Crypto mining could hamper fight against climate change: White House

A set of bitcoin mining units inside a container at a Cleanspark facility in College Park, Georgia, U.S., Friday, April 22, 2022.

Elie Nouvelage | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy warned on Thursday that cryptocurrency mining operations could hamper the country’s ability to mitigate climate change. He also said federal agencies should review information from crypto miners and local utilities “in a privacy-preserving manner” to help understand and mitigate the issue.

Crypto operations in the United States now consume as much energy as all home computers or residential lighting, the White House said in a report. The findings come amid growing criticism over the amount of electricity produced by crypto-mining operations.

The cryptocurrency mining process involves running banks of computers to solve complex mathematical equations to create new coins and validate transactions. Bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency, is associated with this “proof of work” system, although the second most popular currency, Ether, is moving to a different method which may not require as much energy.

U.S. crypto production accounts for between 0.2% and 0.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 0.4% and 0.8% of national emissions, respectively, though estimates are uncertain, according to the report. Crypto mining produces planet-warming emissions primarily by burning coal, natural gas, and other fossil fuels to generate electricity.

This year, crypto mining produced between 110 million and 170 million metric tons of carbon pollution across the world and around 25 million to 50 million metric tons in the United States alone, according to the report. The process generates electricity by purchasing it from the power grid or by generating and disposing of computers and mining infrastructure.

“The use of electricity from digital assets contributes to GHG emissions, additional pollution, noise and other local impacts, depending on local markets, policies and electricity sources,” said the White House said in the report.

“Depending on the energy intensity of the technology used, crypto-assets could impede broader efforts to achieve net-zero carbon pollution consistent with U.S. climate commitments and goals,” he added.

The report is the result of President Joe Biden’s executive order in March which called on the government to examine the risks and benefits of cryptocurrencies. The president has pledged to halve US emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The report states that global cryptomining emissions are greater than emissions from many countries and equivalent to global emissions from all barges, tankers and other vessels on inland waterways. Additionally, Bitcoin, the world’s largest digital currency by market value, generates around two-thirds of global crypto greenhouse gas emissions.

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