Despite the opportunities non-fungible tokens have offered digital artists, creators, traders, and collectors, they have come under criticism for their alleged impact on the environment occasioned by minting and blockchain transactions. These tokens have become increasingly popular owing to the ongoing creation of the metaverse and some of the iconic sales made in the recent past.
Most environmentalists and climate change advocates have called for crypto and NFT companies to be wary of the environment. The tokens leave carbon footprints with negative impacts. Robbie Barrat, popularly known as Videodrome, even halted his digital creation career citing environmental concerns despite being one of the best NFT artists at the moment, which explains just how serious some people are about the ecological impacts of NFTs. He chose to walk away from a successful career, making over 13 million dollars just from 41 NFT pieces.
This article will delve deeper into the energy consumption of NFTs and the environmental impacts surrounding these digital assets. Can anything be done?
NFTs, Energy Consumption and Carbon Footprints
NFTs have been around since the advent of CryptoKitties, which are scarce tokens going for incredibly high prices. Most of these creations are minted, and the seller recovers the fees during purchases. An example of an NFT purchase is Christie’s iconic auction, which saw Beeple sell a collection for $69 million, the highest price ever paid for a single digital artwork.
However, enormous carbon footprints lie behind these values and transactions as NFTs depend on blockchains driven by high energy requirements. Bitcoin faced a similar issue since they also use the same blockchain. The massive carbon footprint comes from the combustion of fossil fuels needed to provide the required energy, worsened by the fact that most people prefer proof of work blockchains, such as Ethereum. The use of Ethereum promotes minting, an extremely energy-intensive computer function.
These special mining computers sequentially guess combinations to a string of random digits, known as the digital lock. Note that any computer that makes the correct guess gets a reward in the form of Ether, a popular cryptocurrency. The lock then resets after 15 seconds, bringing back the random guessing process by the computers. It is estimated that Ethereum consumes over 31-terawatt-hours of electricity annually, large enough to power a country with over 60 million people. This is quite scary, given that it is not the only blockchain in existence.
Industry leaders and climate change advocates haven’t calculated NFT markets, platforms, and the entire industry’s contribution to Ethereum’s emissions. Still, we know that these tokens are major contributors. Things may go out of hand as the demand for NFTs keeps increasing, making buyers and sellers contribute to the already high Ethereum’s energy use.
An analysis of 18000 tokens by renowned digital artist Memo Atken revealed that one NFT has an average carbon footprint similar to the monthly electricity requirement for an ordinary person living in Europe. These figures can also be accredited to other processes such as sales, transfers, biddings, and canceling of NFTs, which are pretty common.
Environmental Impacts of NFTs
We want you to see both sides of these tokens, not just the rosy ones. As we mentioned, NFTs and Bitcoins have similar traits stemming from their energy usage and standard emissions. It is estimated that Bitcoin, the most valuable cryptocurrency, is responsible for 38 million tons of Carbon (IV) Oxide released to the atmosphere annually. This value is higher than the carbon footprints of states such as Slovakia, with an estimated population of 6 million. Bitcoin’s daily carbon footprint equals 57 000 hours of Youtube Videos, which is outrageous.
Moving away from bitcoins, the amount of energy NFT minting requires has made people resort to cheaper energy sources such as non-renewable fossil fuels to create more profit. An example of fossil fuel is coal, which negatively impacts the environment, such as ground-level ozone, particulate emissions, acid rains, and smog. It thus contributes to air pollution through fly ash particle releases.
Apart from the fuel and energy used, the technology applied is an essential point of consideration. Production and recycling of all the hardware needed for minting NFTs require lots of energy, which is unsuitable for the environment. Mining also requires specialized computers with a limited timeframe owing to the nature and quantity of work they are subjected to, leading to an increase in non-biodegradable (electronic) waste that can harm the environment.
Ecological Friendliness: Can We Make the NFT Industry Sustainable?
The biggest question from the above discussion is whether NFTs can be sustainable or not. Several experts believe that everything is possible, and with the right interventions, NFTs will be more sustainable in the future. This is quite promising, especially now that Ethereum is heeding to calls and moving away from proof of work to proof of state mechanism for blockchain security and transaction verification, a move believed to increase the sustainability of these digital tokens.
