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New York Times

NFTs sell millions of dollars. Are they also warming the earth?

When Austrian architect and artist Chris Precht first learned about non-fungible tokens that dominate the world of art, he was so absorbed in it that he “feels like a little kid again.” As a result, Precht, known for his research on ecological architecture, was devastated when he learned that the artwork known as NFTs had an environmental footprint as amazing as the gold rush frenzy. .. “The numbers are skyrocketing,” he announced from his studio in Pfarrwerfen, Austria, that he would cancel his plans. .. “I can’t do it as much as it hurts financially and mentally.” Sure, sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times Financial. Last month, an art montage transformed into an NFT by a digital artist known as Beeple sold for over $ 69 million at Christie’s online auction. (Also last month, an NFT created from the New York Times tech column sold for over $ 500,000 and the proceeds went to the Times-affiliated charity Neediest Cases Fund.) However, Precht’s own calculations show that it’s 300. The digital art he planned to sell for the item (100 each of the three artworks) burned with the same amount of power that the average European would use in 20 years, he said in an Instagram video at the end of last month. Said in. (Warming) What is it in the world? NFTs are artwork that is stamped with a unique code string and stored in a virtual ledger called a blockchain. Viral marketing, arrogance, and perhaps some pandemic ennui have fueled an explosive increase in interest in the NFT market, raising the price of digital artwork to fantastic levels. However, blockchain technology, which forms the basis of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, emits large amounts of greenhouse gases. In a nutshell, when an artist uploads a work of art and clicks a button to “mint” it, she or he begins a process called mining. This includes complex puzzles, great computing power, and enormous energy. This is because Ethereum, the platform of choice for NFT, uses a method called Proof of Work to create digital assets such as non-fungible tokens. To successfully add assets to the blockchain master ledger, miners must compete to solve crypto puzzles. Computers rapidly generate numbers in a fierce competition of trial and error. As of mid-April, miners were attempting to produce more than 170 billion new blocks per second, according to trading platform (5,000 trillion is 1 followed by 18 zeros.) The first miner to reach the correct answer is the winner and adds his assets to the blockchain. The system is deliberately designed to be tedious to make it seemingly transparent and competitive, and to prevent fraud. Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency, also uses an energy-intensive proof of work model. Estimates backed by independent researchers show that creating an average NFT is an amazing environment of over 200 kilograms of global warming carbon, equivalent to driving 500 miles on a typical American petrol car. I have a footprint. Other attempts to calculate blockchain energy usage have also reached huge numbers. Researchers at the University of Cambridge estimate that Bitcoin mining uses more electricity than countries such as Argentina, Sweden and Pakistan as a whole. A recently published treatise in Nature Communications warned that crypto mining in China could fall below national climate targets if left unchecked. “We know it’s difficult to understand,” said Susanne Koehler, a lifecycle analysis expert at Aalborg University in Denmark, who conducted lifecycle analysis for blockchain technology. “Suddenly it consumes so much energy with the click of a button or just a few words.” What makes the problem even worse is the growing interest in blockchain and more. It was that as people started mining, solving puzzles became more competitive and more difficult. “Therefore, it doesn’t improve energy efficiency over time like other technologies,” she said. “Unless energy contains carbon, the impact on emissions will be significant.” This is not the first time the art world has addressed its role in climate change. Concerns about funding fossil fuels at the museum have led some to choose to end their lucrative oil company sponsorship. However, NFTs are particularly controversial. The hype about digital tokens has been seen by many small artists as the long-awaited shot to ultimately earn more exposure, awareness, and serious money for their work. “Why do little guys get a foothold,” said Gareth Stangroom, a designer also known as @fire_hydrant_man, in response to Precht’s announcement: Have you abused our planet for decades? Joanie Remercier, a French artist known for his futuristic light sculptures, was one of the first to delve into the environmental impact of NFTs. He had just released six tokenized videos inspired by the regular polyhedron snapped by the buyer. However, he heard that there was a growing sense of caution about Bitcoin’s energy use. It was worried about him. Remercier is also involved in climate change activities and aims to break away from coal. He relied on calculation engineer and artist Memo Akten to perform some of the first NFT-specific calculations and posted them on a site named “In the last two years, we’ve found six crypto artwork releases that consumed 10 seconds more than the entire studio,” Lemercier wrote on his website. He said he has put a future NFT release on hold. “Even thinking about continuing that practice felt crazy.” “It’s a really big boom and prices are crazy, but you can’t continue this way,” Lemercier said. I will. “So I feel like I have a very limited amount of time to make as much money as possible. That’s why many people are dismissing the effects of this energy.” Fallout is widespread. Last month, the art app ArtStation canceled the drop of NFTs from a group of popular artists just hours after its announcement, after a backlash over its environmental impact. “It’s clear that this isn’t the right time,” ArtStation said. “I hope that at some point in the future we will be able to find a fair and ecologically sound solution.” There was a backlash against environmental problems. In a recent post on Medium titled “No, CryptoArtists are not harming the planet,” the NFT trading platform Super Rare claimed to be a misunderstanding about the token emission footprint. Blockchains like Ethereum were like trains running all day, and transactions were like train seats. Therefore, they argued that NFTs do not add emissions. It’s like a train keeps running regardless of the number of passengers. However, the Dutch data scientist Alex de Vries, whose site Digiconomist is tracking the sustainability of digital currencies, said the analogy was not maintained. “If one person doesn’t fly, it might not make a difference,” deVries said, using a slightly different analogy. “But when many people fly, they emit more from flight.” Given the huge carbon footprint from NFTs, some platform promises to invest in carbon offsets are skeptical. It is a target. I should say it. “Don’t worry! Freelance illustrator Bleached Rainbows said on Twitter that” paying for carbon offsets “sets a fire in the house and puts potted plants on the burned land as” compensation. ” He said it was the same. Ethereum says it is reducing its footprint by moving to another model called the “Proof of Stake.” With this model, miners do not have to compete to add assets to the blockchain. The new model instead rewards miners based on the amount of cryptocurrency they already own, significantly reducing computational work and thus associated emissions. But since the idea was announced a few years ago, Ethereum has been vague about when the changes will actually take place. Dunclad Feist, a researcher at the Ethereum Foundation, a non-profit organization that uses the Switch network, said the effort would take another six to twelve months. “Switching to Proof of Stake is not an easy task for networks that are already valued at hundreds of billions of dollars, so unfortunately we can’t do that overnight, otherwise obstacles. There is an increased risk of this occurring, “said Feist. “I’m very impatient about this and I’m trying to drive the merge as much as possible without overly compromising Ethereum’s security.” Several small NFT platforms, including one known as Hic Et Nunc. Has already begun using Proof of Stakes and is fascinated by artists like Lemercier. By reducing the required number of reductions, Hic Et Nunc does more than just reduce energy consumption. Also, according to Rafael Lima, founder of Hic Et Nunc, we are trying to roll back the cost of listing NFTs. This can reach hundreds of dollars. “This is a more efficient algorithm,” he said. This article was originally published in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company