Change The Code: Not The Climate – Greenpeace USA, EWG, Others Launch Campaign to Push Bitcoin to Reduce Climate Pollution
by Tyler Kruse
March 29, 2022
Bitcoin is already using as much power as Sweden. Other crypto-currencies use 99% less electricity
© Stephanie Keith / Greenpeace
A campaign to push Bitcoin to change its software code to use far less energy was launched today by the Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace USA, and several groups battling Bitcoin mining facilities in their communities. Decrying Bitcoin’s growing greenhouse gas pollution, the campaign asks Bitcoin to change its code – not the climate. The campaign website, www.cleanupbitcoin.com, enables the public to join the campaign.
The initial campaign includes digital advertising in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, MarketWatch, Politico and on Facebook. The ads include messages like: “Bitcoin: Proof that Money Isn’t Always Green,” “Does Bitcoin Actually Use More Power Than All of Sweden? Hell Ja,” “Hey Jack Dorsey. You Could Help Stop Bitcoin’s Pollution With a Tweet,” “Hey Fidelity. The Planet’s Not Ready for Early Retirement,” “If Only a Few Dozen People Agreed to Change Bitcoin, It Would Stop Polluting the Planet,” and others.
Coalition members will also be mobilizing their large memberships to push Bitcoin’s biggest investors and influencers — many of whom have announced climate commitments — to exert leadership and call for a code change. It will also explore legal and regulatory efforts.
Bitcoin uses a software code, Proof of Work, that requires the use of massive computer arrays to validate and secure transactions. Based on estimates by the University of Cambridge, these currently use as much electricity in a year as Greece, Sweden or the Netherlands. Yet Bitcoin’s use of electricity is expected to grow – it increases along with its price. A recent article in Nature Climate Change estimated that, if use of Bitcoin becomes widespread, it could push the world beyond the 2 degree Celsius warming threshold for climate catastrophe.
About 50 key Bitcoin miners, exchanges and core developers have the power to make a software change – as they did once before, in 2017. It can be done: one of Bitcoin’s major competitors, Ethereum, is now transitioning from this energy-wasting code to another which will use 99.9% less electricity without devastating climate and pollution consequences. Many other crypto currencies already use a low-energy code.
After China banned Bitcoin mining, many operations moved to the United States. Some of them are buying up polluting coal plants that were on the brink of bankruptcy and scheduled to be retired, and even plants that burn coal waste, which emits up to 50% more greenhouse gases than even dirty coal itself. Others are using fracked gas, which also heats the planet. In some communities, electricity prices have increased due to competition for power from massive Bitcoin mining operations.
“The science is clear: to prevent run-away climate change, we need to start phasing out fossil fuels and investing in the clean energy economy,” explained Greenpeace USA Chief Program Officer Tefere Gebre. “No matter how you feel about Bitcoin, pushing those with the power to ensure a code change will make our planet and communities safer from the destructive impacts of climate change. What we do have is a solution: Change the Code. Not the Climate.”
“The ‘currency of the future’ is dragging us into the past when it comes to the urgent battle to save the climate,” said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook. “Our planet can’t afford Bitcoin’s excessive and unnecessary energy use and associated pollution. EWG urges the Bitcoin community to go back to its visionary roots and ‘Change the Code, Not the Climate.’ Join Ethereum, the second-ranked cryptocurrency by market cap, and immediately commit to smarter, infinitely more efficient crypto technology.”
“According to a recent report in the scientific journal Joule, Kentucky produces more carbon from cryptocurrency mining than any other state,” explained Lane Boldman, Executive Director of the Kentucky Conservation Committee. “Because of lucrative tax breaks and existing energy infrastructure, this state has rapidly expanded to provide 18.7% of Bitcoin’s collective computing power for mining, second to New York’s 19.9%. However, many of these operations are coming to distressed areas long exploited for energy. It is frustrating to see these financial incentives benefit companies working in communities that may not even have reliable water.”
“Bitcoin miners are eager to take advantage of lax regulation in Pennsylvania,” added Penn Future Senior Director for Energy and Climate Rob Altenburg. “Power plants burning highly polluting waste coal have been turned into mining operations. Portable generators and mining hardware have shown up unannounced at fracked-gas well sites. Not only are taxpayers and ratepayers paying the price, we all pay the price of increased pollution.”
“Governor Kathy Hochul must act now to curtail outside speculators from wreaking irreversible havoc on our communities and the planet by imposing a moratorium on proof-of work crypto mining,” said Yvonne Taylor, Vice President of Seneca Lake Guardian. “With 20% of the nation’s climate-killing Bitcoin mining, New York has become the wild west for a risky currency favored by authoritarian states and criminals, that’s threatening our very real $3 billion/year agritourism industry including 60,000 jobs. Having just lived through a massive respiratory pandemic that killed 67,000 New Yorkers, the last thing we need is repowered or expanded coal and gas plants pumping poisonous greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. It’s not enough to talk about climate, Governor Hochul has a responsibility to lead, not just New York, but the nation by acting now.”
“We are calling on the Bitcoin community to change to a low-energy code,” explained Michael Brune, campaign advisor and former Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “This could mean switching to proof of stake, federated consensus, or even changing Proof of Work to use far less energy. We won’t prescribe the exact solution, but we demand urgent action to save our climate and future.”
“This campaign is not anti-Bitcoin – it is anti-pollution,” explained Chris Larsen, whose climate foundation is the initial funder of the campaign. Larsen is the Chairman of Ripple. “We need to clean up our industry. And the issue is not, as some have suggested, powering Bitcoin with clean energy. We need the limited supply of clean energy for other vital uses. The issue is changing the code to use far less energy. That’s the environmentally responsible way forward.”
If Bitcoin’s code is not changed, coalition members fear that mining could keep moving around the world and burn more and more fossil fuels, raising global temperatures even further.
Speakers at the press conference launching the campaign included: Tefere Gebre, Chief Program Officer of Greenpeace USA; Ken Cook, President, Environmental Working Group; Yvonne Taylor, VP, Seneca Lake Guardian; Lane Boldman, Director of Kentucky Conservation Committee; Chris Larsen, Chairman of Ripple and climate activist; Michael Brune, former Executive Director, Sierra Club; and Jared Stonesifer, Director of Media Relations for PennFuture.
For further information or to interview participants please contact Ira Arlook, ia[email protected] 202 2585437.