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The staggering environmental cost of blockchain

With bitcoin using more power than Czech Republic, are mined coins sustainable?

bare trees

With enough cryptomining, this is how our planet could look like (via Shutterstock)

Over the last couple of years an argument has ensued regarding the amount of electricity that the Bitcoin network consumes to produce (mine) a coin and ensure the security of its network. Though the electricity itself may be inexpensive in some countries, the environmental cost to produce that needed electricity is building towards insurmountable proportions.

In recent testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Arvind Narayanan stated that assuming “all [Bitcoin] miners use the most energy efficient mining device available on the market” the total energy required by the Bitcoin network is “is slightly under 1% of world electricity consumption.” The key to this figure being accurate is that every miner uses the most efficient mining hardware available all the time. While this is a great theory it does not always follow through in practice. Therefore, it can be concluded that the calculations Mr. Narayanan provide are a best-case scenario and that the results are probably slightly worse than calculated.

Cory Johnson, Ripple’s Chief Market Strategist, recently tweeted an infographic that shows the difference in energy consumption for the BTC, ETH, and XRP networks:

The differences between the networks are visually apparent: BTC uses 68.81TWh (TeraWatt hours) per year, which is the equivalent energy consumption of the entire Czech Republic, versus XRP’s use of 0.01TWh, which is the equivalent energy consumption of a small community in Arizona. Cory Johnson’s statement is seen loud and clear: this matters.

The major issue with Bitcoin energy consumption is that as long as the price of Bitcoin continues to rise, as some analysts expect, more individuals and companies will use even more mining hardware which will require an ever growing requirement for electricity. Many posit that blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) is in its infancy, thus it can be assumed, that as the industry matures and more people become aware of its potential and efficiencies more electric guzzling hardware will be added to the network, not less. Those in the industry have to ask a very important question behind the “this matters” statement: how much does this matter? How much CO2 are we willing to pump into the atmosphere to produce electricity that is used to sustain a single digital network? The environmental stakes couldn’t be higher.

As seen in the infographic, the amount of energy consumption for the XRP Ledger (XRPL) is significantly lower than those of BTC and ETH, however, the network still leaves a carbon footprint that many would like to see non-existent.

There may be no way to curb the amount of electricity used and CO2 released into the atmosphere by the XRPL but there is a way to offset all the CO2 released allowing the XRPL to be considered carbon-neutral: planting trees.

@WanderingWare has partnered with OneTreePlanted.org in an attempt to plant enough trees to offset the carbon output from the electricity production needed to operate the XRPL. One Tree Planted works with planting partners in North America, Latin America, Asia, and Africa to plant trees in areas that have been deforested. The trees they plant help the local and global environment and, in some instances, provide an income for families in the area if the trees planted bear fruits or nuts. One Tree Planted states that every two seconds a forest area the size of a football field is destroyed by human means. This equates to over 80,000 acres of trees and forests being cut, burned, or otherwise destroyed, every day.

Through One Tree Planted we, as a global community, have the opportunity to renew and revitalize our forests. As the XRP Community we can work together to offset the harmful effects of CO2 emissions that stem from the use of the XRPL network. For every tree planted 50 pounds (22 kg) of CO2 will be absorbed from the atmosphere every year. This means that to offset the carbon footprint of the XRPL 427,273 trees will need to be planted. At $1 per tree, the XRPL can be carbon-neutral for less than $500,000.

Compare these numbers to the BTC network: almost 3 billion trees would need to be planted at the current network hash rate.

As of November 2, 2018, the XRP Community has generously donated enough XRP and cash to plant 1,071 trees through the #XRPTree project being led by @WanderingWare. There is still a long way to go and you can help! @WanderingWare accepts XRP donations, converts them to fiat, and forwards the money to One Tree Planted. Additionally, you can donate directly to One Tree Planted using the XRP Tree project page located here.

The XRPL could be the first carbon-neutral blockchain/DLT network in existence and would prove to the world that those involved with XRP are not only concerned about the financial health of the world but that they are also concerned about the world’s environmental health. The potential impact of the XRP Tree Project could send ripples through an industry that is currently being looked at as a looming environmental disaster. Instead of being drain on environmental resources, the XRPL, and the Community that supports it, would be viewed as the standard-bearer for environmental sustainability in an age of technological advancement.

The XRP Community can prove that this exciting and innovative technology can also be environmentally sustainable. The XRP Community has encouraged Ripple and those who operate validators on the network to participate in this project and has stated that a donation to One Tree Planted could ensure the carbon-neutrality of the XRPL for generations to come.

(For more information please visit the XRP Tree project page with One Tree Planted, or, contact @WanderingWare on Twitter.)

Orlando Buck is a supporter of filterofhope.org and a blockchain enthusiast.

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