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NFTs – A bad choice for the planet

NFTs - Estelle Asmodelle

Everyone is getting excited about Non-Fungible-Tokens or NFTs. I thought I would share my personal story and view on this topic, with an intro about my experience with blockchain technology. I first discovered them with Crytokitties in late 2017. However, the first attempts at NFTs were in the 2012–2013 Colored Coin era. I really thought about minting my first art token in late 2019, as an experiment. This is prior to the new explosion of what is now Non-Fungible-Tokens.

I understand the technology as I studied toward a B.Math (computing science) years ago while working on my art on the side. I went on to work in the computing industry for 20 years, only to paint in the evenings and at weekends. So when blockchain technology came to the fore (as it was around a decade earlier in different incarnations). I was immediately interested and in 2010 I purchased a small portion of bitcoin. I worked in the computer industry up until 2014. Then I started what was Australia’s first crypto-mining facility ‘Petabit.’ Once it was set up, it was automated and ran itself, which gave me time to spend the greater period of time on my art. This was great but very quickly the cost of electricity – which I later learned the full extent of – crippled our startup and Petabit was shut down a year later.

Since then I have been a full-time artist. I examined NFTs closely and determined that currently, they are really the most polluting technology around. Most NFTs reside on the Ethereum blockchain and use the proof-of-work (PoW) protocol. This is a disaster for anyone who cares about the environment. The Ecological Cost could turn out to be worse than Bitcoin (which is part of the reason I moved my holdings to more environmentally friendly currencies like Zilliqa).

“In under half a year, one artist’s multi-edition NFTs have a footprint of 260 MWh, 160 tonnes of CO2 emissions.”

This is ridiculous and going to make the climate crisis accelerate. Currently, the Ethereum blockchain uses about 31 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity a year, about as much as the whole of Nigeria and with the explosion of NFT on the ETH blockchain, this will exponentially increase. I know the lure of big bucks of selling NFTs is a powerful motivator but how much do we sacrifice for our art, the planet? I am not immune to the desire to cash in on the NFT marketplace but I remain out of it until we have NFTs that use proof-of-stake (PoS) protocol on the Zilliqa blockchain, which would use a very small fraction of power compared to Ethereum. However, that day is still not here… the rush is on to make money with NFTs but take a moment and pause to think about all your recycling, and choosing products that help the planet, they will mean nought compared to the cost of a single NFT will make! Don’t take my word for it – do your own research. There are informed articles out there that will tell the truth. The funny thing, as an artist with a very high level of computing and programming skills I could make truly awesome NFTs but I want to help the planet and not destroy it, simply for money.

Its not hard to imagine the problem really, everyone knows that Bitcoin uses a huge amount of energy. Well each transaction on the Bitcoin blockchain that is verified is simply fractions of a kilobyte Kb (thousands of bytes), while images in NFTs are in megabytes Mb (millions of bytes) and larger NFTs are in gigabytes Gb (Billions of bytes)! So essentially you get the idea, an extreme amount of energy is required to continually verifiy these minted NFTs on any blockchain.

The Ethereum developers have been talking about forking to ETH 2.0 which should use the Proof-of-Stake PoS instead of the energy-hungry PoW protocol. When that happens ETH will be on the road to being a viable blockchain for NFTs but they will also have to introduce ‘sharding’ as well, otherwise, in a matter of time, we will be back to where we are now in terms of energy usage. Sharding reduces the need to continually reverify every element of the blockchain and only ‘shards’ off recent portions for verification, hugely reducing the carbon footprint. The Zilliqa blockchain uses sharding already, so the platform is there but much needs to be done to reduce the carbon footprint of cryptos in general but especially with respect to NFTs.

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