Last month, Elon Musk offered a $100m prize in relation to a Carbon Capture Contest. This would seem to be perfectly understandable, considering the 'sustainability' image he has built around the Tesla brand.
What has caused a contradictory ripple to this image is the recent announcement from Tesla that they have acquired around $1.5bn of that 'fearful beast' that is Bitcoin and preparing to take payments for their vehicles with Bitcoin.
To those uninitiated in the workings of Bitcoin, it might seem odd how these two seemingly unrelated events could possibly cause controversy.
Other than the fact that Elon Musk seems to revel in stirring up these types of discussions. I suppose this is probably a cheaper and more sustainable method of garnering media attention - at least when compared to that of flying a hot air balloon around the world a few times.
The issue here is not purchasing such a vast amount of Bitcoins; the problem is how Bitcoins are 'mined.'
Without going into too much detail, quite frankly, it is something that still burns my withering synapses. All you need to know is that to 'mine' a Bitcoin, a computer(s) with a very powerful processor is required to carry out the 'Proof-of-Work' calculations.
It takes around 10 minutes for such a high spec machine to mine one Bitcoin, which, when broken down into a 600-second slice, will take approximately 72,000 GW (Gigawatts) of power to mine a single Bitcoin.
72,000 GW sounds like a high exclamation. Besides, I find that large numbers are a bit rubbish in expressing the reality of things.
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Therefore to put this into context, the average UK domestic household uses a little over 3900 kWh per year. By my rudimentary Maths, that is equivalent to almost 20,000 domestic supplies. It sounds like an utterly insane amount of power.
While newer technology cryptocurrencies, Elrond, for example, have far more efficient and modern processes. This cannot detract from the enormous amount of energy that has been consumed to mine the existing 18.5bn Bitcoins currently in circulation.
It could be argued that it seems even more ridiculous when there is no 'physical' end product at the end of each 'mining' process.
And it is pretty outrageous when you think about it. You could argue that any of the work that Tesla is doing to reduce carbon emissions is easily outweighed by the vast amount of energy required to mine $1.5bn dollars worth of Bitcoin (around 480 Bitcoins).
That said, Bitcoin is not the only suspect in this area, as it is the vast computational power required to complete the Proof-of-Work process for each Bitcoin. Many other businesses are utilising even bigger computers to calculate even more complex processes.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is growing around us in a world that was also not achieved without a cost.
For example, a recent story whereby an AI researcher working for Google (Timnit Gebru) claims that she lost her job over writing a research paper that included how much computing power is used to power Google's machine learning algorithms.
Suppose we stop considering how many inputs and searches Google processes, or more importantly, ingests, across the world, every day. I would dare to suggest that we are probably looking at Terawatts worth of energy being used per transaction, opposed to the Gigawatts' worth of energy burned mining a single Bitcoin.
To be clear, I am not looking to argue that either is preferable. All I am suggesting is when it comes to what is deemed 'sustainable'.
Realistically it will almost always be overruled by commercial profit just because Google or Bitcoin miners do not have vast plumes of smoke choking their immediate neighbourhoods. All around, there are hundreds of power stations doing that very same thing.
Just as we might now wish to see how the food we eat has been farmed or sourced ethically, sustainably, and is of a high standard, perhaps we should also consider whether the world's large energy consumers are held to the same measure.
After all, no matter what individual efforts we make to become more sustainable, our carbon footprint would fit in the small toe of these corporate energy companies several thousand times over.
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