Bitcoins, the currency of the future (the future dominated by the dickhead Winklevoss twins), while an annoying Libertarian fantasy, would at least not end up destroying the environment, right? How much harm can it do, really?
A lot, apparently. Looking to mimic real-world resource extraction, Bitcoins are "mined" so that they cannot be minted too quickly. Mark Gimein at Bloomberg explains,
Before Bitcoins can be traded, though, they need to be created.
That's where "mining" comes in. Mining is a process in which powerful computers create Bitcoins by solving processor-intensive equations. The idea is to keep the supply of Bitcoins from multiplying too quickly. Bitcoin mining, like mining of precious metals, is supposed to be arduous. By design, the more miners there are, the more processing power is required to mint new coins.
The processing power, it turns out, is a huge expense when it comes to the energy necessary to do these "intensive" equations. The energy use is massive:
About 982 megawatt hours a day, to be exact. That's enough to power roughly 31,000 U.S. homes, or about half a Large Hadron Collider.
If Bitcoins continue to gain popularity, this archaic principal that keeps the value of the Bitcoin high will use massive amounts of energy, replicating some of the worst consequences of the industrial age for the digital one.
Here's hoping (for many reasons), that it will never happen.