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Bitcoin mining uses as much energy as mining for gold, study finds
What does it mean for the future of the cryptocurrency movement and its impact on the environment?
- New study reveals that mining crypto can be use more energy than mine for gold.
- In order to understand the findings, we must first understand what crypto mining is.
- The crypto community is looking for a way to solve these issue.
According to a study published in the journal Nature Sustainability on November 5, from researchers Max J. Krause and Thabet Tolaymat, it appears that mining cryptocurrencies — such as Bitcoin — uses more energy than conventional mining for copper and platinum. It may even use as much much energy — possibly more — than is used for mining gold. For some in the tech and environmental sectors, this isn't new information. In fact, since Bitcoin's inception, environmentalists and tech enthusiasts alike have brought attention to the energy-intensive process of mining the popular cryptocurrency.
Because of the new study, we now know, though, that the amount of energy required to mine Bitcoin is nearly twice as much as what's required for mining copper and platinum. But why is it so energy expensive and what does this mean for the future and sustainability of the cryptocurrency movement?
What’s causing the energy consumption?
To better understand the study's findings, it's important to first have a basic understanding of what Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency "miners" are doing. Bitcoin is just one type of cryptocurrency, well-known as the original currency with the highest market capitalization, but it's not the only currency in circulation. Along with many other coins and tokens, Bitcoins are digital currency that can be owned by anyone, transferred from one party to another, which are not issued by a central authority like the US dollar or other fiat currency.
The underlying technology powering Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies (though not all) is blockchain technology. The Bitcoin network relies on a decentralized network with a distributed ledger to keep track of all transactions. As people send and receive Bitcoins to each other, the network records the transactions. All of the recording is done by a large group of volunteers who maintain the network; these "volunteers" are the miners.
Those "mining" for Bitcoin aren't physically mining, but rather solving difficult cryptographic puzzles proving they've recorded the correct transactions and are in agreement with the network before adding a block (a chunk of information, i.e. set of transactions) to the history of transactions in the past (i.e. the "chain") — that's how we end up with a "blockchain." This is also how new Bitcoins are generated.
To accomplish this task, the Bitcoin network operates using a consensus mechanism called "Proof-of-Work" (PoW). This requires miners to do an extensive amount of processing and involves a lot of hardware running 24/7/365 in large amounts. If you've ever seen a cryptocurrency mining operation before, you'll know exactly what we mean.
Understanding the scale
The second factor to consider besides the actual mechanics of what's happening when mining is the size of operations. While there are miners operating small rigs in their college dorm rooms, there are an even larger number of exceptionally large mining operations taking place across the world. Given how energy intensive mining for cryptocurrencies is, energy consumption is only compounded when looking at the global scale of mining.
In fact, some estimates have put the global energy consumption of Bitcoin mining higher than energy consumed by all of Ireland. While others believe such estimates to be inflated, the fact remains that mining cryptocurrencies requires a substantial amount of energy, especially after factoring in mining operations from other cryptocurrencies besides Bitcoin, like the second highest coin by market capitalization, Ether.
What is the community doing to solve this?
Of course, those on the sidelines aren't the only ones noticing the vast amount of energy consumed by mining cryptocurrencies. Improving efficiency in the cryptocurrency world is already a concern for many of the top minds in the industry.
The founder of the Ethereum project, Vitalik Buterin, has already proposed a new direction for the well-known blockchain-based platform that's given rise to so many new tokens in recent years. Though currently operating on a Proof-of-Work (PoW) consensus mechanism like Bitcoin, the Ethereum network is slated to eventually make the switch to a new Proof-of-Stake (PoS) hybrid method of mining that will reduce energy consumption in the crypto mining industry while still maintaining the integrity of the network. The new initiative has been nicknamed "Casper" and is to be implemented with sharding for a new version of Ethereum known as "Serenity," according to Buterin.
At the same time, there are others in the community looking at different solutions. Some sources aren't looking at the energy consumption itself, but rather how miners are getting the energy they require. New initiatives are popping up in the market to offer green energy solutions directly to the mining community with a heavy thirst for energy.
While others, like Timothy Lee with ArsTechnica have pointed out that if the price of Bitcoin stays (relatively) consistent, then we're likely to see energy demands from the network decrease over time, not increase, as block rewards (the amount of Bitcoins miners receive) decrease over time. The next "halving" is expected to occur in mid-2020 with the reward dropping by 50% roughly every four years following that until the last of the 21,000,000 Bitcoins are completely mined.
