NFTs Are Causing a Global Ecological Disaster, I'm Not Exaggerating.

NFTs Are Causing a Global Ecological Disaster, I'm Not Exaggerating.

The NFT craze infuriates me, even though it's great to empower artists,and support a vital part of society through a devastating pandemic. The cost of this support is far greater. NFTs have a catastrophic impact on the environment, the true scale of which we can't even begin to understand. 

I am not an IT-mad person by any stretch of the imagination. I am, however, very interested in art. NFTs got me very interested from an art perspective at first. Having dug the rabbit hole of NFTs, I was shocked to find out the environmental impact of these modern seemingly good platforms, and you will be too. You don’t have to be a tech person to understand the severe extent of the harm that NFT’s are causing. 

Before I go any further: artists are at no fault here. The ones that manage to sell their artwork are benefiting from NFTs financially. For the past year, the arts industry has suffered incredibly. I encourage supporting artists by all means. I am opposed to harming the planet in the process. 

How Do Popular Cryptocurrencies Work, and Why Are They Harmful?

The cryptocurrency on which most NFT sales are based is called Ethereum. The price of Ethereum is linked to how much supply/demand there is. When a currency grows, there is a lot of demand, leading to a sudden increase in transactions. Physical energy must be used to complete every transaction. The more popular a currency is (increased demand), the more energy is used in processing transactions. This is called Proof of Work. In order to do any transaction with Ethereum, the system must show that it has done work. The higher the value of each transaction, the more work has to be done. The more people hop on the hype train, the more popular the currency. The more popular, the higher the number of transactions. The higher the number of transactions, the more energy is used. This is a never-ending loop.

An average Ethereum transaction takes up 35 kWh of energy. To put that into perspective, that’s how much an EU citizen consumes in 4 days. This is unbelievably high already. But it gets higher, depressingly higher. 

What Are NFTs?

The idea behind NFTs is to create a unique token that cannot be exchanged, divided, or changed in any way, hence the non-fungibility of the token. Therefore, an NFT is a collectible item, like a collectible dollar that’s been issued once, sort of like buying an expensive painting. It holds value as an item. You can’t pay with a piece of painting for ice cream. An NFT is a digital version of this. 

The Energy Consumption of NFTs Is Catastrophic

The trick with NFTs is that they are unique. The more artists mint NFTs (create digital assets for their artworks), the more transactions happen. Moreover, every bid, canceled bid, purchase, etc. is also a transaction. This suggests that an NFT is very transaction-heavy. And because of the nature of an NFT transaction, it takes much more energy compared to a regular cryptocurrency transaction. In numbers: 82 kWh, with 48 kg of CO2 emitted. That’s more than 2.3 times higher than a normal transaction.

You already know that an NFT transaction takes up a lot of energy. But an NFT sale from start to finish can be hundreds of transactions. It is estimated that an average NFT takes up 340 kWh of energy and emits 211 kg of CO2. This compares to flying for two hours or driving for 620 miles. Worst, most NFTs will never be sold, causing artists to lose money while also harming the planet irreversibly. 

What About Artists?

A few anonymous case studies will come in handy. 

Say an artist sold around a small number of artworks, with each having a few hundred editions, totaling 800. Over a course of 3 months, these sales totaled 138,272 kWh of energy and 85 tons of CO2. This is comparable to flying for 825 hours and consuming electricity for 40 years. 

Another artist is more popular. They have made more artwork and sold around 1,500 editions. During that time, they have used 263,538 kWh and emitted 163 tons of CO2 as result. This compares to the total energy consumption of an EU citizen for 77 years and flying for 1,500 hours. If you fancy boiling a kettle, you’d have to boil it 3.5 million times. 

You can interpret these values however you wish. But energy consumption of NFTs is unbelievably high, unnecessarily high. 

What About the Platforms? 

Open Sea, one of the most popular platforms for digital art, underwent (as of 2021 March 31) 869,077 transactions, resulting in 67,824,222 kg of CO2 emitted. Another popular platform, Nifty Gateway, underwent 130,904 transactions, resulting in 15,382,066 kg of CO2. The nine most popular NFT platforms have undergone 1,606,435 transactions in total. This emitted 115,811,072 kg of CO2. That’s 115,811 tons. You would have to fly for 146 years nonstop to emit that amount. An EU citizen would have to use electricity for 83,266 years to emit that amount. 

