Global Energy Inequality Goes Deeper Than Bitcoin
Californians alone use more power playing games and heating their pools than entire countries in Africa. That has to change.
Co-written with Jake Kincer
Modern life is amazingly energy intensive. All those computers, data servers, and air conditioners devour a lot of electricity. In fact, virtually everything about how we live, move around, communicate, and work is embedded with immense quantities of energy.
It’s now even in our money. Bitcoin is so energy-hungry that people are seriously starting to worry that it might cook the planet. But such concerns are missing the bigger picture — that while we’ve created a new currency powered by electricity, billions of people still can’t get access to enough energy for the simple things in life, like the power to run a refrigerator, start a business, or create a decent job.
The real story — the one about real people — is the mind-blowing chasm of global energy inequality.
The debate over bitcoin’s energy use heated up this summer. A German research team calculated the total energy consumption for bitcoin at about 48 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year — or more power than what 3 million Americans use on average. This total was more or less in line with estimates from the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based intergovernmental group considered an authority on energy policy. However, the popular Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index from Digiconomist has pegged bitcoin-related electricity use at a whopping 73 TWh last year. And, if cryptocurrencies become more popular, their energy consumption will rise too.
Whatever the right figure, we can thank Ben Geman in Axios for providing some eye-opening context. He argued that carbon emissions from bitcoin mining aren’t likely to matter much since global electricity consumption growth was 900 TWh in 2018 alone. So even if bitcoin is of questionable social and economic value, it’s not a major climate change worry, right?