Others in the industry dislike the comparison between gold and cryptomining altogether. As CEO and co-founder of cryptopotato.com says:
I think that this kind of comparison is too shallow; it doesn't take into consideration two factors which are much more important than the amount of energy consumed. Bitcoin mining farms will always try to reduce their energy price and their consumption as much as they can while trying to find renewable energy resources so as to make processes cheaper and more efficient. In the case of gold mining, however, electricity is just one of many resources in a process which has a lot of constraints which result in nonrenewable resources being used such as coal and oil which have far reaching environmental repercussions.
Even with the significant energy consumption by cryptocurrency miners, the researcher behind the study, Max Krause, still believes cryptocurrencies will continue to grow in popularity and relevance in society, saying that:
I believe in the next five years you'll have the option to buy something on Amazon or a coffee at your local shop with cryptocurrency. But what I want is for people to understand all the costs of the new technology. We can embrace new technology but we should have a good understanding of what exactly we are embracing.
The question now remains how energy consumption concerns will impact the growth and direction of the cryptocurrency world in the coming future. What do you think?
Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.
- Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
- One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
- EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
What's dead may never die, it seems<p>The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called Brain<em>Ex</em>. Brain<em>Ex </em>is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.</p><p>Brain<em>Ex</em> pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.</p><p>The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if Brain<em>Ex</em> can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.</p><p>As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.</p><p>The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.</p><p>"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told <em><a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/04/pig-brains-partially-revived-what-it-means-for-medicine-death-ethics/" target="_blank">National Geographic</a>.</em></p>
An ethical gray matter<p>Before anyone gets an <em>Island of Dr. Moreau</em> vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.</p><p>The Brain<em>Ex</em> solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness. </p><p>Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death. </p><p>Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?</p><p>"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/science/brain-dead-pigs.html" target="_blank">the <em>New York Times</em></a>. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."</p><p>One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.</p><p>The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01216-4#ref-CR2" target="_blank">told <em>Nature</em></a> that if Brain<em>Ex</em> were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.</p><p>"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.</p><p>It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.</p><p>Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? <a href="https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/after-death-youre-aware-that-youve-died-scientists-claim" target="_blank">The distress of a partially alive brain</a>? </p><p>The dilemma is unprecedented.</p>
Setting new boundaries<p>Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, <em>Frankenstein</em>. As Farahany told <em>National Geographic</em>: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have <em>Frankenstein</em>, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."</p><p>She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.</p>
Starting and running a business takes more than a good idea and the desire to not have a boss.
- Anyone can start a business and be an entrepreneur, but the reality is that most businesses will fail. Building something successful from the ground up takes hard work, passion, intelligence, and a network of people who are equally as smart and passionate as you are. It also requires the ability to accept and learn from your failures.
- In this video, entrepreneurs in various industries including 3D printing, fashion, hygiene, capital investments, aerospace, and biotechnology share what they've learned over the years about relationships, setting and attaining goals, growth, and what happens when things don't go according to plan.
- "People who start businesses for the exit, most of them will fail because there's just no true passion behind it," says Miki Agrawal, co-founder of THINX and TUSHY. A key point of Agrawal's advice is that if you can't see yourself in something for 10 years, you shouldn't do it.
After a decade of failed attempts, scientists successfully bounced photons off of a reflector aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, some 240,000 miles from Earth.
- Laser experiments can reveal precisely how far away an object is from Earth.
- For years scientists have been bouncing light off of reflectors on the lunar surface that were installed during the Apollo era, but these reflectors have become less efficient over time.
- The recent success could reveal the cause of the degradation, and also lead to new discoveries about the Moon's evolution.
A close-up photograph of the laser reflecting panel deployed by Apollo 14 astronauts on the Moon in 1971.
NASA<p>The technology isn't quite new. During the Apollo era, astronauts installed on the lunar surface five reflecting panels, each containing at least 100 mirrors that reflect back to whichever direction it's coming from. By bouncing light off these panels, scientists have been able to learn, for example, that the Moon is drifting away from Earth at a rate of about 1.5 inches per year.<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Now that we've been collecting data for 50 years, we can see trends that we wouldn't have been able to see otherwise," Erwan Mazarico, a planetary scientist from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/laser-beams-reflected-between-earth-and-moon-boost-science" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">said</a>. "Laser-ranging science is a long game."</p>
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)
NASA<p>But the long game poses a problem: Over time, the panels on the Moon have become less efficient at bouncing light back to Earth. Some scientists suspect it's because dust, kicked up by micrometeorites, has settled on the surface of the panels, causing them to overheat. And if that's the case, scientists need to know for sure.</p><p>That's where the recent LRO laser experiment comes in. If scientists find discrepancies between the data sent back by the LRO reflector and those on the lunar surface, it could reveal what's causing the lunar reflectors to become less efficient. They could then account for these discrepancies in their models.</p>