Can Something Be Done?

The short answer is yes, there are ways to do NFT’s without harming the environment on such a biblical scale. 

The solution that has been in development for the past seven years is Ethereum 2.0. It uses a different method that is called Proof of Stake. The mining capability of a new block is not linked to energy, but to the amount of currency already present. Current news suggests ETH 2.0 being released to the general public in the next few years. Hopefully, the sense of urgency that is created by the sudden jump in NFT popularity will speed up the rollout of ETH 2.0. However, once launched, ETH 2.0 will only enable faster greener transactions. A better solution than ETH 2.0 is also in development. 

That solution is Efinity. A recently introduced NFT chain (part of the futuristic Polkadot network) is created with the goal of minting NFTs at heart. Efinity claims to be cheaper for creators and a lot cleaner for the environment. For the end-users, Efinity will allow fast (no more than six seconds) transactions, and what is even more exciting, no need for a blockchain wallet. This improves accessibility for all users and allows for NFTs to grow even more while being sustainable. This growth will be encouraged by how easy it will be to use Efinity for a new user.  The general idea of the NFT is great; however, the execution is terrible. Efinity aims to solve that.

The CEO of Enjin (the company developing Efinity) claims: 

NFTs should be for everyone. Building with Polkadot will enable us to deliver an accessible, scalable solution that empowers everyone to participate in the emerging NFT economy. With the end-user in mind, Efinity will provide a fun, simple, and accessible experience for all.

Closing Thoughts

For now, NFT’s are truly deadly for the planet. Until ETH 2.0 launches or even better, Efinity, I discourage NFT transactions. There are greener ways of supporting artists, such as donations or auctions. 

Please, do not harass artists using NFT platforms. Instead, share this article in order to raise awareness of the pressing issue. I don't condone anyone who used the information in here to attack an artist. 

What are your thoughts on this? Should NFTs be protested against in spite of what they offer artists? Should we boycott NFTs? Let me know in the comments; I always read them.

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132 Comments

Previous comments
Illya Ovchar's picture

Thank you for the comment! There are green NFT platforms, however, the most popular ones use ETH as the currency. For that reason, I say most and not all NFT platforms are harmful. Moreover, the last section is dedicated to how NFTs can be done in an environmentally friendly fashion.
EDIT: just checked the resource. Strongly considering part II of this article talking about the green NFT platforms.

J R's picture

Thanks Illya, I appreciate it. You are right that most of the popular platforms today are on Ethereum. They have the most investment and more budget to spend on scouting out celebrity endorsements for exclusive drops... Those of us in the CleanNFT group have been putting pressure on them but most of those platforms have their feet firmly planted in Ethereum.

The difficult thing is right now is making artists aware of alternative platforms and shifting the space towards them. It's starting to happen but not as quickly as we would like.

We have gathered developers from several of the PoS blockchains in our discord. I'm sure they would be happy to discuss the benefits of using their platforms vs these Eth based ones.

Illya Ovchar's picture

That's great! I love the spreadsheet you shared, lots of useful links on it. I think a part II is certainly in the works now ;-)

Christian Lainesse's picture

Why the focus on NFTs and Ethereum? I think bitcoin has a lot more mining farms than all the other cryptostuff combined.

Illya Ovchar's picture

NFTs are applicable to photographers and artists, which is the main focus of Fstoppers

Christian Lainesse's picture

So in short, fossil-fuel-produced energy consumption is exacerbated by cryptocurrency operations, of which Ethereum are a fraction, NFTs being a small part of that fraction that a minority of photographers are getting into. Therefore, photographers are contributing to the destruction of the planet. Shame on us indeed.

David Rinaldi's picture

Illya, please edit this article. The WAX blockchain uses a dpos model and is currently doing massive volume. Small artists and Household names like; William Shatner, Godzilla, Topps, and Funko are creating their collectible NFT’s on the WAX blockchain. Because it is dpos it is not harmful to the planet as you describe. Transactions are instant! Check out Cryptoslam to find out how many of the most successful (most volume) NFT releases are happening on WAX (it’s probably at least half of the top 15).
Your article makes it sound like the solution has not yet arrived. It’s already here, in fact Wax pivoted from ETH years ago and has been doing NFT’s for far longer than any project running on Ethereum.
Please check it out. Your headline must be changed or it is damaging to brands like Wax who are doing NFT’s responsibly.

