Is Bitcoin’s Growth Affecting the Environment?

The growth of bitcoin is fueling speculation and debate about the environmental impact of the collective energy needed to power the virtual currency in the era of climate change. Some questions and answers about the issue:

What Is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is the most popular virtual currency in the world, and it has grown in value this year. It was created in 2009 as a new way of paying for things that would not be subject to central banks that are capable of devaluing currency. The sustainability concerns about bitcoin, voiced by economists and environmentalists, stem from the process of "mining" that is central to its existence.

The "miners" use computers to make complex calculations that verify transactions in bitcoins. This uses a tremendous amount of energy via computers and server farms all over the world, which has given rise to concerns about the amount of fossil fuel-dependent electricity used to power the computers. Some estimates say bitcoin's energy impact is more than that of a small country.

Why Is Bitcoin Attractive?

Bitcoin is a kind of digital money that isn't tied to a bank or a government, and its value has risen swiftly in the second half of 2017. The value of one bitcoin was about $16,500, in late December, compared with about $1,000 in March. The price is also volatile, though, and tailed off somewhat after coming close to $20,000 earlier in December. A bitcoin itself is essentially a line of computer code. It's signed digitally when it goes from one owner to another.

Why Are Critics Concerned About Bitcoin Energy Use?

Bitcoin can't exist without computers, which can't exist without a source of electricity. And the number of computers and the energy needed to power them is rising.

The growing value of bitcoin is directly tied to the amount of energy it uses. The miners unlock...

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