Chapter 10 Plastics, Degrowth, Military, Crypto mining

See index to all the chapters for Putting Out the Planetary Fire

– Plastics – The New Coal
– Plastics are Not Being Recycled
– Ending Single Use Plastics vs. Increasing Recycling
– Climate change and degrowth
– Military and climate
– Crypto Mining

Chapter 10 Plastics, Degrowth, Military, Crypto mining

 The last chapter in the first section of the book examines four key issues and their impact on climate: plastics, degrowth, military and crypto mining.

The fossil fuel industry is investing heavily in plastics as a way to continue their operations. More than 99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels, both natural gas and crude oil.[1] In the United States, plastic is primarily made from ethane,[2] which is a waste byproduct of the fracking of natural gas.

Degrowth seeks to reduce emissions by transforming to a new economic model that does not depend upon growth, with its reliance on over consumption and extreme extractions of resources such as fossil fuels. Others worry that a call to halt growth locks in energy poverty and a reduced standard of living for poorer communities and nations.

The U.S. military remains the single largest user of oil. Access to fossil fuels still remains a significant factor in military conflict, as highlighted by the war in Ukraine. Others argue that imperialism and the drive for militarization, starting with the U.S., is an even bigger obstacle to creating a sustainable world.

The use of massive computer farms for proof-of-work crypto currency mining has had an enormous climate impact. China has already pushed such farms out due to both climate concerns and worry over the financial risks posed by this currency. Such farms are rapidly spreading in the U.S., starting with New York State, including buying up mothballed fossil fuel plants in order to reduce their costs for electricity.

Plastics – The New Coal

With the world agreeing on the need to end the burning of fossil fuels, the industry is increasingly investing in plastic production as a way to continue their operations.

Much of the material here is based on the work of Beyond Plastics, including their report Plastics is the New Coal.[3] The Center for International Environmental Law has also put out a major study on plastics and climate.[4]

“The fossil fuel industry is losing money from its traditional markets of power generation and transportation. They are building new plastics facilities at a staggering clip so they can dump their petrochemicals into plastics. This petrochemical buildout is cancelling out other global efforts to slow climate change,” noted Judith Enck, a former EPA Regional Administrator and President of Beyond Plastics.[5]

Fracking is a major driver in the increase in plastic production since it generates substantial amounts of the plastic feedstock ethane as a waste product. With many fracking operations losing money, they have been eager to find a use for the ethane.

Plastic generates greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its life cycle. If plastic were a country, it would be the world’s fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter. As of 2020, the U.S. plastics industry was responsible for at least 232 million tons of CO2e gas emissions annually, the equivalent to 116 average-sized (500-megawatt) coal-fired power plants.[6] It was estimated in 2019 that production and incineration of plastic globally would add 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere – equivalent to 189 coal-fired power plants. By 2050 this could rise to 2.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year – or 615 coal plants’ worth.[7]

New plastic plants in the U.S. are predominantly designed to use natural gas, as opposed to the oil-based production favored by much of the rest of the world. The U.S. is exporting this technology worldwide.

Companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Saudi Aramco are stepping up their plastic production — which is made from oil and gas, and their byproducts. Petrochemicals, which includes plastic, now account for 14% of oil use, and according to the International Energy Agency, are expected to drive half of oil demand growth between now and 2050. The World Economic Forum predicts plastic production will double in the next 20 years. Since 2010, companies have invested more than $200 billion in 333 plastic and other chemical projects in the U.S. Shell for instance is building a $6 billion ethane cracking plant — a facility that turns ethane into ethylene, a building block for plastic —25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.[8]

There are more than forty ethane cracker plants in the U.S. and another nine are proposed. A major ethane cracker plant, which is only the first step in transforming ethane into plastics – costs around $5 billion to build, creating about 10,000 jobs during construction. But since they are heavily automated, they only create between 350 and 1,200 permanent jobs once completed.[9]

