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NFTs, aka Basically Taking a Flamethrower to Our Planet over… Art?

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

There’s really nothing that makes the average person (especially those of us who aren’t very math- or money-savvy) scratch their head in confusion more than cryptocurrency.

Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

If you’re active in any online art communities, you’ve most likely been hearing about NFTs for a few months now. Even Saturday Night Live did a segment on them, and the curiosity around them is only growing.

Personally, I’m very active in the Twittersphere (aka ground zero for most of the outlandish news and drama that the internet has to offer), and follow dozens of digital artists— all of whom have been vehemently protesting the sale of NFTs. In fact, in nearly all of the circles I’ve found myself in, participation in the distribution and/or purchase of NFTs, or even so much as a positive comment on said things, has earned many a formerly-beloved artist a swift exile.

Now, that’s all well and good, but I’m betting that a good majority of you are thinking the same thing as I was three weeks ago: “okay, but what is it?”

The acronym stands for “non-fungible token,” which essentially means that it’s a one-of-a-kind good, service, or experience. Most of the time this refers to a piece of artwork, but an NFT can really be anything that can be traded digitally.

“So artists are being kicked out of their communities for selling digital art? I thought that was the whole point!”

Not quite.

The problem with NFTs is not so much with the “non-fungible token” itself, but rather with the devastating environmental effect caused by the transaction.

NFTs are made possible by something called blockchain— this is essentially a cryptocurrency-based digital records book or ledger that allows NFTs to live up to their promise and be authenticated as one-of-a-kind despite living on the internet, where anything is able to be duplicated and downloaded with the click of a button.

However, the main issue of this blockchain-based market is that most cryptocurrency has a heavy carbon footprint. This is due to the fossil fuel-based energy required to run the networks and computers for transactions, stock market shenanigans… the list goes on.

The majority of NFTs are stored in the blockchain of the Ethereum cryptocurrency, which, though still not as bad as crypto-giant Bitcoin, has one of the worst carbon footprints in the game.

To put it in perspective, a single basic Ethereum transaction uses energy equivalent to an entire household’s energy consumption over the course of four days— in about 10 seconds. The typical NFT transaction is vastly more complex than this, and as a result requires more than double the energy consumption, and produces more than double the carbon emissions.

But it gets worse; the production and distribution of a single NFT can involve multiple transactions, including the minting and bidding on the item, possible cancellations of bids, and then the sale and subsequent transfer of ownership of the token.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably starting to understand why those NFT participants on the Big Blue Bird App were met with such powerful outrage and consequences. It’s the same tired, old fight that environmentalists and the environmentally-conscious have been dealing with for decades, dressed up in pretty new clothes with a bow in its hair.

Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki once said, “we’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit.”

In order for us to make actual change as a society and see progress and improvement in our climate-change-slash-humans-are-torching-the-Earth-for-pretty-pennies-situation, we need to be more cognizant of the things we do and put out into the world… because we only have one planet (let’s not get into the “emigrating to Mars” thing right now, please?). Most of us really like it here, and we want it to be here and, uh, habitable, for the next two millennia.


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