NEW YORK, Oct 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Demand for bitcoin could single-handedly derail efforts to limit global warming because the increasingly popular digital currency takes huge amounts of energy to produce, scientists said on Monday.
Producing bitcoin at a pace with growing demand could by 2033 defeat the aim of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, according to U.S. research published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Almost 200 nations agreed in Paris in 2015 on the goal to keep warming to "well below" a rise of 2°C above pre-industrial times.
But mining, the process of producing bitcoins by solving mathematical equations, uses high-powered computers and a lot of electricity, the researchers said.
"Currently, the emissions from transportation, housing and food are considered the main contributors to ongoing climate change," said study co-author Katie Taladay in a statement. "This research illustrates that bitcoin should be added to this list."
Mining is a lucrative business, with one bitcoin currently selling for about $6,300 (C$8,270).
Earlier on HuffPost Canada:
In 2017, bitcoin production and usage emitted an estimated 69 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, the researchers said.
That year, bitcoin was involved in less than half of 1 percent of the world's cashless transactions, they said.
As the currency becomes more common, researchers said it could use enough electricity to emit about 230 gigatonnes of carbon within a decade and a half. One gigatonne is equal to one billion metric tons of carbon.
Shifting to cleaner energy
"No matter how you slice it, that thing is using a lot of electricity. That means bad business for the environment," Camilo Mora, another co-author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Bitcoin mining, however, is becoming more energy efficient, said Katrina Kelly-Pitou, research associate at the University of Pittsburgh.
She said bitcoin miners are moving away from sites such as China, with coal-generated electricity, to more environmentally friendly utilities in Iceland and the United States.