The Many Other Problems with Plastic

Extraction, fracking, production of plastics and chemical additives release substantial amounts of toxic substances into the air and contaminate the local environment. Humans are exposed to a large variety of toxic chemicals and microplastics (fragments of any type of plastic less than 5 mm in length) through inhalation, ingestion, and direct skin contact throughout the plastics lifecycle. The toxic chemical additives and pollutants in plastics threaten human health, include causing cancer or changing hormone activity (endocrine disruption), which can lead to reproductive, growth, and cognitive impairment. Many of the toxic chemical additives have several other known health impacts, persist in the environment, and bioaccumulate in exposed organisms. Microplastics not only can harm our health, but act as vessels for pathogens to enter our system, increasing the spread of diseases.[10]

An estimated 10 to 12% of all plastic is incinerated, releasing more greenhouse gases as well as dangerous toxins, including dioxins and heavy metals. Industry is promoting an expansion of incineration in waste-to-electricity plants, which it argues is renewable energy. Research suggests plastic in the environment releases greenhouse gases as it degrades — a potentially vast source of emissions. Petrochemical production can release airborne toxins such as 1,3-Butadiene, benzene, and toluene, causing cancer and other illnesses. Many plants are in impoverished areas, often communities of color.[11]

Beyond Plastics notes that 90% of the reported climate change pollution from plastics occurs in just eighteen communities (mainly in Louisiana and Texas) where residents earn 28% less than the average U.S. household and are 67% more likely to be people of color.[12]

One estimate from 2018 found that single-use plastics – like plastic bags and utensils that are designed to be thrown away after only a few minutes of use – accounted for between 60 and 95% of the planet’s marine plastic pollution.[13] One widely cited estimate is that Americans use 500 million straws a day, which ends up as waste in minutes (other estimates range from 300 to 700 million).[14]

The U.S. plastic waste stream also has a global negative impact on environmental justice. The U.S. shipped 1.4 billion pounds of plastic trash overseas in 2020, with the majority ending up in developing countries without the infrastructure and markets to deal with it. Plastic trash exported from the U.S. is often burned in the open, damaging the health of local communities or discarded in waterways or in open pits in low-income communities far away.[15]

Plastics end up as litter everywhere, even in the wilderness as it is blown by wind currents. They are a major threat to wildlife. Turtles wind up with straws in their noses, and dead whales have been found with almost one hundred pounds of plastic in their stomachs. Over time, plastic breaks down into tiny particles known as microplastics, which contaminate our food, the air, and water. They also accumulate in our bodies, increasing our risk of chronic inflammation and other ills. When plastic particles such as microplastics are exposed to sunlight, they continue to emit greenhouse gases.[16]

Research indicates the microplastics in the ocean may be inhibiting one of the world’s most important carbon sinks, preventing planet-warming carbon molecules from being locked away in the seafloor. This sequesters up to 12 billion metric tons of carbon at the bottom of the ocean each year, potentially locking away one-third of humanity’s annual emissions. Without it, scientists estimate that atmospheric CO2 concentrations, which hit a new record high of 421 parts per million, could be up to 250 parts per million higher.[17]

The average person may be eating up to five grams of plastic a week. Microplastics have been found in human organs and in the placentas of unborn babies. Toxic chemicals such as phthalates and BPA are present in plastic foods packaging. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.[18]

The American Chemical Industry counters that plastic delivers many benefits, such as making cars lighter and therefore more efficient, insulates homes, reduces waste by extending food’s life, and keeps medical supplies sanitary. They point out the alternatives like steel, glass, and aluminum have negative impacts of their own, including carbon footprints that can be greater than plastic’s. And they create jobs and make tax payments to local governments.[19]

In the spring of 2022, the California Attorney General (AG) launched an investigation into the role the petrochemical and fossil fuel industries have played regarding plastic pollution. A subpoena was issued by the AG to ExxonMobil to determine whether it has lied to the public about both the negative effects of plastics and the effectiveness of plastics recycling.[20]

Plastics are Not being Recycled

A recent study found a recycling rate of 5 to 6% for post-consumer plastic waste in the U.S. for 2021 – lower than the EPA prior estimate of 9%. While plastics recycling is on the decline, the per capita generation of plastic waste has increased by 263% since 1980.[21]

As the public and government becomes more aware of the extremely low rate of plastic recycling, the plastics industry is promoting technologies that it misleadingly calls “chemical recycling” (also known as advanced recycling, molecular recycling, and chemical conversion).

