Can you be an NFT artist and an environmentalist?

Regular artists describe the environmental impact of the technology. The Impressionists of the 19th century were known for their paintings of trains and shifting landscapes of industrialization. Photographers in the early 20th century captured the awe-inspiring sight of electric cars and tall buildings of a rapidly escalating urban environment. Between the social movements of the 1960s and 70s, environmental art became an important new form as artists attempted to express the precarious nature of local ecosystems, increasingly aware of the long-term consequences of economic activity. Artists explore emerging technologies to solve their potentials and problems, with recent attention turning to the carbon emissions of our electronic expansion, as well as what there is can be done with it.

For artists who want to experiment with NFT and blockchain, the desire to create environmental artwork seems at odds with the actual goal of saving the environment. The Bitcoin and Ethereum platforms operate on a principle known as “proof of work” (PoW), where a computer solves complex puzzles to verify a transaction, then that computer (or “worker”) miner”) will be rewarded with some cryptocurrency. Initially, people could mine on a simple gaming computer. However, the system is designed to increase the difficulty of the puzzles as more people, or rather computers, join the peer-to-peer network. This increase in power is an intentional part of security in a PoW system.

As a result, according to research conducted by artist and computer scientist Memo Akten, at the end of 2020, casting an NFT takes at least 35 kWh electricity — that is, the process, from clicking to claiming the right to mass production, requires this much energy, emitting 20 kg of CO2. For comparison, emailing produces a few grams of CO2Akten says, and watching an hour of Netflix produces only 36 grams. Others check NFT and Bitcoin Research found even higher emissions. Although people debate the calculations, the point cannot be denied that carbon emissions must be recognized and addressed, since emissions are the cause of the increase in temperature of the climate crisis and ocean acidification, both of which kill existing life.

Amid speculative enthusiasts in Silicon Valley and other global tech-producing regions, financiers seek profit, not sustainability, in blockchains. With the energy required to ensure a cryptographically secure blockchain, there seems to be no way to be an environmentalist and use the technology. But some artists are now re-imagining the system, using blockchain to suggest sustainable methods.

Earliest In 2017, artist and engineer Julian Oliver realized that the number of computers competing to solve a puzzle and generate the hash of a transaction would require enormous amounts of energy from oil, coal or natural gas to generate a single transaction. provide power to those machines. He proceeded to create Harvest (2017), is both a media piece and a working prototype for an alternative cryptocurrency mining operation. Tuning a small wind turbine with environmental sensors, a weatherproof computer, and 4G uplink, the machine uses wind energy as the power source to mine cryptocurrencies. All proceeds go to climate change research.

As more artists become aware of the environmental consequences of blockchain practices, they have pushed platforms to move away from PoW. An alternative currently exists called “proof of stake” (PoS), a number of altcoins that have been around for a while. PoS uses a pseudo-random process to designate a miner – now called a “spoof” in this PoS context – the right to validate a block. The counterfeiter must commit shares in the chain, usually depositing a certain amount, to become a validator who can store data, process transactions, and add new blocks to the chain; larger stakes lead to more confirmation chances and hence more earnings. There aren’t many competing computers to solve the puzzle, as only one is assigned to block forging, which greatly reduces the energy consumption and carbon footprint of the process. Although there are security risks and economic significance causing some to deny its improved environmental impact, many artists have committed to using the PoS chain.

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