The AtlanticThe Atlantic

Crypto is mostly over. Its carbon emissions are not

By Emma Marris

22 Mar 2023 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

Conventionally, the computing power needed for crypto mining has generated extremely high carbon emissions. Will this now change, following the crypto crash? The Atlantic discusses this question.

At this point, for most of us, cryptocurrency seems like nothing more than a fad. After the FTX bankruptcy and broader crypto crash last year, basically all of the celebrities who were promoting crypto have gone silent. “MiamiCoin,” hyped by Miami Mayor Francis Suarez as a new source of income for the city, is now worthless. The Wild West days of the industry may be over. Recently, the head of the SEC warned crypto firms to “do their work within the bounds of the law” or face enforcement actions. Lots of people lost money in the crash, but from the planet’s perspective, the industry’s downfall is good news: The computing power fueling the crypto boom was so substantial that it was causing substantial greenhouse-gas emissions.

And yet crypto’s greenhouse-gas emissions are still shockingly high, according to an industry tracker run by the University of Cambridge. The tracker focuses on bitcoin, the cryptocurrency with by far the largest market share, and estimates that at its current rate of “mining” new coins, bitcoin will release about 62 megatons of “carbon-dioxide equivalent” each year—about as much as the entire country of Serbia emitted in 2019. That’s up from about 43 megatons a year in December, and just slightly below the all-time peak of nearly 74 in May 2021. Many people who’ve invested in crypto tend to have a lot of sunk costs, whether digital wallets bulging with various coins, tokens, or expensive physical setups designed to make more. Even now that the boom times are over, they have no reason to stop.

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