Engineering and Technology reports that “Chemical recycling aims to turn plastic waste back into its molecular building blocks, in contrast to mechanical recycling, which does not alter the chemical structure of the plastic. By far the most prevalent type of chemical recycling, pyrolysis is a process in which plastics are broken down into a range of basic hydrocarbons by heating in the absence of oxygen. The primary product is pyrolysis oil, which can be refined into fuels or further processed to create chemicals or plastic. Gasification uses high temperatures with low volumes of air or steam to degrade plastic. The primary product is a gas called ‘synthesis gas,’ which can be processed into fuels or chemicals. Other forms of chemical recycling include solvent-based processes, which dissolve plastics and separate polymers from other components. Chemical depolymerization uses thermal and chemical reactions to break the plastic polymer chain into individual monomers.”[22]

A recent study by National Resource Defense Council found that “(1) most ‘chemical recycling’ facilities in the United States are not recycling any plastic, (2) ‘chemical recycling’ facilities generate hazardous air pollutants and large quantities of hazardous waste, and (3) ‘chemical recycling’ facilities tend to be located in communities that are disproportionately low income, people of color, or both.”[23] Many environmentalists contend that chemical recycling is primarily incineration.

Ending Single Use Plastics vs. Increasing Recycling

Environmental groups are seeking to halt the production of single use plastics. Numerous communities have banned plastic bags at retail outlets[24] and have sought to limit the use of plastic straws and utensils (making them available upon request to accommodate individuals with disabilities).[25] They have also sought to pass laws to mandate reductions in plastic starting with packaging.

As of 2018, at least thirty-two countries had plastic bag bans. Some eighteen countries had a tax in place. notes that “Nearly half are in Africa, where plastic bags frequently clog drains, leading to increased mosquito swarms (and, as a result, bouts of malaria). In China, plastic bag waste was so bad that it led to the coining of the term ‘white pollution.’ A full ban was adopted in 2008 — and since then, plastic bag waste has dropped by 60% to 80%. in India, where an estimated twenty cows per day die from plastic ingestion, a ban has been in effect since 2002.”[26]

France in 2022 banned plastic packaging for nearly all fruit and vegetables, eliminating more than one billion items of unnecessary plastic packaging annually. Other measures will also begin in 2022 and 2023, such as providing water fountains to reduce the number of plastic bottles. France had previously banned plastic straws, cups, and cutlery, as well as polystyrene foam (such as Styrofoam) takeaway boxes.[27]

In March 2022, the United Nations Environmental Assembly approved a resolution to write a treaty to end plastic pollution. One hundred and twenty-four countries met later that year to begin work. The treaty is expected to include provisions to promote sustainable production and consumption of plastics through, among other things, product design and environmentally sound waste management, including through resource efficiency and circular economy approaches; and promote national action plans to work towards the prevention, reduction, and elimination of plastic pollution.[28]

One way to deal with plastics is to establish a circular economy. Plastic that cannot be eliminated needs to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable, which would require significant investment in collection and reprocessing infrastructure. A circular economy could cut the volume of plastics entering our oceans by 80% each year, while generating annual savings of $200 billion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% and create 700,000 net additional jobs by 2040.[29]

In 2018, the European Union began to use the circular economy approach, developing waste guidelines to overhaul the way plastic products are designed, used, and recycled. All plastic packaging on the E.U. market must be recyclable by 2030, and the use of microplastics circumscribed.[30]

In the U.S., the plastic industry’s strategy has been to call for the increased recycling of plastic despite the limited progress over decades. They have drafted a model law using the term Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Environmentalists for decades have promoted the concept of EPR, making producers responsible, including financially, for the disposal of the waste they produce. As usual, the details on how to accomplish this have been challenging.

