March 2021 | What does Bitcoin have to do with climate change?

I'm a mere commoner looking to make climate action easy for commoners like me. And Bitcoin... feels like the opposite of peasant knowledge. However, the climate movement would have looked so different if we were all proactive about curbing emissions 30 years ago, so I'm being courageous and breaking down the planetary impact of Bitcoin for you (tbh, for me).

I'll explain the bare minimum of what you need to know about Bitcoin/cryptocurrency, but I'll mainly focus on the pros and cons of what people are saying.

First, some Soapbox resources, events, and opportunities:

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Read | What is Bitcoin and why does it matter?

For today's reading, you can choose this academic paper (surprisingly easy to understand) or this BBC article (much easier with less detail). If you don't have time, I've got you covered on the basics.

What the heck is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a type of cryptocurrency. Here's a cryptocurrency explainer for kids (I needed it), but the basic idea is that it's a secure, verifiable, digital alternative to cash money.


All you need to know for today is that the "verifiable" part of crypto is what makes it relevant to sustainability.


Why does it matter to climate change?

You acquire Bitcoin by "mining" it digitally. Let's use gold as an example — gold miners had to expend time, money, and energy to find and extract hidden nuggets.

Now lets imagine that the tools used to mine and verify the legitimacy of the gold consumed more power than your house, and the more gold you mined, the harder your miners had to work, and the more energy they consumed.

Bitcoin matters to climate change because it consumes a huge amount of energy, and the energy per transaction will continue to increase.


How bad is it, really?

From the sources above and a few more linked, here are some quick facts:



Is it all bad?

I'm honestly still grappling with this, but the most compelling argument in favor of Bitcoin is that people want to make money off of it, existing energy is too expensive, so it incentivizes the production of solar energy. I'll share sources when I find something more credible than blog posts.

My take (for now) is that Bitcoin is net negative, but there are so many other types of cryptocurrency like Ethereum acknowledging the planetary impacts of crypto technology and surfacing solutions. I need to learn more about why people are obsessed with Bitcoin and only Bitcoin when it seems like there are "better" cryptos out there. Stay tuned (or tell me the answer)!

Listen | Why exactly does Bitcoin use so much energy?

Two things stood out from the questions I received this week:

  1. It's still confusing how Bitcoin & blockchain (the technology it's powered by) actually works
  2. We want to know if all cryptocurrency is bad for the environment and if there's better alternatives to Bitcoin

My goal this week is to give you enough crypto knowledge to truly grasp its climate implications. I'm going to link and summarize one ~2 minute video for each question.

Video 1: Blockchain quick explainer

Video 2: Bitcoin & cryptocurrency validation

Act | Choose your own adventure: crypto edition

A little bit of context before we dive into today's actions: you'll see the acronym "NFT" thrown around. It's a little different than Bitcoin (quick overview article here and 5-min video here) but the issues are the same, so I'm not going to explain further.

Below are 3 levels of actions you can take based on how familiar you are with blockchain/crypto/Bitcoin/NFTs. Choose a level and get started!

Bonus: If you're an energy researcher OR a developer creating open source solutions, you could win a bounty for researching/creating a more ecologically friendly token. What a time to be an eco-friendly bounty hunter.

Reflect | Can bitcoin's daddy save us?

For our REFLECT module, I'm sharing something sent in by a reader (thanks Tiffany!) on the positive aspects of blockchain tech.

This case study comes from Provenance, a platform empowering brands to make the sourcing and impact behind their products transparent. Their blockchain story takes place in the Indonesian fishing industry, where slavery and human rights abuses are rampant. Get the full case study here.


Quick note: if you're reading the case study, you might benefit from starting at the bottom — there's a glossary of definitions.


4 highlights on using blockchain for social & environmental sustainability:


My biggest takeaway: I'm concerned that Bitcoin's negative planetary impact will give blockchain tech a bad name. This case study has really powerful implications — imagine if we could do the same for fashion company supply chains, food, and more! We would finally be able to see what really goes on, prevent human rights abuses, and know which companies are truly radically transparent without relying on their word.


That's it for today — this wraps up our Bitcoin content for March! I'm going to do a quick video recap for our community of everything we covered this month. Hope to see you there.

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 4,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google