of Bitcoin mining by looking at a miner’s electric bill. What might have cost $100 per month now costs thousands of dollars. Some people don’t see the return they need to justify the cost of mining. Those that do are dangerous because they likely have no plans to stop.
The biggest problem with Bitcoin mining using so much isn’t the electric bill, but its impact on our environment. Many countries use non-renewable fuel sources to power homes, which means a growing carbon footprint that has only sped up from the popularity of Bitcoin. As countries are constantly under pressure to reevaluate their emissions, countries will have an added layer of stress from these increases.
There are ways we can see this problem end, though. Lawmakers can limit or ban mining to reduce emissions again. This is unlikely to help, though, as most people mine in the privacy of their own home. It would be extremely difficult to police and could produce backlash, so I don’t see this happening.
There are also many people attempting to create green cryptocurrency. These coins would be awarded through other means than mining. One example is STEEM, the cryptocurrency that is awarded by creating and curating popular posts on the social network Steemit. While STEEM may not ever reach Bitcoin levels, it does provide a green solution to the current energy problem we face.
Ultimately, there will likely come the point where the amount of people mining will slow down. Either Bitcoin will hit its cap, or other cryptocurrencies will find green alternatives to mining. I believe that cryptocurrency will stick around, but I also believe that we are in the very infancy of all we can do with it.