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How Are NFTS Bad for the Environment? A Matter of Concern

NFTs are hot; absolutely no questions about that. But are they making the world hotter too? That’s arguable. 

In this article, we’ll be talking about how NFTs are bad for the environment and how much power they consume. 

After that, we’ll discuss other things like how speculations-fueled trends and ignorance are making it worse and if NFT creators are individually responsible for the emissions. 

Lastly, we’ll be checking out some of the clean NFT solutions, along with how to measure your carbon footprint.

What Does Minting NFTS Have to Do With the Environment?

The problem with NFTs is that they simply can’t be created without transactions on a blockchain.  

To mint your NFT, you have to pay gas fees and other fees charged by the platform. To bid for NFTs sold by other people, you need to pay. After winning the bid, you’ll need to pay. And lastly, to transfer the ownership – as you can guess already, you’ll need to pay. 

So, each NFT on a blockchain involves plenty of new transactions. That’s where the issue begins. 

How Crypto Mining Is Making the World Warmer 

In the crypto space, there is a term called mining. In simple words, it’s the process of verifying and adding new transactions to the blockchain network. All these are done by miners, who use specialized computers to solve complex mathematical equations required to mine.

Mining is a very energy-consuming process and causes a lot of pollution due to electricity usage. And miners are running their servers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days. Without them, the blockchain network wouldn’t be able to function. 

However, the necessary evil does take a toll on the environment. Miners are typically incentivized to use cheap electricity (like fossil fuels instead of more expensive renewable energy) to maximize profits. Additionally, the process requires a huge amount of computing power which translates to power-hungry servers consuming a lot of electrical energy. 

Both combined together cause a mind-blowing amount of greenhouse gas emissions, including but not limited to CO2. 

On top of everything, the specialized mining servers need to be replaced after every few years creating an enormous amount of e-waste.

In a nutshell, that’s why NFTs are bad for the environment. 

How Much Electricity Does Minting NFTS Consume?

When it comes to minting NFTs, Ethereum is the choice of blockchain for most people. At the same time, the extremely popular platform boasts some really impressive features and functionalities, all that does come at a price. 

Ethereum is currently estimated to consume about 44.94 terawatt-hours of electricity annually. For example, that’s roughly the number of electrical energy countries like Qatar and Hungary consume in a year. Its yearly carbon footprint is equal to approximately 21.35 metric tons, which can be compared to the carbon footprint of Sudan.

Although the process of minting NFTs consumes a lot of energy itself, that’s not where it stops. We must also keep in mind that the fees associated with it and other NFT-related transactions are done with cryptocurrencies.

So, the cost of mining cryptocurrencies is also added to the carbon footprint of NFTs. According to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, the amount of electrical energy it takes to mine Bitcoin in a year is the same as what’s used to power Ukraine, Sweden, or Malaysia annually. 

Recent studies also suggest that the mining of Bitcoin alone will possibly increase the Earth’s temperature by 2 degrees Celcius above record levels if it makes its way to the mainstream technologies. 

While these figures are only for Bitcoin, the picture looks about the same for Ether, the cryptocurrency of the Ethereum network, too.

How Speculations Are Aggravating the Situation

The crypto and NFT space is known to be a very fragile financial environment for investors. Due to a large number of unsophisticated investors and ignorant NFT enthusiasts, the market mainly operates on speculation and supply and demand theory.

That, combined with the wild speculations made by the influential figures, leads to even more greenhouse gas emissions. 

Not so long ago, Tesla announced their $1.5 billion investment in Bitcoin. Shortly after that, Elon Musk – the tech billionaire and CEO of Tesla – tweeted that the company would be accepting Bitcoin payments for their cars. The large following of Musk instantly entered the market and drove up the price to its then all-time high of $58,000.

“Every time Elon Musk tweets about something, the price goes up”, says Brendan McGill, co-founder of carbon offset company Offsetra. 

Indeed. But it may go down too.

When Elon Musk Tweeted that due to environmental concerns, Tesla would stop accepting Bitcoin as payment for their vehicles, the price of Bitcoin fell as fast as it had skyrocketed previously. According to him, the reason behind the decision was that the automaker is considering alternative, environment-friendly cryptocurrencies that use less energy for mining. 

But by that time, the number of miners had already increased drastically to accommodate the huge number of transactions that had been taking place due to the trend fueled by Musk’s tweets. 

The damage was done. 

Now that the bigger infrastructure is here, miners are not just going to dump the new servers into a trashcan. They will be utilizing them to mine more crypto and NFTs – contributing more towards global warming. 

Not All Artists Are Even Aware of the Dark Sides of NFT

Everest Pipkin is a digital artist who has recently started venturing into NFT art. He was excited when his first NFT drop, six pieces of art, were sold out in only 10 seconds on the marketplace Nifty Gateway. 

