An alliance of environmental groups launched a campaign Monday to make bitcoin less energy intensive through changes to the software powering the cryptocurrency network.
The campaign is using the slogan “change the code, not the climate.” The slogan refers to altering the code of the bitcoin network, which uses as much electricity as some nations.
Greenpeace USA, the Environmental Working Group and other organizations are calling for the bitcoin blockchain, the ledger that records transactions, to switch from the current proof-of-work system to a proof-of-stake model. Proof of stake is less energy intensive than proof of work.
“It’s better to have a thoughtful and managed change that reduces climate emissions as soon as possible, rather than some sort of calamity later,” Greenpeace USA Campaign Director Rolf Skar said in a call with CNET.
Proof of work requires energy-sucking computer equipment to solve problems that validate transactions on the blockchain, a process known as mining. Miners are rewarded with coins when their machines complete the problems. In proof-of-stake models, computers are randomly selected to , and the computers that aren’t selected are in charge of validating the blocks created. To be part of the proof-of-staking process, miners need to offer a certain amount of coins for collateral.
The campaign comes amid a boom in bitcoin mining operations in the US that’s resuscitated business at coal plants, which belch out emissions that contribute to the climate crisis. Bitcoin mining has flourished in the US since China mining last year. The US has now replaced China as home to the most bitcoin mining operations.
“We’re seeing frontline community fights proliferating around the US where fossil fuel power plants that were idle or were on their way to retirement suddenly have new customers in the form of Bitcoin mining operations,” Skar said.
The University of Cambridge’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index finds bitcoin uses more energy than many nations, such as Norway and Sweden. The New York Times estimates bitcoin is responsible for one half of 1% of all global electricity use.
The Ethereum Foundation, which supports the Ethereum blockchain, the native blockchain of ether, the second-largest cryptocurrency by market cap after bitcoin, has planned to change from proof of work to proof of stake for a while. The switch has been delayed but is still planned for the second quarter of 2022.
Some people, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, have advocated for coal-powered bitcoin mining. Cruz, a Texas Republican, has said he sees the mines as a way to support his state’s power grid.
During a press call Tuesday, members of the campaign were quick to point out that the effort isn’t anti-bitcoin and is focused on reducing the network’s energy needs.
“In a climate crisis, we need a systemic shift,” said Skar. “The simplest solution to us is to move the system from proof of work to proof of stake.”