The industry’s model EPR bill, a version of which passed California in 2022, includes providing a revenue stream for local governments’ recycling efforts to attract their support. The industry targets environmental groups which are not experts on waste issues but who support recycling to endorse the proposal. The model legislation creates a committee dominated by industry representatives to write the rules related to packaging, which is like giving tobacco companies the power to right the rules related to smoking. While the legislative sponsors often state that they are not supportive of chemical plastic recycling, groups like Beyond Plastics contend the model law includes loopholes allowing it to occur. Groups working on plastic have urged governments instead to mandate reduction in the amount of plastic and other wastes and to be explicit in banning chemical recycling.[31]

Beyond Plastics argues that EPR legislation should include specific reduction requirements for waste products like plastic while establishing standards for recyclability, recycled content, and elimination of toxic substances. They note that the European Union has had an EPR for packaging directive in place for years but has seen no reduction in packaging waste although recycling rates have improved. Many E.U. countries are now adding specific waste reduction targets to their EPR systems to try to improve the effectiveness of their programs. The group notes that in a recent global survey, 75% of respondents said they want single-use plastics banned. The industry’s response to the call for bans is to co-opt EPR by throwing their support behind weak bills that make it look like they are doing something without doing much of anything.[32]

For several years the carbon fee and dividend proposal supported by the Citizens Climate Lobby in Congress even included a proposal to provide a tax credit for plastic production as a way to sequester carbon. Most climate groups were appalled, and it was not included in the most recent version.

California groups have sought to impose a tax on plastic production.[33]

Climate Change and Degrowth

Many climate change advocates believe that building a sustainable society requires more than pulling the plug on energy input from fossil fuels and plugging instead into wind and solar. They argue that we must radically scale back our global consumption of resources. They contend that we need to shrink rather than grow economies, using less of the world’s energy and resources and putting wellbeing ahead of profit.

The idea that a finite planet cannot sustain ever-increasing consumption challenges the belief of many economists that growth is the best route to prosperity.[34]

In April 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that outright cuts to consumer demand were needed to reduce carbon emissions, saying that relying on renewable energy was not enough. IPPC members said that “Accepting a lower consumption lifestyle is almost the only fast-acting policy move we have left to prevent the disastrous impacts of climate change.” This “demand-side mitigation” would require governments to pass policies that incentivize sustainable choices, such as investing in bike lanes and public transport while blocking cars from city centers. Food was also cited (e.g., eat less beef and lamb, more vegetables). Ruminant meats (beef and lamb) have emissions per gram of protein that are 250 times those of legumes Consumers will need to reduce their carbon footprint from a global average of around six tons of CO2 equivalent (C02eq) per person to 2-2.5 tons by 2030 and to 0.7 tons by 2050.[35]

Overconsumption is a related problem. “Many economists believe consumption is essential to economic growth since the demand for things makes companies profitable and provides employment. Companies plan obsolescence of their products by changing how they look, such as in the fashion industry, or updating the design or software of products and discontinuing support for older models. Only one percent of “stuff” is still in use six months from its purchase, according to Annie Leonard’s film The Story of Stuff.”[36]

At the first international conference on degrowth in Paris in 2008, degrowth was defined as a “voluntary transition towards a just, participatory, and ecologically sustainable society,” and proposed as the process that the wealthiest countries should go through in order to achieve a “right-sizing” of both national economies and the global economy. Degrowth means the abolition of economic growth as a social objective. Degrowth challenges the concept of sustainable development, where economic output progressively uses less energy and raw materials because of increases in efficiency.[37]

