Blockchain and unintended environmental costs

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by Lumai Mubanga

Has blockchain adoption brought environmental degradation?

Blockchain technology is just rising and its full wider adoption is yet a few years from now. This technology has brought a lot of hope for a number of businesses whose solutions lies in its adoption. As a disruptive technology undergoing wider adoption, there are many more positive ramifications along its path.

However, could there be some unintended consequences of using Blockchain, more so on a wider scale? Could there be a balance between adopting technology and its unintended consequences that we may not be talking about, especially with regard to the environment?  This article will briefly take that perspective. But first, let’s review some positive humanitarian scores so far.

Blockchain and its Humanitarian Scores

The positive ramification of adopting Blockchain is well knowns especially the most positive impact on communities. Perfect examples include its use in tracing end to end the mining and trading of conflict minerals. Blockchain has brought sanity to this trade with increased clean income for affected countries. Reports of warlords controlling these resources and the capture of women and children in these illegal mines seem to be getting under control.

Next, Blockchain has had a huge impact in assisting refugees in war tone countries. Be it assisting with national identities or the delivery of the much-needed relief funds that could have gone missing due to corruption. No one can deny these are huge achievements on the humanitarian side of tackling complex challenges facing humanity today.

Unintended ramifications

Besides personal loses on an individual level like personal finances and privacy, could there be a bigger picture that we need to focus on? For example, a 2017 estimate reported that bitcoin mining electricity consumption exceeded the power production of 159 individual countries! – about 30 Terawatt hour! Imagine how many light bulbs can be lit by so much electric energy, just spent in mining cryptocurrency! Or how many industrial processes could be supported by such an enormous amount of energy. Bearing in mind that a lot of mining farms are in China, and China relies heavily on burning coal to generate electricity, how much of the environment has been polluted?  Besides, if these are statistics just for bitcoin, what about other Blockchain processes encompassing other mining activities on the Blockchain?

The second unintended ramification is noise pollution in areas surrounding mining farms.  In 2018, a company in Norway had to receive bomb threats to force it to control its noise pollution in the area. This goes to show just how much environmental risks are at play in mining crypto and supporting various blockchain endeavours.

In another related report, A Bitcoin mining plant believed to be one of the biggest in the world triggered a barrage of noise complaints in the neighbourhood. The noise was coming from the 90 roof fans mounted to combat the heat generated in the mining processes. The heat is said to have increased after the company increased its number of computers involved in mining to about 33,000!

If these noise pollution incidents are only as a result of bitcoin mining at most, how much can we expect if blockchain-related processes are widely adopted and implemented?

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