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The Hard Math Behind Bitcoin's Global Warming Problem

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Flaming bitcoin.

The mining of bitcoin discharges the equivalent of 17.7 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere annually, according to a recent report.

Credit: Shutterstock

A recent Digiconomics report calculating that the global electricity consumption of bitcoin mining would exceed that of the U.S. by July 2019, and of the entire world by November 2020, suggests the cryptocurrency's use discharges the equivalent of 17.7 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

At the root of this problem is the blockchain technology, the secure ledger of all bitcoin transactions, which relies on solving the SHA-256 hashing algorithm to add a block. The SHA-256 algorithm is by design so difficult that it cannot be solved without brute-force computing, which means the computer must be on continuously.

With power consumption rising, bitcoin miners are building ASIC clouds in places where electricity is affordable.

"Increasing the energy efficiency of bitcoin SHA-256 mining hardware helps only sublinearly, as improving energy efficiency simply means people can deploy more miners at the same operating cost," notes the University of Washington's Michael Taylor.

From Wired
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Abstracts Copyright © 2017 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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