Bitcoin has recently been in the news for hitting an all-time high value. Although it has dipped since then, it has only grown since its introduction in 2009. It is the first and most popular cryptocurrency there is, and the recent growth has fuelled speculation and debate about the environmental impact that this is having, due to the large amount of energy that it uses in order to power this virtual currency.
Bitcoin is not tied to a bank or government, and has significantly increased in value in the last year alone. Essentially, it is a line of computer code that can be signed digitally when it goes from one owner to another.
The concern for the environment stems from the fact that Bitcoin cannot exist without computers, which in turn cannot exist without an electricity source. The number of computers that are needed is rising significantly, thanks to the growing value.
Miners will unlock Bitcoins by solving complex and unique puzzles – as the value increases, the puzzles become more difficult, and require more computer power to solve them. It has been estimated that more than 60 percent of the processing power used to mine Bitcoin is in China, where it relies heavily on the burning of coal. Coal is a significant contributor to manmade climate change as it produces carbon dioxide when it burns.
It has been suggested that if Bitcoin miners are using the most efficient machines possible, they could be using 13 terawatt hours, which is about as much as the entire country of Slovenia. These are based on them using the lowest amount of energy possible, but more generous estimates suggest that they could be using as much energy as Ireland, and the problem is only getting worse.
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