Many degrowth advocates want to discard the concept of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the primary way to evaluate the well-being of a country. GDP is the global standard in assessing economic performance, a major guidepost for government policy and economic planning. Yet GDP fails to address the negative impacts of externalities such as climate change and inequalities, as well as failing to account for other measures of well-being, including health and happiness. GDP focuses on productive capacity and tax revenues, which can push economic planning in unsustainable directions.[38]

The Break Through Institute notes that “the increase in human wellbeing in recent decades has come from rapid economic growth driven by government industrial policies, particularly in poor-to-middle income countries. But historically, economic growth has been closely linked to increased energy consumption — and increased CO2 emissions in particular.” There is significant debate about the extent to which the adoption of clean energy technology can allow emissions to decline while economic growth continues. Some point out that the emissions per unit of GDP have been falling for the past 60 years – though global emissions have continued to climb (by 56% from 1990 to 2019). Since 2005, 32 countries with a population of at least one million people have been able to reduce emissions while still experiencing economic growth.[39]

Others contend that a more effective way to increase overall well-being would be to focus on reducing economic disparity.

Ecosocialists have a mixed response to degrowth. They generally agree that simply substituting the right technology into the present political economy of capitalism will not be sufficient to meet human and nature’s needs. But many argue that at a minimum, proponents of degrowth need to account for the varying differences in wealth and prosperity, both between the Global South and North and between classes within industrial nations, the global working class. They oppose approaches that would relegate poorer nations to continuing energy poverty. They note that a major shift away from the massive investments in the military-industrial complex would free up vast quantities of materials, especially metals, for the growth need for the creation of a global wind and solar power infrastructure.[40]

Rich countries and individuals of course have a far greater carbon footprint than the poor. The average U.S resident emits about 17.6 tons of CO2 equivalents per capita, more than double that of Europe (7.9 tons), and ten times as much as India (1.7 tons).[41] The richest one percent of the global population emit more than twice the amount than the poorest 50 percent.[42]

Proponents of degrowth such as Jason Hickel argue that they understand the need for a just transition that raises up the poor rather than leaving them behind. “In an actual degrowth scenario, the goal would be to scale down ecologically destructive and socially less necessary production, while protecting and indeed even enhancing parts of the economy that are organized around human well-being and ecological regeneration…Capitalism is highly inefficient when it comes to meeting human needs; it produces so much, and yet leaves 60% of the human population without access to even the most basic goods…It is irrational to expect that a system organized around increasing extraction and accumulation will somehow automatically improve social outcomes.”[43]

Military and Climate

The American military has long recognized that climate change is a significant national security threat.

Severe weather events and global warming will destabilize countries, especially those with already unstable governments and under resourced infrastructure such as in Africa and Asia. The competition for land, water, and food, as well as dealing with potentially tens of millions of climate refugees, increases the likelihood of military conflicts between countries. Rising sea levels are already causing flooding at some military bases, especially naval ones located on coasts, with billions of dollars in damages. Changing weather patterns (drought, floods, rain, heat waves) impacts upon the conditions that military personnel and equipment must operate in and threatens supply chains.[44]

The Defense Department is the world’s single largest consumer of oil, though its emissions have declined from 85 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2004 to 59 million in 2017. It has accounted for as much as 80% of the federal government’s carbon footprint since 2001. The largest sources of military greenhouse gas emissions are buildings and fuel. The Defense Department maintains over 560,000 buildings at 500 domestic and overseas military installations, which account for about 40% of its greenhouse gas emissions. In fiscal year 2016, for instance, the Defense Department consumed about 86 million barrels of fuel for operational purposes. Its equipment are such gas guzzlers that their consumption is often calculated in gallons per mile (for example, B-2 bombers uses more than four gallons per mile.) Wars such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq also contribute to major spikes in emissions.[45]