Illya Ovchar's picture

I'll be dedicating a separate piece to clean NFTs, as well as ways to support artists.

Robert Ellis's picture

First: You are conflating two things. 1) NFTs currently require a lot of energy. 2) Energy is currently not clean enough.

The important problem is making energy sustainable.

Economic competition will solve the NFT energy efficiency problem, regardless of wnergy sustainability.

Brian Bennett's picture

1. You are basing this entire article and math on Ethereum transactions. NFTs don't all come from Ethereum. Ethereum requires multiple GeForce graphics cards to mine. Cardano requirements is a raspberry pi. HUGE fact that you conveniently left out which refutes this article.

2. I can't even read this with a straight face if you think NFTs are made only for artists. Totally ignorant to think that. Definition of NFT is a token you can attach a file to. This is not exclusive to art work. NFT can also hold public documents, licenses, degrees, contracts, proof of ownership over anything like sneakers or collectables. Stuff that can change the world yet some dense people think it is just a fad for artists.

Illya Ovchar's picture

The concept of an NFT can apply to many digital assets. For the sake of the argument, I think it's best to look at the art NFTs as those are wildly popular and what most people associate NFTs with.

Adam Artherton's picture

People are so short sighted about NFTs so far, especially judging by the average social media post. NFTs for art are only the beginning. NFTs can and will be used to associate ownership of physical objects. Selling a physical object with a known NFT? If you don't have the NFT to trace its ownership, it could be assumed fake. Or worth less. Its use as a ledger and a value store is where the future is headed. Add in the latest and greatest smart contracts, and you're revolutionizing the entire structure of business. There are so many potential uses for NFTs and their parent chain coins that it always disappoints me when I see EVERYONE focusing on art and refusing to look past the now and into the potential for these concepts.

PoS is not only coming in ETH2.0 but it's already here in ADA, Tron and dozens of other coin projects currently expanding. It will see adoption, and the environmental criticism will be a distant memory. Once that's dealt with I hope the public can come around to realizing that these concepts are sticking around and to start thinking progressively about it and to get creative with what crypto can really do for the world.

Again, art is only the beginning for NFTs, and all the doomsaying in the world won't stop it.

Alex Kasper's picture

I dont think you know how crypto works or what most of it runs on let alone what and how NTFs are or work. Doing a few minutes of research would show you differently. Most mining operations run off green energy. Simple and plain. So no its not so giant impact against the planet.

Secondly yes as of right now because they are "newer" and more people are understanding them there are some things they need to be addressed in NTFs. But this does not change the fact of originals and how it works. Yes you can sell or make your own verison of anything that's called counterfeiting and its already a real thing. But if you know who the artist is you can trace back who made the NTF thus always being able to get an orginal.

This is not the only application for NTFs or blockchain. Do some research before you post a informed article.

Michelle Maani's picture

Please, please, please don't use acronyms without using what they stand for at the beginning of the article! It's like using pronouns without antecedents. Just because you think "everyone" knows something doesn't mean they do.

BoBo ZoBo's picture

I am going to have to go against the grain here and note a few things:

With all due respect, you may have access to some studies, but that is a LONG way from being qualified to make a such a sure and declarative statement on the matter. You are neither an expert in this specific technology or in environmental science, and the studies are speculative at best. They use loose number to justify a projection which could be entirely inaccurate in practice, and you are use them without understanding to do the same. Half of your references are not even studies, just blogs that do the same. Not sure where the scientific merit of your discussion is here.

The fact is, no one can say with any certainty at all, what the ultimate economic impact of NFTs will be, especially in the larger scheme of decentralized computing technology.

NTF annoyances on the creative field aside, the core of the technology is just distributed networks. If this offends you, then stop using Amazon, Adobe, Google or any other cloud service which powers the creative industry these days, it is exactly the same issue. How much energy and bandwidth do you think that 100MB image is eating up when it gets copied and changed across a dozen different servers? How much energy is this article taking up?

