Bitcoin emits as much carbon as Las Vegas, researchers say

  • Bitcoin mining and processing emits as much planet-heating carbon dioxide as a city the size of Las Vegas or the country of Sri Lanka, a new study estimates.
  • Acquiring the virtual currency takes a lot of computing power — many of the facilities where it’s generated are located in Asia and use electricity from coal.
  • Bitcoin is starting to be accepted by some major retailers, but still makes up a tiny fraction of worldwide payments.

Bitcoin is responsible for the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions as a city like Las Vegas or Hamburg, and it’s time to consider how to reduce its climate footprint, researchers said Thursday.

A study by researchers at the Technical University of Munich and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined how much power is consumed by computers used to generate bitcoins and process transactions.

Writing in the journal Joule, researchers said they then combined the results with the carbon emissions from electricity production in the countries where the computers were located.

They concluded that, in late 2018, the entire bitcoin network was responsible for 22-22.9 million tons of CO2 per year — similar to a large Western city or an entire developing country like Sri Lanka. Total global emissions of the greenhouse gas from the burning of fossil fuels were about 37 billion tons last year.

“There are bigger factors contributing to climate change,” said Christian Stoll, one of the study’s authors. “However, the carbon footprint is big enough to make it worth discussing the possibility of regulating cryptocurrency mining in regions where power generation is especially carbon-intensive.”

The process of generating, or mining, a bitcoin involves solving a series of complex mathematical problems, which takes a lot of computing power. According to some estimates,…

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