The American military does have plans to reduce its carbon footprints, partially to reduce reliance upon fossil fuels that can become harder to obtain during conflicts. It also needs to protect its bases from rising seas and various forms of extreme weather. In February 2022, the U.S. Army released its climate strategy, aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050, to electrify its combat and non-tactical vehicles, to power its bases with “carbon-free” electricity, and to develop clean global supply chains. But critics point out that its carbon footprint will still be massive, and war is destructive of nature.[46]

The military budget is enormous, tying up taxpayer funds that could be utilized to support the transition to a clean energy future. The U.S. national security budget runs somewhere from $700 billion to a trillion dollars annually (depending on what categories are included), and accounts for more than half of the discretionary federal spending. As the Transnational Institute points out, “Every dollar spent on the military not only increases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but also diverts financial resources, skills and attention away from tackling one of the greatest existential threats humanity has ever experienced.”[47]

The world’s militaries, and the industries that provide their equipment, are estimated to create as much as 6% of all global emissions (though Prof. David Schwartzman argues it is considerably less). A large loophole in the Paris Agreement allows countries to avoid full data on greenhouse gases being emitted by their military. Under the Kyoto Protocol, militaries were exempt from CO2 targets, after lobbying by the U.S.[48]

Climate change impacts upon military strategy and the ability of the military to conduct their operations. The Center for Climate and Security notes that “Climate change can place significant burdens on the supply chains and logistical capacity of armed forces engaged in ‘theater.’ Extreme drought or flooding in areas where militaries are engaged in warfighting, for example, can compromise water supply lines, and thus threaten military personnel directly. Climate change can impact military strategy through increasing the possibility of destabilizing conditions in strategically significant regions of the world. In the Arctic, a melting ice cap, coupled with increasing tensions between Russia and other Arctic nations, could increase the likelihood of conflict. In the Middle East and North Africa, climate change effects on water security may increase the probability of instability in the future.”[49]

War for Oil

While some observers argue that the concept of war for oil is overstated,[50] a study from the Kennedy School at Harvard found that oil was a factor in between ¼ and ½ of the wars fought around the world since 1973. And even if oil or fossil fuels are not the direct cause of war, they can impact on the pre-conditions that lead to war, such as the overall geopolitics of the conflict. This includes countries using revenues from oil to fund groups or activities that other countries find threatening (including funding of terrorists and favoring sides in civil wars.)[51]

The seizure of oil fields was a major factor in the U.S. invasion of Iraq, far more than the political spin related to weapons of mass destruction or a role in the September 11th attacks.[52]

Wars themselves result in increased greenhouse gas emissions, including the use of fuels for airplanes, trucks, tanks, etc. Oil infrastructure has often been a target of fighting, as we saw in Colombia, Libya, Syria, and Iraq. Fires and spills generate emissions. It is estimated that the 1991 Gulf War’s oil fires contributed more than 2% of global fossil fuel CO2 emissions that year. And if existing energy infrastructure is damaged, even more polluting forms may be brought into service to replace them. Controlling emissions is seldom a priority during military conflicts. The delivery of humanitarian aid also can drive up emissions. War has negative impacts on the food system, vegetation, forests, and more.[53]

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine highlighted their role as one of the world’s three largest suppliers of natural gas. Access to gas was used as a leverage point with European countries in NATO and had a global impact, including on gas prices in the U.S. While climate activists cited the conflict as further evidence of the need for a rapid transition to renewable energy, many countries turned in the short-term to other sources of fossil fuels, including coal to meet their energy needs. Rising prices for gas also curtailed politicians’ willingness to take climate actions that would further drive-up costs for consumers (voters). Climate change action overall became less of a priority for politicians in Europe and the U.S. The Russians also targeted Ukraine’s nuclear power plants in the conflict.

Some peace activists argue that the most negative impact from militarism/imperialism is not the level of greenhouse emissions but rather its ongoing wars and its block on global cooperation needed to reduce global warming. \[54]

Crypto Mining PoW has Major Climate Impact

Crypto currency has emerged as a major problem for climate, particularly for the system known as “proof of work” (PoW).