LaKeshia Sicari's picture

If NFT's infuriate u,I'm sure u don't buy anything from China 💯 as many emissions they produce, now everyone always concentrate on ONLY ETHEREUM, NFTS can be supported on more than just ETHEREUM ,so people really do need to do their research, besides ETHEREUM is Wall Streets darling so regardless of how anyone feels about it Wall Street & JP Morgan are making huge plans for it,which means I wonder how many people are going to dislike ethereum when their portfolio starts being stored as smart contracts on ethereum......good luck with that,but great article

Jacob Kral's picture

The bad math and astronomical inaccuracies in the energy cost figures of a transaction make this article EXTREMELY deceptive. If these were accurate then mining wouldn't even be profitable and the network would cease to function.

In reality it costs around 100x less per ethereum transaction than what you've cited. NFT transactions do not in any use more power than a regular transaction.

Furthermore you ignore the reality that most miners like to make money, and seek the lowest possible energy costs they can get, meaning most of them end up in areas with surplus amounts of cheap energy and invest in renewable/green energy. Crypto is a very potent driver for green energy research. There is nothing inherently wrong or dangerous about using electricity, and there are usually zero emissions created during mining (it's just like running servers at youtube, Amazon, etc).

You could write a similar hyperbolic article about the dangerous world of video games, because those darn machines (consoles and computers) are churning all the same and burning through watts. If you add up all the electricity from gaming, media editing, video rendering etc.. it would also be quite a scare. Yet these industries aren't demonized for their electric consumption.. I do not understand the double standard.

David Pavlich's picture

This is an exercise in human nature. People tend to get onto a subject that they love or hate and attempt to prove a point by whatever means. I cite electric vehicles. The virtue of the vehicle is that it doesn't have an internal combustion engine. Fine. However, what isn't discussed is how the raw materials for those big ole' batteries is mined. It ain't pretty.

And now, lithium has attained a high enough price that Canada, where about 4% of the estimated lithium reserves happen to be, will open up mines for lithium, several of which will be right here in Manitoba. I'll be watching the editorial pages for reaction to the mines when they open up.

Miguel Matos's picture

a dishonest article.

Here are some questions to study:
- Does the author know what 2 layers are? What are the costs for the user and the network and how does it work?
- What is the percentage of use of renewable energy for mining? What is the percentage of use of surplus energy (energy that would be wasted by excess production)?
- do you know that the mining difficulty is adjusted according to demand?
- When China enters the rainy season, the price of reward for mining is lower. Why? Is it because there is surplus energy that can be used for mining? (china is one of the biggest mining countries)
- Do you know what proof of work vs proof of stake is and what does it imply?
- What is the consumption of the global financial system? Will it be lower than crypto technology?

In conclusion, they use the same arguments against bitcoin ... and as we all know, bitcoin is compared to gold.
- what will be worse for the world? bitcoin mining or gold mining?
- which mining pollutes land and rivers, destroys landscapes and natural resources?
- which promotes slavery for mining?
- which promotes cartels and criminal groups?

study please.

John Doe's picture

You should look up Nic Carter, he covers your opinions very well. No offense but you have no clue what you’re talking about. Also PoS is the same system we have now - a plutocracy. If you have questions please let me know.

Devyn Barron's picture

There are already several proof of stake blockchains such as EOS that provide NFTs in an ecological way. NFTs as youre speaking are new age collectibles. Art isnt even close to the best use case for NFTs when they can be used for Real Estate transactions, supply chain logistics, as well as gaming microtransactions or in some cases providing residual income. Some folks are making thousands of dollars per month staking NFTs. Your title should have specifically called out ETH and those like it instead pf demonizing the entire market.

Fish Bug's picture

ok, but how many hours in a plane does single camera travel before ever being purchased? afterwards how many is it driven with the photographer as they go on trips they otherwise wouldnt without a camera? cameras are wrecking the environment and i'm not even exaggerating.

Robert Chambers's picture

There are some holes in this article. I am not an expert, so won't state specifics but I think it needs to be researched a bit more thoroughly.