However, when the artist who had been eco-conscious for a long time asked the marketplace about the CO2 emissions and energy consumption caused by his drop, he didn’t get an answer. So, Pipkin decided to investigate himself.

He was shocked by the findings. As he wrote on his blog, his NFT drop turned out to consume more electrical energy in 10 seconds than the artist’s entire studio in the last two years combined. 

Pipkin was very disappointed by the lack of transparency regarding how much energy minting NFTs consume. 

In our opinion, his disappointment is well-placed. Many artists would never enter the NFT sphere if the said transparency was maintained with everyone. 

That being said, whether an artist should be held morally liable for the environmental damage caused by their NFT drop is a totally different argument.

Speaking of which – 

From a Technical Perspective, Are You Really Responsible for the Emission as an NFT Creator? 

Not necessarily. 

It’s a no-brainer that when you’re minting an NFT using Ethereum or some other blockchain, a hefty amount of carbon emissions would be generated as a side-effect. But what if we tell you it would have happened anyway whether you minted your NFT or not?

Emissions come from mining tokens and crypto, not minting. Miners mine because it’s possible to earn a profit through it, and the more of them there are, the more pollutions we see. When the price of crypto becomes higher (in a Proof-of-Work system), more miners join the blockchain for higher profits. 

Relatively speaking, NFTs still account for a small portion of the transactions that happen through blockchain networks. But to answer the question we started with – the miners would be mining one war or another. 

Explained With a Simple Analogy

As Joseph Pallant – the founder of a nonprofit called Blockchain for Climate Foundation – likes to put it, taking the blame for minting NFTs is similar to calculating how much emission you’re responsible for after taking a commercial plane flight.  

Air traffic produces around 2-3% of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. Planes are extremely polluting, that’s for sure. But do you think if you hadn’t bought the ticket, the seat would have remained empty? Someone else would have just bought it, and the plane would pollute the same amount anyway. 

From that point of view, minting NFTs seems pretty innocent. 

However, it becomes a problem when buying the ticket actually pressures the airline to pollute the environment. But when does that happen?

What Happens When NFTS Become a Trend

Suppose taking a trip to Hawaii has somehow become a trend. 

Everyone, including those who never considered Hawaii a travel destination before, is now flying there. The airline would obviously be forced to allocate more planes for that particular route, hence driving the emissions up. The new, bigger infrastructure with more planes would be polluting the environment much more. 

But that wouldn’t happen if the trend didn’t start. And at this moment, trends and hypes are what’s on in the NFT space. 

Recently, a popular NFT artist named Beeple has sold an NFT artwork for $69 million. When that happened, it took over the internet by storm. Many people who previously hadn’t been into NFTs suddenly turned into NFT enthusiasts since the potential of NFT art was somewhat validated by that sale. Hence, the crypto and NFT space traffic was going through the roof. 

To accommodate the higher number of people minting NFTs or making NFT-related transactions, miners now need to upgrade their infrastructure by increasing the number of servers they use. As you can guess already, the more servers there are, the higher the electricity usage and the amount of emission.

That’s how individual behaviors driven by trends can generate more pollution. 

Can You Measure Your NFT Carbon Footprint With Online Calculators?

If you look for such calculators, chances are good. You’ll find plenty of them online. However, it’s important to note that the calculations are more or less philosophical and may not reflect the actual value.

Because of the decentralized nature of blockchain networks, finding out any particular participant’s carbon footprint is next to impossible because of the lack of a central node. 

Nonetheless, these carbon footprint calculators are a stepping stone towards raising awareness. They also help people understand how much emission may have been caused by the tokens, crypto, and smart contract they have in their wallets. 

Carbon.FYI – An Emissions Calculator for the Ethereum Blockchain Network

It’s an easy-to-use calculator where all you have to do is enter the Ethereum address to know its carbon footprint. 

Ethereum address is also known as contract address, which is usually made available by NFT platforms on each NFT’s individual page. You’ll also find this in your crypto wallet under ERC-721 tokens on the Etherscan page. 

It works for smart contracts as well.

How Clean NFTS Can Be Made Possible: Switching to Proof-Of-Stake From Proof-Of-Work

All blockchain networks use some sort of Consensus Protocol to verify each transaction that takes place on the network. The job of the Consensus Protocol is to review and confirm whether the transaction is authentic or not. If the protocol approves the transaction, it is then added as a record to the blockchain network.

There are many kinds of consensus protocols, among which the most popular two are Proof-of-Work (PoW) and Proof-of-Stake (PoS).

In the Proof-of-Work protocol, the computers of the network are required to solve an arbitrary mathematical puzzle to validate the transaction or mining new NFTs. The mathematical problem-solving part consumes a lot of energy, and the difficulty only gets increased over time. So, it’s not really an environment-friendly method. 

Currently, Ethereum uses Proof-of-Work as the consensus mechanism. 