Non-fungible tokens will also be sustainable if the number of blockchain transactions falls sharply. However, this does not translate to limiting people from creating, buying, or selling assets; instead, creating a second layer will ensure that the blockchain only records select transactions. Transactions on layer two are compounded and resolved away from the chain, only to be registered later as a single transaction, improving the efficiency of these blockchains.
We can also achieve sustainability by shifting to more efficient blockchains such as Flow. Marketplaces such as NBA’s Top Shots, a Dapper Labs invention that allows people to acquire, sell and trade unique licensed video highlights, have already joined the bandwagon and are currently enjoying the low computing power and subsequent lower emissions. This is an excellent way to make money off the blockchain while minding the environment.
Even with these two sustainability measures, our world still depends on fossil fuels, meaning that NFTs and crypto will always be an environmental hazard, causing global warming. All in all, several companies, developers, and players in the NFT industry have tried to remedy this situation through several measures covered in the next part of our article.
Efforts Taken to Reduce the Environmental Impacts of NFTs by Different Industry Players.
We have seen a few efforts by different stakeholders, including artists, in reducing the carbon emissions and high power consumption occasioned by the NFT trade. These include:
1. Withdrawal by Artists
Artists have begun reconsidering if it is worthy to pursue NFT creation and trade at the expense of the environment. Recently, Joanie Lemercier, a renowned French Digital artist, decided to take down six artworks and stop their sale after discovering that the amount of power required to drive the sale could power Joanie’s studio for a full two years.
Chris Precht, a famous Australian artist, and architect, also weighed in on the carbon footprint saga, confirming that he halted plans to sell three art pieces after calculating the energy needed to power the transactions and discovering that it was higher than his 20-year electricity usage.
We also witnessed withdrawals and cessations during the Bitcoin craze era. Billionaire tech boss Elon Musk halted crypto payment at Tesla due to the effect crypto mining has on the environment. However, this is not a permanent solution and may not be viable since some artists find NFTs convenient and easily accessible. One cannot ask all artists to avoid minting and selling NFTs to reduce carbon footprints when the number of people traveling in jets and airplanes keeps increasing. This will be akin to asking people to use the road and other means of transport apart from air vessels.
2. Public Uproar and Participation
Some factions have resorted to condemning upcoming marketplaces, forcing them to rethink their entry into an industry actively contributing to staggering amounts of carbon emissions. Artstation, a platform that allows digital artists to showcase their creations fell victim to this widespread condemnation.
Soon after announcing that it had built a marketplace as was planning a launch, social media users embarked on a widespread castigation that saw the company halt its plans. Shortly afterward, the company released a statement in their magazine apologizing for the emotions evoked and promising to take some time for in-depth reflection. However, it is clear from their announcement that they may make a comeback once an equitable and ecologically sound solution has been reached.
Even though this is not a long-lasting measure to reduce the carbon emissions by NFTs since some companies may brush off a public outcry, it is a step in the right direction as the possibility of extreme global warming become clearer. Other industry players such as Michael Bouhanna have reiterated that they offset the blockchain regardless of their undertakings to impact the environment positively.
Apart from the witnessed uproars, the entire NFT community remains highly supportive of carbon imprints reduction partly because artists, the greatest beneficiaries of NFTs, have shown to be climate-conscious. However, some people believe that this is not enough, and the buck stops at coming up with a Blockchain that consumes significantly fewer amounts of electricity.
3. Use of Newer Technologies
NFTs are highly receptive to technology, explaining why they are intertwined with the metaverse, a virtual world most proponents believe will revolutionize the internet. New technologies have helped some marketplaces manage the carbon footprint headache, which remains a highly controversial issue. Sidechains were developed to respond to the increasing environmental concerns surrounding NFTs, and unlike regular chains, they use lesser amounts of energy to process non-fungible tokens. They offer a better and more centralized platform for transactions, saving on costs and carbon footprints.
Damien Hirst, a famous British digital artist and art collector, had plans to release The Currency Project, a group of select NFTs with the help of Palm sidechain. You must have also seen or read about self-destructing NFTs, which are programmed to destroy themselves when the global temperature reaches a particular mark. Developers and platforms are becoming more creative by leveraging technology to rectify the invigorating carbon footprints emitted by these unique tokens.