Most of the comments here show that they really don't understand NFT'S. NFT'S are a good thing, are more secure and pretty much impossible to fake. Comparing it to a ponzi scheme is just weird.

The environmental impact needs addressing, but already is tbh. There are companies out there already developing their own solutions. NFT'S and blockchain does not have to be used one way or another.

There are some people jumping on a bandwagon, attaching NFT'S to things that are crazy and some people seem to pay it, but that's like blaming the printing press for what people waste their dollar bills on.

simon narborough's picture

I would like to see some of the sources of your information cited..ie cost of an ETH is 35wkh

Jose Gerardo Palma Duran's picture

We just need Cardano with smart contracts and good bye to these problems. I'm surprised that the article doesn't mention it when it is one of the largest traded coins, the most advanced (technologically speaking) and the only one created on a scientific peer reviewed environment.

MC G's picture

This is only a prelude to the leftist maniacs coming for our daily computer usage. Will they tax us by the minute for carbon usage and fine us for going over the limits? LMAO you people are really crackpots.

jim hughes's picture

If you live in a nation taxing carbon emissions, either directly or indirectly, you're already being taxed for your computer usage. And if you're running a big server farm dedicated to this cryptocurrency mania, hopefully you're paying quite a bit.

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

NFTs a global ecological disaster?

It seems to me that all crypto-currency, bitcoin, blockchain type of technologies are an ecological disaster due to the enormous energy consumption. I don't know how big NFTs are within the total space of blockchain things, to me it feels they're something new and relatively small within that space?

Anyway, I'm not trying to argue your point, but I feel they're only a small part of the total problem that is blockchain.

I also feel that NFTs are only beneficial for the platforms on which they're minted and traded, because they will always get their processing fees. For any other participant it's mostly a gamble if you earn or lose on it, or if you will earn peanuts of earn big. And as a buyer, what do you really get? Nothing but a few bits of computer-data. You don't actually get that piece of art.

You just get some collectible bits, collectible illusions. The real profit of trading such collectibles never goes to the producer, but to traders -- like art can become an investment of which the artist never sees the sums earned by investors and traders.

Why not just pay the artist for what you value their art at?

Better for the artist, better for the environment.

William Hammer's picture

Not a single source was listed. Where did you get your data?

Illya Ovchar's picture

Check previous comments, please.

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

In such a long list of comments it can be hard to find just your sources.

Perhaps these 2 links help:

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/12/bitcoins-insane-energy-consu...

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/05/new-study-quantifies-bitcoin...

(They're not the same sources as Ilya has quoted somewhere above but these are my sources on the matter ;) )

Jacob R. Oskam's picture

The more I experience about online selling the more I start to dislike it.
But maybe it's my age ? I started commercial photography in the mid 1970's - all my contacts were face-to-face or ear-to-ear , I made a nice income ... very nice actually. I chatted with nice secretaries , was invited for a cuppa coffee or a meal in the corporate restaurant. I sent my films by night courier and spent time with friends .
Then online business came : struggling for day on end to learn what a computer was , mastered it , created digital portfolios , shared them online with people I never met. Sold my photo books all over the world to total strangers , they never invited me for a pint of beer , just transferred me their money and I dispatched my work. Me sitting lonely in my office staring at a growing number of coins on my bright screen they sitting lonely in a lounge room with a 'numbered and signed by the famous artist' collectors item on their lap.
And now we learn about .... NFT .... smoking the planet. To grow our monetary number to become famous.
Just this week I pruned my Facebook account to the friends I really know - I'm down to less than 54 , I deleted my Pinterest account and Twitter and Instagram 500Px and Linkedin were gone long ago.
How I survive? I sell face-to-face again! Scary isn't it ? Meeting real people - no way to hide emotions , no way to pretend.
I sell panoramic landscape photos in my local region , a few outlets for luxury cards I print myself , a few outets for large wall decorations I either print myself or have them printed in the city. People stop me on the street , thank me for supporting a charity with a print , thanking me to share my 'eye' on their landscape , asking me if they can get a small discount ... people inviting me in their life because I shared my views to brighten their life.
Life can be so good - don't waste it with NFT , does that perhaps stand for Not Very Tangible ?