As I wrote this book, the crypto currency industry was teetering on collapse after the spectacular collapse of FTX, one of the major crypto players, while the value of Bitcoin has dropped more than 50% since 2021.[55]

Proof of work crypto[56] mining is one of several ways that crypto currency (such as Bitcoin) is created. Participants solve complex mathematical challenges. The more computer power one brings to bear, the likelier that one will “win” the currency which can be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Warehouse operations full of thousands of computers have been set up, which require enormous amounts of electricity to operate, and which increases the demand for electricity by fossil fuels.

Some crypto mining operations have bought old and mothballed fossil fuel plants as a cheaper way to provide electricity for their operations.[57] PoW cryptocurrency mining is so energy intensive that it has been shown to use the same amount of energy as entire countries like Argentina and New Zealand.[58]

Owners of the energy intensive crypto currency operations have responded to complaints about its climate impact by seeking to utilize more renewable energy. According to The New York Times, “Globally, estimates of Bitcoin’s use of renewables range from about 40 percent to almost 75 percent. But in general, experts say, using renewable energy to power Bitcoin mining means it will not be available to power a home, a factory, or an electric car.”[59]

The reality is that most such mining operations draw their power from the local grid. When they tap into the local grid, the increased demand can drive up costs for other customers. A 2021 study estimated “the power demands of cryptocurrency mining operations in upstate New York push up annual electric bills by about $165 million for small businesses and $79 million for individuals.”[60]

“The Energy Bomb: How Proof-of-Work Cryptocurrency Mining Worsens the Climate Crisis and Harms Communities Now,” from Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, documents “the explosive growth of cryptocurrency mining in the United States and examine how this industry is impacting utilities, energy systems, emissions, communities, and ratepayers. Cryptocurrency mining is an extremely energy-intensive process that threatens the ability of governments across the globe to reduce our dependence on climate-warming fossil fuels.”[61]

After China[62] cracked down on cryptocurrency mining in 2020 due to concerns over its financial risks and its negative climate impact,  Earth Justice reported that “the amount of mining operations exploded in the United States. In the year prior to July 2022, Bitcoin consumed an estimated thirty-six billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, as much as all of the electricity consumed in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island put together in that same time period. The past two years have demonstrated that the industry preferentially seeks readily available energy and minimal regulation, re-starting defunct coal and gas plants, flooding the restructured electricity market in Texas, and tapping into power grids where regulators have little oversight.”[63]

Scientific Reports looked at the climate impact of Bitcoin over five years. It found that: “Per coin climate damages from Bitcoin were increasing, rather than decreasing as the industry grew. During certain time periods, Bitcoin climate damages exceed the price of each coin created. On average, each $1 in Bitcoin 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.”[64]

In September 2022, the Biden Administration issued a report confirming the many problems with PoW. “Crypto-asset mining operations can also cause local noise and water impacts, electronic waste, air, and other pollution from any direct usage of fossil-fired electricity, and additional air, water, and waste impacts associated with all grid electricity usage. These local impacts can exacerbate environmental justice issues for neighboring communities, which are often already burdened with other pollutants, heat, traffic, or noise. The growth of energy-intensive crypto-asset technologies, when not directly using clean electricity, could hinder the ability of the United States to achieve its National Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement, and to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change.”[65]

In 2022, the New York State Legislature passed a two-year moratorium on new PoW cryptocurrency mining operations to give the state time to examine its climate impact, including how it relates to the state’s recently enact climate goals to cut emissions.[66]

While many climate activists support an end to PoW systems, since alternative mining methods exist, the crypto industry has tried to improve its green image. The Crypto Climate Accord, supported by 40 projects, has “the goal of making blockchains run on 100 percent renewable energy by 2025 and having the entire cryptocurrency industry achieve net zero emissions by 2040. It aims to decarbonize blockchains through using more energy efficient validation methods, pushing for proof of work systems to be situated in areas with excess renewable energy that can be tapped.”[67]















































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