Tech enthusiasts have plenty of reasons to dislike cryptocurrency miners. Their demand for GPUs during the Ethereum mining craze astronomically raised graphics card prices, their setups take a cryptocurrency from 'accessible to everyone' to 'you need to invest tens of thousands of dollars to make any money' as soon as it becomes popular, and now it turns out their activities could be worse for Earth than real mining operations.
That claim arrives courtesy of a study in the Nature (opens in new tab) scientific journal by Max J. Krause and Thabet Tolaymat. The researchers developed a way to determine how much energy various cryptocurrency mining networks are using to generate $1USD worth of value (around 0.77 GBP). Those figures are constantly in flux, given the nature of cryptocurrencies and their worth on exchanges, but they aren't unknowable.
Here's what Krause and Tolaymat said about their findings in the paper's abstract (opens in new tab):
"From 1 January 2016 to 30 June 2018, we estimate that mining Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Monero consumed an average of 17, 7, 7 and 14 MJ [megajoules, an energy measurement unit] to generate one US$, respectively. Comparatively, conventional mining of aluminium, copper, gold, platinum and rare earth oxides consumed 122, 4, 5, 7 and 9 MJ to generate one US$, respectively, indicating that (with the exception of aluminium) cryptomining consumed more energy than mineral mining to produce an equivalent market value."
And those are just four cryptocurrencies. Other coins have also become popular in recent months, so odds are good that the cryptocurrency market as a whole even more energy. The volatility of cryptocurrency doesn't seem to matter; people are still mining enough to use a lot of energy.
This isn't the first study to warn about the environmental impact of cryptocurrency mining. Another one by the University of Hawaii at Manoa that Nature published on October 29 (opens in new tab) found that "Bitcoin emissions alone could push global warming above 2 degrees Celsius" in less than 30 years. Based on that study, cryptocurrency mining doesn't just have the ability to make components more expensive; it also has the potential to affect the rate of climate change.