On the other hand, the Proof-of-Stake model is much greener as the validators don’t have to solve mathematical puzzles in order to verify transactions. Rather, the legitimization of transactions is done by checking how many coins the validator stakes. The coins serve as collateral or guarantor.

When a transaction is made on the blockchain, a randomly selected validator would verify it and be rewarded network transaction fees. 

This way, neither the security of the blockchain network is compromised nor a boatload of energy wasted on computational puzzles. As a result, it has a way smaller carbon footprint. 

Environment-friendly blockchain networks like Tezos already use a PoS consensus mechanism for their sustainability benefits. Ethereum also has plans to switch to PoS in 2022, which would be an absolute game-changer. 

According to Tim Beiko, the coordinator for Ethereum’s protocol developers, the environmental impact of Ethereum would be reduced by a shocking 99% with the use of PoS.

Do NFTS Have a Sustainable Future? 

As we’ve seen so far, NFTs are carbon-intensive digital assets that can have terrible impacts on the environment. Fortunately, quite a few emerging NFT marketplaces and blockchain networks boast a carbon-neutral footprint. 

Understandably, they still aren’t as big as the mainstream Ethereum-based solutions. However, as more and more artists embrace an eco-conscious mindset, the environment-friendly platforms will soon attract investors, collectors, and developers.

Tezos: The Green Blockchain 

Tezos is an open-source blockchain network that uses a Proof-of-Stake consensus model. As they claim, it consumes over two million times less power than Proof-of-Work blockchain networks like Ethereum. 

Since Tezos has a very low carbon footprint, NFT artists and developers can create as many NFTs as they want without worrying about damaging the environment. Instead of making users choose between sustainability and innovation, the environment-friendly approach allows them to have both. 

The best part is that as it’s an open-source network, it’s always evolving and staying ahead of the competitors with the help of its self-amending properties. One notable mention would be the Delphi upgrade which rolled out in 2020, reducing the gas fees by 75%.

All in all, Tezos is paving the way for clean NFTs with its small ecological footprint and significantly lower energy consumption. 

Bubblehouse: The Very First Carbon-Neutral NFT Marketplace

In September last year, the experience NFT (also known as xNFT) pioneer tech startup launched its own NFT marketplace that aims to be the first eco-friendly and accessible marketplace where anyone can buy, sell or trade NFTs without having any in-depth knowledge of NFT or cryptocurrency. 

The marketplace is built on another eco-friendly blockchain network called Polygon, which is way more efficient when compared to the Ethereum blockchain consuming 84810 times less power. To put that into perspective, the creation of an NFT is equivalent to sending 20,750 emails on Ethereum. On the other hand, it’s only 2.5 emails on Polygon. 

The platform doesn’t charge any minting fees for creators. 

Arjun Kalsy, Vice President of growth at Polygon, says that Bubblehouse and Polygon will be working hand in hand in neutralizing the carbon impacts for not only Bubblehouse but the whole blockchain with less than $10,000 spent on offsetting carbon footprint. 

Oneof

The music-focused NFT marketplace has already attracted some famous celebrities like Charlie Puth and Doja Cat. It aims at providing an economical and eco-friendly experience for NFT enthusiasts and music lovers. 

OneOf is built on the previously discussed Tezos blockchain, where minting an NFT requires the same amount of energy used to make a Tweet. In contrast, the same NFT would take a few days’ worths of an average American household’s power consumption to mind. The NFT marketplace has also formed partnerships with various projects working towards a greener future. 

It doesn’t charge the creators any gas fees or minting fees either and allows users to use credit cards to make payments as well as cryptocurrency.

Adam Fell is one of the co-founders of OneOf. He believes that eliminating the gas fees enables artists to sell NFTs at any price they wish, making it financially more rewarding for creators who are just starting out. 

Although the platform believes in empowering musicians through NFTs, they will not own the artworks uploaded, unlike typical record labels. According to Fell, that makes the deal extremely flexible – something we also agree with. 

The Bottom Line

While the environmental impacts of crypto assets have been overlooked for a long time, it’s in the recent interest of both NFT artists and collectors now.

The crypto industry has always faced pressure to make the mining process more environmentally friendly. The only reason there has never been much progress and innovation regarding that until now is that it was never demanded by the people as much as in recent times. 

If the customers develop an eco-conscious mindset towards buying, selling, and collecting NFTs, the industry will innovate necessary solutions to meet the demands. As we’ve seen in this article already, there are already quite a few existing solutions focusing on producing little to no carbon footprint. 

Although only time will tell what the future has in store for us, we wholeheartedly embrace the initiatives taken to make NFTs cleaner and greener. 

Henry Hicks
Henry Hickshttps://nonfungibletalk.com
NFT and Crypto Enthusiast. Loves Travelling and Exploring the Metaverse!
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