The White House would like to get to the bottom of this whole "is cryptocurrency going to destroy the climate or not" thing.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy announced it's putting together a report that assesses whether digital assets “impede or advance efforts to tackle climate change” and makes moves toward a “clean and reliable electricity grid.”
The executive branch office released its plan for a report on Friday, and it's asking the public to weigh in on a number of aspects of digital assets and mining as they relate to the climate. Among them are protocols, hardware and resources. As the U.S. government looks into a crypto framework, it’s only natural that officials would explore the climate concerns that come with it, too.
Crypto mining's huge energy footprint — and, given the world's dirty grid, carbon footprint — has come under increasing scrutiny. Estimates from crypto research site Digiconomist show that bitcoin mining alone has a carbon footprint the size of the Czech Republic due to its reliance on proof of work, a technique that uses copious amounts of energy in order to keep the network secure. Ethereum, which also uses proof of work (for now), emits as much carbon as Serbia and Montenegro. The rise of crypto mining using dirty energy sources is a huge issue given that the world needs to bring emissions down rapidly this decade to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
While the OSTP report will explore the risks posed by crypto mining's carbon emissions, the report will also explore any potential benefits of crypto and blockchain technology. “[It also seeks comment on] implications that digital assets have for U.S. policy including as it relates to electricity grid reliability and greenhouse gas intensity,” the office wrote in the Federal Register. The office will also explore if digital assets could improve the reliability of verifying carbon offsets and accounting for greenhouse gas emissions.
Earlier this year, a House committee held a hearing on crypto’s carbon footprint. Experts who spoke at the hearing agreed that solutions that ensure crypto doesn't fry the planet should be top of regulators' mind as digital assets become more widely used. In an executive order signed earlier this month, President Joe Biden also directed the government to study how to reduce crypto's negative impacts on the climate.
Businesses are trying to turn cleaning up crypto mining's carbon and e-waste footprints into a business opportunity as well. Intel, for example, is introducing an “energy-efficient” chip for crypto mining with climate concerns in mind. Even Exxon is getting in on the crypto gold rush while claiming that doing so can help reduce methane emissions at drilling sites. Of course, other consensus mechanisms like proof of stake could keep things decentralized while using a tiny fraction of the energy as proof of work.