Greenpeace and other environmental groups today launched a new campaign to urge the Bitcoin network to reduce growing greenhouse gas emissions. The goal of the campaign, called “Change the code, not the climate”, is to reverse the energy-consuming process of verifying transactions and mining new Bitcoins.
The cryptocurrency uses more electricity annually than global gold mining operations or the entire country of Norway, according to the Cambridge Center for Alternative Finance† Burning that much energy generates serious greenhouse gas emissions, but campaign organizers argue it doesn’t have to be. Other cryptocurrencies use only a fraction of the energy Bitcoin needs, as they use a different system to verify transactions.
To validate transactions, Bitcoin miners rely on specialized hardware to solve complex puzzles. Their computers consume a lot of energy and the miners get new tokens in return. It’s a process called proof of work, where the energy used is a kind of price paid to verify transactions. The process is deliberately energy-intensive as a safety measure. The ingrained inefficiency is meant to discourage bad actors from manipulating the data, as it would take a lot of energy to do so.
The new campaign aims to take Bitcoin away from that energy-guzzling proof of work process. The most popular alternative is proof of stake. Cryptocurrencies that use proof-of-stake consume much less energy because there are no puzzles to solve. Instead of essentially paying with electricity to participate in the process, provide some of your own tokens. This should prove that you have an “interest” in keeping the ledger accurate. If you mess up, you will lose tokens as punishment.
While the proof of stake could solve many of Bitcoin’s pollution problems, experts were skeptical that miners would be willing to make the change. Miners invest a lot in their hardware and would have a hard time abandoning it. And some proof of work fans argue that it’s the safest way to keep track of the ledger.
“We know Bitcoin stakeholders are incentivized not to change,” the campaign admits on its own website† “Changing Bitcoin would render a lot of expensive infrastructure worthless, meaning Bitcoin stakeholders would have to walk away from sunk costs — or find other creative solutions.”
Anyway, the campaign organizers are trying to recruit some big names in technology to warm up Bitcoin miners to make the change. “Leaders like Tesla’s Elon Musk, Block’s Jack Dorsey and Fidelity’s Abby Johnson have a vested interest in Bitcoin — and the power to bring about change,” the campaign website says.
The website begs visitors to tweet to Musk, Dorsey and Johnson to support the campaign. The campaign also includes new ads in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, MarketWatch, Politicoand on Facebook.
“No matter how you feel about Bitcoin, pushing those in the power to bring about a code change will make our planet and communities safer from the destructive effects of climate change,” Greenpeace USA lead program Tefere Gebre said in a statement. a press release†