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Bitcoin Is Red Hot. Can It Ever Be Green?

A Bitcoin digital currency ATM shop in Marseille, southern France.
Photographer: Nicolas Tucat/AFP/Getty Images
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Is crypto trashing the planet? Digital assets such as Bitcoin depend on so-called miners whose giant server farms guzzle electricity day and night to run the networks that support them. The industry’s carbon footprint has grown so fast that it’s alarming climate campaigners, governments and other big energy users. China banned crypto mining in 2021, and Elon Musk stopped accepting Bitcoin as payment for his Tesla electric cars. When Bitcoin rival Ethereum slashed its power consumption in a major upgrade in September, it put pressure on other parts of the crypto world to clean up their act. 

Bitcoin’s estimated power use soared from an annual rate of 14 terawatt-hours in 2017 to 105 terawatt-hours in 2021 -- more than the entire domestic consumption of Belgium -- according to the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, which keeps a running estimate. It expects that demand declined in 2022, when a plunge in the value of crypto assets pushed some miners out of business. However, research platform Digiconomist projected that the pollution created by generating electricity for crypto would still amount to around 64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2022, more than the annual global emissions avoided through the increased use of electric vehicles.