Crypto/NFTs are bad for society, enviroment

Bitcoin is one of many cryptocurrencies that is popular right now.

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Bitcoin is one of many cryptocurrencies that is popular right now.

Cryptocurrency has been in the news a lot lately. From Ethereum to Bitcoin, crypto and it’s many offshoots have been receiving attention – good and bad – from mainstream outlets and figures. Though it was somewhat obscure in the decade following its creation in 2008, it experienced a recent surge in popularity, making it a highly-controversial topic in the public sphere. While some herald crypto as the “future of money,” others are more skeptical, believing it to be nothing more than a Ponzi scheme.

Equally polarizing are non-fungible tokens, better known as NFTs – another branch of the crypto-sphere. These tokens are a type of digital receipt, often in the form of a media or audio file. They are bought using cryptocurrency, most commonly Ethereum on a site called OpenSea. Most NFTs are digital art, like those of the infamous Bored Ape Yacht Club that have reached the mainstream in recent days. On the surface, they seem harmless. The catch is, these tokens, and the exchanges that drive them, create serious environmental and economic issues. Not to mention the widespread art theft that accompanies the NFT-trade. To put it simply, much like the “currency” that fuels them, NFTs are a scam.

First, and perhaps most important, are the environmental impacts of NFTs. NFTs, and cryptocurrency as a whole, use a massive amount of energy. Crypto transactions take place through a process called “mining,” which uses a series of computers to ensure transactions are valid. A process which consumes energy at an alarming rate. According to Brightly, this energy usage results in around 38 million tons of CO2 emissions every year, surpassing the carbon footprint of the entire nation of Slovakia. The carbon footprint of a single NFT is around 48kg of CO2. When compared to the carbon footprint of a physical print transported by mail – around 2.3kg of CO2 – the contrast is vast. And concerning, as the NFT market continues to grow.

Practically, NFTs make no sense. NFTs often come in the form of supposed “rights” to an image that everyone else on the internet can access. And this supposed exclusivity can be easily manufactured and manipulated, as there is a potentially infinite supply. The “scarcity” is purely superficial. Through a simple click, anyone on the internet can gain access to the same image. Which begs the question – why? Why do people continue to buy these damaging and frankly useless images?

We won’t get too deep into the psychoanalysis. After all, we can’t say for sure what goes on in people’s heads when buying NFTs and crypto. But, to me, this seems to be a new form of so-called “conspicuous consumption.” Defined as the buying of goods in a deliberate effort to show one’s wealth, conspicuous consumption is a common phenomenon in today’s world. And, NFTs are a perfect example – many celebrities have picked up on this trend, making it a show of one’s wealth, above all else. Some of these sales, for a publicly available image, go into the millions. In the past month, pop artist Justin Bieber bought a single NFT for 1.29 million dollars. And he’s not alone – other prominent celebrities, from Eminem to Jimmy Fallon, have joined him. While undoubtedly paid to advertise these NFTs and their respective vendors, these public figures have made NFTs “trendy,” and a show of one’s access to a supposedly “rare” item.

To me, the societal impacts are just as concerning as the carbon emissions. The fact that this market has grown to this extent, through the sale of publicly available images, seems borderline satirical. Like it cannot be real, and yet, here we are. I don’t think I can overstate the stupidity of NFTs. Buying the rights to an item that everyone else can access free of charge is beyond me. I cannot fathom what state of hyper-consumerism we must have reached to get to this point. Where blatant environmental exploitation can be thrown aside for personal profit and empty displays of wealth. There are no benefits, only damages – to the environment and to artists, many of whom get their art stolen and resold as NFTs without their consent. Yet, the NFT market continues to grow, day by day. It was valued at around $41 billion in 2021, and is projected to go beyond even that in 2022, as more companies hop on the bandwagon. A bleak, yet apt representation of today’s world.