What you need to know about the Ethereum Merge and the climate

The Merge is coming. And with it, a whole host of climate benefits could be unleashed.

The Ethereum Merge

When the switch flips on Ethereum 2.0 next month, it will dramatically cut the amount of energy needed to keep the cryptocurrency secure and run all that code.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

The time of the Merge is nigh.

“The Merge” refers to Ethereum shifting from a proof-of-work system to validate its blockchain to proof of stake. That change could have huge ramifications for the planet, in a very good way.

Crypto mining has been under intense scrutiny for years due to its high energy use. While bitcoin has attracted most of said scrutiny, Ethereum has used the same energy-intensive process to not just validate transactions but also operate smart contracts, software code that runs autonomously on top of the blockchain, such as the ones that mint NFTs.

But when the switch flips on Ethereum 2.0 next month, it will dramatically cut the amount of energy needed to keep the cryptocurrency secure and run all that code. That will in turn cut carbon pollution. Here’s what you need to know about the Merge, particularly its climate impact.

When is the Ethereum Merge?

A key software upgrade happens Sept. 6, and the Ethereum Foundation expects the Merge to occur on or before Sept. 20, or whenever block 58750000000000000000000 is mined. Please add it to your calendar slash watch the blockchain.

What happens to my ether?

The short answer: nothing. Assuming the Merge goes off without a hitch, ether, the native cryptocurrency of Ethereum, will keep being ether, and other Ethereum-based tokens like USDC will likewise stay unchanged. Sara Xi, chief product officer of Prime Trust, told Protocol earlier this month that the Merge is essentially like taking cargo from one moving train and plopping it onto another one.

OK, so what’s the deal with proof of work vs. proof of stake?

Both are systems that keep a blockchain secure. What differs is how they do that. For a proof-of-work system, a bunch of computers around the world race each other to solve a math equation. The first one to do it mints a block. Importantly, the owner of said computer also gets rewards in the form of tokens.

Proof of stake switches things up by having a bunch of computers ready to solve a problem. But only one is actually chosen at random to do it, mint a block and earn tokens. In essence, the former is like competitors repeatedly running the 100-meter dash at the same time while the latter is like the same race but telling competitors to run one at a time, then take a breather.

Not just anyone can compete in Ethereum’s proof-of-stake system. Instead, it will require those competitors to have at least 32 ether on hand in order to get a spot at the starting line, whether on their own or as part of a pool of ether holders.

How will the Ethereum Merge benefit the climate?

A bunch of people running the 100-meter dash ad infinitum burns a lot of energy. So it is with proof-of-work mining. Ethereum’s current setup uses vast amounts of electricity, much of it provided by fossil fuel power plants. Mining it emits as much carbon dioxide in a year as Switzerland, according to calculations from Digiconomist.

Switching to proof of stake will slash that energy usage by 99% or more. In a world where emissions need to peak no later than the middle of this decade and then fall precipitously over the coming years to keep the climate habitable, taking a Switzerland-sized chunk out of the crypto world’s carbon emissions is no small deal.

What about all those computers currently mining ether?

Ah yes. Well here’s where things could get tricky. Mining companies have a lot invested in their machines. The Merge will essentially make these mining rigs stranded assets. That could lead to a few outcomes. One, they could put their GPUs to use mining Ethereum Classic, which split off in a hard fork from the Ethereum blockchain in 2016. At least one mining company is already planning to do just that. (For technical reasons, switching to mining bitcoin would be hard because different hardware is optimal for that cryptocurrency.)

Miners could also decide to create another hard fork where they keep using proof of work. There’s already a nascent movement on that front as well. Both these outcomes would almost certainly generate less revenue for miners unless they persuade software developers, validators and others to stick with their forked blockchain. Such an outcome would be decidedly not great for the climate because it would keep those GPUs humming along and hoovering up power. It could also end up creating an environment ripe for scammers, which the crypto world is no stranger to.

For miners who give up the ghost, their rigs could well end up in the trash. The world saw 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste accumulate in 2019, the last year with United Nations data available. That harms both the local environment and people living near e-waste dumps. Also not ideal!

