The near vertical rise and fall in price of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin in recent months has been accompanied by reporting about the energy used to run the Bitcoin network. The amount is enormous, more than enough to supply the entire country of Ireland.
Many other cryptocurrencies operate under less energy-intensive designs. But the more than 1,000 other digital coins beyond Bitcoin certainly use a considerable amount of energy though there is no overall estimate I’m aware of. (For the technically minded, here is a discussion of two popular methods associated with validating transactions, one of which is considerably less energy-intensive.)
We’d like to think that the information economy of which these newfangled currencies are part bears lightly on the broader environment. But as I pointed out in my piece “The Unbearable Lightness of Information,” much of what happens in the information economy is simply focused on extracting more resources more quickly to create more goods and services for more customers. The physical economy isn’t disappearing. It is merely being exploited more completely using digital information.
And beyond this, “Every person who works in the so-called information sector of the economy must be housed, clothed, schooled, provided transportation, provisioned with household goods, given opportunities for entertainment and recreation, [and] supplied with a wide array of public services.”
Having said all this, I find one aspect of the blockchain technology behind the explosion in digital currencies to be promising. This technology offers a possible path for decentralizing banking and finance and myriad other Internet-related services we’ve come to rely on from big corporations.
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