Environmental Warriors

In my last post, I wrote about the hidden implications of the reconciliation tax proposal. Since then, I’ve seen another series of implications of things discussed: environmental implications. In particular, a new argument as to why both Bitcoin and Porn are bad: they use too much electricity.

Stay with me, this is complicated.

For Bitcoin, new coins are created by solving complex math problems. With the high value of bitcoin, everyone wants to mine. But, according to Wired, that could be a significant draw on the electrical infrastructure:

In a report last week, the cryptocurrency website Digiconomics said that worldwide bitcoin mining was using more electricity than Serbia. The country. Writing for Grist, Eric Holthaus calculated that by July 2019, the Bitcoin peer-to-peer network—remember BitTorrent? Like that—would require more electricity than all of the United States. And by November of 2020, it’d use more electricity than the entire world does today.

All this for a currency that doesn’t really exist. Making paper money costs a lot less.

As for Porn: We have moved from a world where people bought DVDs or videocassettes and watched at home, or in shared spaces like theatres, to individual consumption over streaming networks for free. And that, my friends, may not be good for the environment (who cares about morals, or the actors):

Using a formula that Netflix published on its blog in 2015, Nathan Ensmenger, a professor at Indiana University who is writing a book about the environmental history of the computer, calculates that if Pornhub streams video as efficiently as Netflix (0.0013 kWh per streaming hour), it used 5.967 million kWh in 2016. For comparison, that’s about the same amount of energy 11,000 light bulbs would use if left on for a year. And operating with Netflix’s efficiency would be a best-case scenario for the porn site, Ensmenger believes.

and later in the article:

For Ensmenger, this epitomizes the problem with the digital economy, where so many of the costs are outsourced or hidden that consumers believe everything is free. Most sites offer their free videos by selling advertising to companies that track consumer behavior, and these cookies require a considerable amount of energy. More importantly, consumers don’t have to think about the significant environmental costs of constructing and destructing electrical products, such as screens, servers, and hard drives.

This is actually pretty interesting: costs being hidden from the consumers and shifted onto someone else (in this case, likely taxpayers and ratepayers who build the power plants).

Now broaden the picture: “cutting the cord”, as we know, doesn’t reduce costs. It just means you write more checks, and possibly even more if net neutrality goes away. But there is also the cost of all those streaming servers and the cost of the bandwidth, and who will end up paying for it?

As historians like to say, “It’s complicated”. Much more complicated than you likely thought.