Could bitcoin switch to proof of stake?

LOL. Maybe but it’s hard to see that happening. Besides the vested interest of miners who profit off of the current system, some bitcoin advocates argue that proof of work is superior to proof of stake because it’s more decentralized and resistant to central control.

A handful of environmental groups started a campaign earlier this year targeting bitcoin investors since miners aren’t likely to suddenly have a change of heart. But so far, that effort has amounted to yelling into the deep, dark void of cyberspace. There are other efforts to create a certification process for bitcoin miners that purchase clean energy, though it would be entirely voluntary.

So while the world’s second-biggest cryptocurrency is set to transition to a more environmentally friendly validation method, its bigger and more polluting sibling is still likely to keep damaging the climate for the foreseeable future.

The best hope to lower bitcoin’s impact may be the Lightning Network, which can process transactions on a layer on top of the bitcoin protocol much more quickly and efficiently. Block is investing heavily in Lightning Network technology and has integrated it into Cash App.

Of course, the Merge could end up making Ethereum a more enticing option to climate-conscious crypto investors (assuming it goes off without a hitch). Whether that group is enough to rocket it past bitcoin is TBD, though.


Inside Amazon’s free video strategy

Amazon has been doubling down on original content for Freevee, its ad-supported video service, which has seen a lot of growth thanks to a deep integration with other Amazon properties.

Freevee’s investment into original programming like 'Bosch: Legacy' has increased by 70%.

Photo: Tyler Golden/Amazon Freevee

Amazon’s streaming efforts have long been all about Prime Video. So the company caught pundits by surprise when, in early 2019, it launched a stand-alone ad-supported streaming service called IMDb Freedive, with Techcrunch calling the move “a bit odd.”

Nearly four years and two rebrandings later, Amazon’s ad-supported video efforts appear to be flourishing. Viewership of the service grew by 138% from 2020 to 2021, according to Amazon. The company declined to share any updated performance data on the service, which is now called Freevee, but a spokesperson told Protocol the performance of originals in particular “exceeded expectations,” leading Amazon to increase investments into original content by 70% year-over-year.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.

Wall Street is warming up to crypto

Secure, well-regulated technology infrastructure could draw more large banks to crypto.

Technology infrastructure for crypto has begun to mature.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Despite a downturn in crypto markets, more large institutional investors are seeking to invest in crypto.

One factor holding them back is a lack of infrastructure for large institutions compared to what exists in the traditional, regulated capital markets.

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at or


How I decided to go all-in on a federal contract — before assignment

Amanda Renteria knew Code for America could help facilitate access to expanded child tax credits. She also knew there was no guarantee her proof of concept would convince others — but tried anyway.

Code for America CEO Amanda Renteria explained how it's helped people claim the Child Tax Credit.

Photo: Code for America

Click banner image for more How I decided series

After the American Rescue Plan Act passed in March 2021, the U.S. government expanded child tax credits to provide relief for American families during the pandemic. The legislation allowed some families to nearly double their tax benefits per child, which was especially critical for low-income families, who disproportionately bore the financial brunt of the pandemic.

Keep Reading Show less
Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at


This carbon capture startup wants to clean up the worst polluters

The founder and CEO of point-source carbon capture company Carbon Clean discusses what the startup has learned, the future of carbon capture technology, as well as the role of companies like his in battling the climate crisis.

Carbon Clean CEO Aniruddha Sharma told Protocol that fossil fuels are necessary, at least in the near term, to lift the living standards of those who don’t have access to cars and electricity.

Photo: Carbon Clean

Carbon capture and storage has taken on increasing importance as companies with stubborn emissions look for new ways to meet their net zero goals. For hard-to-abate industries like cement and steel production, it’s one of the few options that exist to help them get there.

Yet it’s proven incredibly challenging to scale the technology, which captures carbon pollution at the source. U.K.-based company Carbon Clean is leading the charge to bring down costs. This year, it raised a $150 million series C round, which the startup said is the largest-ever funding round for a point-source carbon capture company.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol covering climate. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at

Latest Stories