Check the context before uncritically accepting sensationalist conclusions.
Let’s start with a primer on how to write a sensationalist story that can be passed off as “journalism:”
1. Locate credible-sounding data that can be de-contextualized, i.e. sensationalized.
2. Present the data as “fact” rather than data that requires verification by disinterested researchers.
3. Exaggerate the data as much as possible and set the tone and context with emotionally laden words: “shocking,” etc.
4. Select a context that sensationalizes the conclusion.
Now let’s take a look at a story that has been swallowed whole, with little to no fact-checking or disinterested inquiry: bitcoin’s electrical consumption, i.e. the electricity consumed by mining/maintaining bitcoin’s blockchain.
Let’s start by stipulating that energy consumption is a consequential matter worthy of serious inquiry. It’s important to measure the energy consumption of all the systems that operate within the current status quo, and compare the consumption levels of these systems.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the story.
Right off the bat, the context we’re offered to grasp the enormity of bitcoin’s mining consumption is the electrical consumption of Nigeria, a nation, we’re breathlessly informed, with 186 million residents. Wow! That’s a crazy amount of electrical consumption, right?
Let’s do some very basic fact-checking before we accept sensationalist conclusions, shall we?
Nigeria consumes about 24 billion kWh annually, while the U.S. consumes 3,913 billion kWh annually.
So Nigeria uses 3/5th of 1% (0.6%) of the electricity the U.S. consumes.
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