Climate campaign pushes Bitcoin network to ditch power-intensive code


Greenpeace and other environmental groups today launched a new campaign to push the Bitcoin network to reduce its growing greenhouse gas emissions. The goal of the campaign, dubbed “Changing the Code, Not the Climate,” is to change the time-consuming process of verifying transactions and mining new bitcoins.

According to the Cambridge Center for Alternative Finance, cryptocurrency uses more electricity each year than global gold mining operations or the entire Norwegian country. Burning so much energy generates serious greenhouse gas emissions, but campaign organizers argue that it doesn’t have to be. Other cryptocurrencies use only a fraction of the energy required by Bitcoin because they use a different system to verify transactions.

In order to validate transactions, Bitcoin miners rely on specialized hardware to solve complex puzzles. Their computers gobble up a lot of energy in the process, and the miners receive new tokens in return. It’s a process called “proof of work,” where the energy used is sort of the price paid to verify transactions. The process is deliberately energy-intensive as a safety measure. The built-in inefficiency aims to discourage bad actors from manipulating the data, as it would cost a lot of energy to do so.

The new campaign aims to steer Bitcoin away from this energy-intensive proof-of-work process. The most popular alternative is called proof of stake. Cryptocurrencies that use proof of stake use much less energy because there are no puzzles to solve. Instead of basically paying with electricity to participate in the process, you have to offer some of your own tokens. This is supposed to prove that you have an “interest” in maintaining the accuracy of the ledger. If you mess up anything, you lose tokens as a penalty.

While proof of stake could solve many of Bitcoin’s pollution problems, experts have been skeptical of miners’ willingness to make the switch. Miners invest a lot in their hardware and would find it hard to give it up. And some proof-of-work fans argue that it’s the most secure way to maintain the ledger.

“We know Bitcoin stakeholders have an incentive not to change,” the campaign acknowledges on its website. “Changing Bitcoin would render a lot of expensive infrastructure worthless, which means Bitcoin stakeholders will have to move away from sunk costs – or find other creative solutions.”

Either way, campaign organizers are trying to enlist big names in tech to help ramp up the pressure on Bitcoin miners to make the switch. “Leaders like Tesla’s Elon Musk, Block’s Jack Dorsey, and Fidelity’s Abby Johnson have vested interests in Bitcoin — and the power to affect change,” the campaign website reads.

The website implores visitors to tweet at Musk, Dorsey and Johnson in support of the campaign. The campaign also includes new ads in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, MarketWatch, Politicsand on Facebook.

“No matter what you think of Bitcoin, pushing those with the power to secure a code change will make our planet and our communities safer from the destructive effects of climate change,” said Tefere Gebre, program manager at Greenpeace USA, in a press release.

Bitcoin has gotten even dirtier since China banned it in 2021. The world’s largest mining hub is now the United States, where miners have breathed new life into coal and gas-fired power plants at the retirement and ageing.


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