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To Embrace, or Not To Embrace, That Is the Question

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Inflation seems hard to escape right now. Here in the United States (U.S.) inflation just hit 7 percent. That's the highest its been since the summer of 1982. Many of us are feeling the squeeze, especially the most vulnerable communities. Sure, for those well off, inflation is a mere inconvenience. For the wealthy it might look like a few appetizers at their favorite restaurant being unavailable, or a couple dollars more. But for the middle class and those living on the spectrum of poverty, inflation is akin to having an anaconda squeezing every bit of life from your body. It's the difference between buying fresh milk or powdered milk. Or choosing to leave the carton of eggs on the shelf at the grocery store.

If you're a news junkie like me you probably even watched portions of the U.S. Senate confirmation hearing for Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell last Tuesday (January 11th). As part of his confirmation hearing Powell shared a bit of the strategy he would pursue (through tighter monetary policy) to control inflation. Will this work? I'm not sure, I'm no economist.

As inflation seemingly spins out of control, some folks may now be thinking about how they'll hedge inflation. What's an inflation hedge? It's an investment that one considers to protect themselves against the decreasing purchase power of a particular currency due to the rise of inflation. The idea here is to invest in an asset that can maintain or even increase its value thus offsetting the decreased value of said currency. Two of the most commonly pushed commodities that some believe can act as an inflation hedge include gold and silver. Some also believe cryptocurrency is another asset that some may consider to hedge inflation (although Mark Cuban isn't one of them due to cryptocurrencies volatility).

But, before I continue I'll just say this post isn't about making investments. My name isn't William Devane, and I'm not here to tell you about Rosland Capital or how you need to protect yourself from the next economic crisis by investing in gold. Nor am I making that claim about cryptocurrency.

So, what is this post about? I'll tell you. It's about whether or not we should more broadly as a society embrace (invest in and use) cryptocurrency due to its negative impact on the environment, not necessarily our wallets or the economy.

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Let me be clear, I'm not against cryptocurrency, nor am I trying to shame those who have sought investing in this asset. It's just that during a time where environmental stewardship and curbing climate change is as urgent as its ever been in my lifetime, I sincerely wonder how cryptocurrency has a place in the future. How can a currency that's so bad for the environment ever be one's main currency?

For those unfamiliar, the toll cryptocurrency takes on the environment has been in the news quite a bit through 2021. But unless you're hyper-focused on investing in Bitcoin, Stellar, Dogecoin, Ethereum or frankly any form of cryptocurrency, chances are you missed this. Additionally, unlike a minted coin or printed paper dollar, cryptocurrency doesn't overtly appear to be bad for the environment because it's not a tangible item. But the effects are terrible. How terrible you ask? Let's take Bitcoin for example, according to Digiconomist, in terms of electrical energy spent, a single Bitcoin transaction is "equivalent to the power consumption of an average U.S. household over 77.37 days". That's roughly 2257 kWh (kilowatt hours) of electrical energy per transaction. That's insane!

So how does this compare to your average credit or debit card transaction? After all, swiping plastic is one of the most common ways we purchase goods and services today. This will blow your mind. A single Bitcoin transaction is "equivalent to the carbon footprint of 2,376,454 Visa transactions or 178,707 hours of watching Youtube". That's roughly 1072 kg (kilograms) of CO2 (carbon dioxide) per transaction.

It's safe to say Bitcoin runs on an energy intensive network. In total, the mining and use of Bitcoin consumes more energy than the entire country of Thailand. In fact, Bitcoin consumes so much energy that Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk reversed course on his initial decision to allow Bitcoin to be used as a form of payment to purchase Tesla vehicles. Why? He cited environmental concerns and acknowledged how bad Bitcoin is for the environment. I can continue, but I suspect you get the point.

It's also important to note that all cryptocurrency isn't equal in terms of impact. And while I focus solely on Bitcoin with my examples, know that there are more than 8,000 cryptocurrencies that exist as of 2022. Are they all as harmful as Bitcoin? Not at all.

When compared to other cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin has close to three times the carbon footprint as Ethereum, almost fourteen times the carbon footprint as Dogecoin, nearly thirty-five times the carbon footprint as Litecoin, and more than one-hundred times the carbon footprint of Monero. It's important to note however, these figures will likely increase as cryptocurrency prices rise and as crypto-miners see the incentives to using more energy.

So, it begs the question, how many forms of cryptocurrency have the potential of being harmful (or as harmful as Bitcoin) to the very world we live as more people invest? And, if cryptocurrency is embraced, how do we make it more environmentally sustainable as a currency?

I don't have the answer. But, I do know cryptocurrency is becoming more popular.

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

More and more are businesses accepting cryptocurrencies as a form of payment, and there are certainly true benefits of doing so, according to Deloitte.

Apparently some 2,300 businesses in the U.S. accept Bitcoin, and while that may be a conservative estimate, others like Skynova estimate close to one-third of all small businesses in the U.S. accept some form of cryptocurrency. What about non-profit organizations? Well, not as many, but as this form of payment becomes more popular, there are longer-term implications on the non-profit sector at large.

Personally I don't think cryptocurrency is going the way of the dodo. I believe it's here and here to stay in a very, very big way.

But, to my original point, should we embrace it more generally? Or maybe embrace some like Dogecoin and Litecoin that appear to have less of a carbon footprint, while condemning Bitcoin which is without a doubt harmful to the environment?

Beyond the most immediate implications economically, what more do we need to be considering as more people look at cryptocurrency as a monetary asset? Or is it already too late?

As someone who is dedicated to embracing change, the future and all that it has to offer, I do wonder what the longer-term impact of cryptocurrency bears on the very environment I care deeply about. I'll admit, I don't know enough about this issue (yet) to make a firm decision on whether or not cryptocurrency be embraced by the masses. Quite the opposite, I have just enough information to ask questions, questions we should all be asking. Why? Because this effects more than our financial portfolios. It may be sabotaging the very programs folks like myself (and others in my line of work) design for the preservation of society.

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