Economic estimation of Bitcoin mining’s climate damages demonstrates closer resemblance to digital crude than digital gold

This paper provides economic estimates of the energy-related climate damages of mining Bitcoin (BTC), the dominant proof-of-work cryptocurrency. We provide three sustainability criteria for signaling when the climate damages may be unsustainable. BTC mining fails all three. We find that for 2016–2021: (i) per coin climate damages from BTC were increasing, rather than decreasing with industry maturation; (ii) during certain time periods, BTC climate damages exceed the price of each coin created; (iii) on average, each $1 in BTC market value created was responsible for $0.35 in global climate damages, which as a share of market value is in the range between beef production and crude oil burned as gasoline, and an order-of-magnitude higher than wind and solar power. Taken together, these results represent a set of sustainability red flags. While proponents have offered BTC as representing “digital gold,” from a climate damages perspective it operates more like “digital crude”.

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