Bitcoin crypto mining environmental damage

Released: 2009

Bitcoin is a digital currency invented in 2008 by an unknown person (or people) that uses cryptography to verify transactions, which are recorded on a blockchain public distributed ledger.

Bitcoin's business model and algorithms - notably its proof-of-work cryptographic verification system - have been accused of causing significant environmental damage, and unduly contributing to climate change.

Specific concerns about Bitcoin's environmental record include:  

Carbon emissions

Multiple research programmes and studies show Bitcoin is responsible for a high level of carbon emissions and contributes significantly to climate change.

For example, Cambridge University's Bitcoin Electricity Consumption index calculates Bitcoin consumes 133.68 terawatt hours a year of electricity - more than many first-world countries - and estimates bitcoin mining to be responsible for 0.1% of total world greenhouse gas emissions.

A March 2020 energy research journal Joule study said Bitcoin accounted for about two-thirds of the energy consumed by 'proof-of-work' coins - of which an estimated 500 exist.

On the other hand, cryptocurrency advocates such as Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey argue (pdf) that the bitcoin network could incentivise the more rapid development of renewable energy through the deployment of more solar and wind generation capacity.

Air pollution

Traditionally, Bitcoin required large amounts of fossil fuels - notably coal - to power mining operations, resulting not just in high carbon emissions but also significant volumes of air pollution in the areas around the mining farms, as well as water pollution, resulting in damage to fish and other wildlife populations. 

However, China's 2021 ban on Bitcoin mining saw many operators ditch their old equipment, relocate to other countries, and switch to using a higher percentage of renewable energy sources. 

Electronic waste

The need for large stacks of dedicated circuits to power the mining of bitcoin, the lifespan of which is estimated to be approximately 1.3 years and which can not be used for other purposes, has resulted in huge amounts of electronic waste, with one bitcoin estimated to generate 270 to 380 grams (9.5 to 13.4 oz) of e-waste.

A much-cited 2021 research study calculated that Bitcoin's production of e-waste to be over 30,000 tonnes - comparable to the small IT equipment waste produced by the Netherlands.


Country: Global

Sector: Banking/financial services

Purpose: Create currency

Technology: Blockchain; Virtual currency
Issue: Environment

Transparency: Governance; Black box; Marketing

Page info
Type: Issue
Published: January 2023
Last updated: September 2023