NFTs (non-fungible tokens) have developed a bad reputation as being energy intensive to create, and thus bad for the environment. As a technology with cryptocurrency as the foundation, the criticisms around Bitcoin and its environmental cost have been attached to NFTs.
Firstly, an NFT cannot be created on the Bitcoin blockchain, so let’s get that out of the way. Bitcoin, unlike the new generation cryptocurrencies, has no other value other than trading. And yes, it is energy intensive and therefore bad for the environment. It also inflates the price of computer parts such as motherboards due to increasing demand for computing power and increases demand for the resources required to produce those parts.
The largest cryptocurrency involved in creating NFTs is Ethereum which currently uses the same method for proving a transaction as Bitcoin – Proof of Work (PoW) – although they have announced plans to upgrade to use Proof of Stake (PoS) soon. You can read a good explanation of the difference between the consensus algorithms Proof of Work and Proof of Stake here. Basically, though, Proof of Work is energy intensive, and Proof of Stake is not. Most new generation cryptocurrencies use some variation of Proof of Stake to create and manage their currency.
So, at the time of writing this post, Ethereum is technically not good for the environment because it has not yet moved to Ethereum 2.0 which will run on Proof of Stake. This move was announced in 2020 and again in 2021 it was promised that the move would be ‘soon’, however a fixed date has not been set. Hopes are being pinned on 2022 for when Ethereum fixes these environmental concerns, and makes the blockchain cheaper to transact in.
‘…energy consumption per-transaction (on Ethereum 2.0 will be) ~35Wh/transaction or about 20 minutes of TV. By contrast, Ethereum PoW uses the equivalent energy of a house for 2.8 days per transaction and Bitcoin consumes 38 house-days worth’.
Note: Creating, buying or selling an NFT is a transaction on a blockchain, but don’t confuse this statement above with Bitcoin having the capability to transact NFTs.
So, yes, right now, NFTs traded in Ethereum are not great for energy consumption, but they are not nearly as bad as Bitcoin trading which is where the concerns for environmental impact are coming from.
As a person who has always cared deeply for the environment that we share with all living things, the environmental impact of my NFT art is always at the forefront of my mind. I do not hold Bitcoin, and I have positions in Proof of Stake cryptocurrencies Tezos and Polygon, as well as Ethereum.
I dearly wish for Ethereum 2.0 to be upon us, but I cannot put my art on hold while waiting. In the meantime, I try to mint on PoS blockchains and I am consolidating some of my collections onto OpenSea Polygon. This cryptocurrency can be converted to Ethereum and when 2.0 finally arrives, I can move my art to there, and my collectors also can choose to do this.
Like many things in life, there are grey areas. Hating on NFT artists for destroying the environment is a thing, and I’ve read some harrowing stories of NFT artists being bullied by activists who don’t fully understand what is happening with the technology. We do not deserve this. We aren’t bad people who don’t care about the planet. We are just humans making our way through a technologically developing society like everyone else.
TL/DR: No, NFTs are not bad for the environment when they use PoS technology. NFTs do not use the Bitcoin network where the energy problems are. New blockchain technology has eliminated the energy consumption problems, with blockchain transactions on these being equivalent to the energy used in visa transactions.
About the author
NRG has been making art her entire life but chose a career in business and technology first. After making life changes to work on art full-time, she discovered NFT’s and is now carving out her niche in digital art.
She writes about NFT/Cryptoart because this movement is rapidly evolving and while it creates new opportunities for artists, it also creates new challenges. She would like to share what she learns and provide food for thought to other artists, collectors and people interested in learning about the new frontier of NFTs.
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