Correction: Bitcoin Carbon Footprint History

BERLIN (AP) – In a June 13 article on Bitcoin’s carbon footprint, The Associated Press falsely reported that the electricity needed for a Bitcoin transaction emits 100 times as much CO2 as a credit card payment. It’s a hundred thousand times that much.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Researcher: Bitcoin’s carbon footprint is the same as Las Vegas

Researchers calculate that the electricity required for the virtual currency Bitcoin generates as much carbon dioxide as cities like Las Vegas or Hamburg


Associated press

BERLIN (AP) – The virtual currency Bitcoin is responsible for the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions as a city like Las Vegas or Hamburg, and efforts to reduce its climate footprint should be considered, researchers said Thursday.

A study by researchers from the Technical University of Munich and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined how much electricity computers that generate bitcoins and process transactions use.

In an article in Joule magazine, the researchers said they then combined the results with CO2 emissions from power generation in the countries where the computers were located.

They concluded that the entire Bitcoin network was responsible for 22-22.9 million tons of CO2 per year at the end of 2018 – similar to a large western city or an entire developing country like Sri Lanka. Total global emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels were around 37 billion tons last year.

“There are larger factors that contribute to climate change,” says Christian Stoll, one of the study’s authors. “However, the carbon footprint is large enough to discuss the possibility of regulating cryptocurrency mining in regions where electricity generation is particularly carbon-intensive.”

The researchers said that about 68% of the computing power used to create or mine bitcoins is in Asia, 17% in Europe, and 15% in North America.

Alex de Vries, a Bitcoin researcher who was not involved in the study, asked whether the method for determining the location of computers was reliable enough.

But de Vries said the emissions numbers were in line with those he had calculated using a different method and could possibly even be on the lower end.

“The people in this study were very conservative on the energy side,” he told the Associated Press.

The environmental impact of Bitcoin, the main virtual currency, has long been a cause for concern, especially given its limited distribution.

Last year, the Bitcoin network processed around 81 million transactions, compared to 500 billion transactions processed by the regular global banking system, de Vries said.

“If you look at the carbon footprint per transaction, that’s where the real shock is,” said de Vries, estimating it at around 271 kilograms of CO2 per transaction – or several hundred thousand times more than a normal credit card payment. “That’s crazy.”

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