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NFT: a monstrosity for the environment?

At the heart of the news for several months, NFTs are singled out for being extremely energy-intensive.

Crédits : qimono via Pixabay

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few weeks, you probably haven’t missed out on the craziness of NFT. These virtual tokens are sold at high prices on dedicated platforms such as OpenSea, Rarible or even Marble Cards. For several months now, everyone has had their own small auction. Elon Musk with his electro track, via Pringles and its cryptocrips or even more recently the tenniswoman Oleksandra Oliynyokova who has just put up for sale his … arm, they all want a piece of the pie. Criticized for their speculative and unregulated aspect, non-fungible tokens are also singled out for being extremely energy-intensive.

What exactly is an NFT?

One could very quickly define NFTs as certificates of digital authenticity. These tokens are secure and authenticated using the blockchain, like Bitcoins for example. However, they are not exchangeable, which means that the holder of an NFT will not be able to sell it against another NFT for example. To get rid of it, he will have to put it on sale on dedicated marketplaces. The goal is obviously for collectors to capitalize on the growing popularity of the technology and later resell them to the highest bidder. If the digital work is accessible to everyone, as is the case with the first tweet in history, the holder of the NFT is the sole and exclusive owner.

What impact for the environment?

But now, this new technology worries more and more environmentalists, at a time when the goal of carbon neutral is on everyone’s lips. If no study has yet looked into the question, the consequences of this new art form could be dramatic. The use of cryptocurrencies is one of the reasons that make NFT a potential ecological disaster. They are indeed necessary for the purchase of NFT and have a heavy impact on our greenhouse gas emissions. To produce Bitcoin, you need very powerful and above all very power hungry computers. Most of the time, this electricity is produced from coal and therefore contributes significantly to the production of greenhouse gases. According to a study by the University of Cambridge, the Bitcoin ecosystem represents 127 TWh year-on-year, more than the consumption of Norway or Argentina.

To this already very heavy bill, is added that of the NFT technology itself. The servers that already host the works, but also the technologies required for auctions. While it is still difficult to know exactly what is the impact of an NFT on the environment, some have struggled to calculate it. On the Cryptoart.WTF site, an artist and scientist calculated the electricity consumption needed to sell an NFT. According to him, the sale of the famous Nyan Cat would represent the equivalent of two months of electricity for an average European inhabitant.

Faced with this observation, many artists have given up using NFTs to sell their works. This is the case of Joanie Lemercier, who explains at length on her blog.

“Without travel and with mainly digital distribution, this new model seems to have the potential to become a sustainable practice for artists. This is until you understand the magnitude of the environmental impacts of the current blockchain: it’s a disaster ”.

The French artist explains in particular that putting 6 cryptoarts online consumed more energy in ten seconds than his studio over the last two years. He explains that it would take 12 years for a tree to compensate for the impact of a single NFT.

It remains to be seen whether the NFT technology will succeed in going green. The various players in the sector will also have to play the card of transparency to allow technology to evolve.

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