The technological inventions to combat the increasing amount of NFT carbon footprints are pleasing to watch. It shows that industry leaders and developers are rallying behind a common course- to protect the environment by reducing carbon footprints. We can achieve the fight against the environmental impacts of NFTs by employing ecologically friendly computing and mining technologies. We have already seen companies inventing devices that can measure a single wallet’s carbon emissions, thus encouraging accountability.
4. Ethereum 2.0
Even though this hasn’t been released yet, it promises to help lower the quantity of carbon emissions on the planet occasioned by NFT trading and minting. Note that a transaction on Ethereum Blockchain takes up the same amount of power a household uses in one and a half days. How much carbon do you think the daily transactions on Ethereum based platforms such as Open Sea produce?
Ethereum 2.0 is set to come out in 2022 to respond to the growing call for companies to act on the increasing NFT carbon footprint. Most industrialists and experts believe that it will make a massive difference by widening the blockchain’s existing pipe, limiting the number of users, and lowering the costs required to mint an NFT. This blockchain will have lower fees and fewer carbon footprints. NFT creators can also expe t increased NFT values. It’s just a matter of time to confirm whether this is true or not.
5. Carbon Offsets/Credits
Other NFT companies have become involved by selling carbon offsets meant to counter the increasing carbon emissions. The funds received are injected into conservation projects. Each carbon credit resembles a tonne of carbon saved or prevented from rising to the atmosphere. Offsetra, one of the companies championing for a reduction in the carbon footprints and energy consumption by NFTs, developed impressive carbon credits and an emissions calculator for determining the quantity of emissions in Ethereum wallets.
One of the most successful NFT marketplaces after Open Sea, Nifty Gateway organized eight carbon-free/negative NFTs auctions receiving over 60 carbon credits in return. It only worked because everyone involved understood and accepted that carbon could be locked away forever, mostly in trees. Beeple, a significant champion of environmental conversation took, is known for the iconic $69 million NFT sales whose payment was channeled to a charity project. He participated in the event, selling carbon-friendly artwork and raising money for the Open Earth Foundation to help in the creation of environmentally friendly Blockchain technology.
This event also served as a commitment by the participating artists, who agreed to reduce their historical carbon footprint and better the climate.
6. Raising Awareness
Artists have been raising awareness on sustainable alternatives that consume less energy and attract a reduced carbon footprint. Most of these can be used instead of Ethereum, which most people describe as a wasteful network owing to its proof of work chain. However, transition to other chains is still problematic given that most of them are short-lived and attract only a few people. Nobody wants to trade NFTs in a platform used by only a few investors, which explains why Ethereum continues to be a favorite Blockchain among many users despite its downsides.
FLOW has put up quite an impressive performance and is getting more popular as time goes. We hope it will finally take up some of Ethereum’s transactions, reducing this blockchain’s carbon emissions.
It is evident from these six measures that NFT companies and platforms are working extra hard to control the carbon emissions that have engulfed the NFT industry, forcing people to be more vocal and tactical. We should expect more.
However, we need to get more involved, especially now that we are on the verge of extreme global warming, which can cause unimaginable loss, suffering, and death.
Challenges Faced in Controlling the Environmental Impacts of NFTs
Some people choose not to participate in the war against NFT carbon footprints, believing that it is not affected by individual choices but systemic drivers. The common argument is that less than 200 companies cause more than 60% of carbon emissions, and therefore trying to tame individual behavior may not produce any tangible results. Whereas the statistics of companies responsible for this considerable percentage of carbon emissions are accurate, the public is still in control through its purchasing power.
2. Conflict of Interests
Even though most people understand the importance of protecting the environment by reducing carbon emissions, NFTs present an easy and relatively cheaper way of making money. Most people end up choosing the latter, completely ignoring the former.
Most people believe this is a war against NFTs since airlines and agricultural industries are still operational despite being responsible for most carbon emissions. They, therefore, tend to focus on the positive aspects of NFTs, such as their money-making potential, instead of worrying about their environmental impacts.
We have exhausted everything you should know about non-fungible tokens and their environmental impacts. They require high amounts of energy, resulting in increased carbon emissions and threatening the climate. Fortunately, different players have joined the race towards more efficient and ecologically-friendly NFT processes.