Why Bitcoin Is a Threat to The Planet
The Internet and the technologies that go along with it have changed life in innumerable ways, many of them welcome. It has put a vast array of information at our fingertips, made shopping a breeze, and has let us stream movies or shows at any hour.
Businesses can communicate instantaneously with suppliers, subsidiaries, and customers anywhere in the world. Information technologies can help businesses operate more efficiently.
But there are many downsides as well, from the excesses of social media to the risks of being hacked. The negative headlines this week about Facebook (NSDQ: FB) and how it helps spread hate speech underscore the dark side of the Internet.
Here we focus on one particular downside: the way that modern technology has vastly increased the government’s ability to gather reams of information about the activities, whereabouts, and contacts of private citizens.
Even if you accept these intrusions as necessary for national security, it still leaves many with a queasy feeling that their privacy has been invaded.
The Appeal of Crypto
That brings us to cryptocurrencies.
Crypto’s appeal reflects the urge to protect the freedoms and privacy compromised by our highly connected society. Cryptocurrencies have no government or central bank involvement. Rather, via the blockchain, they allow users to conduct transactions on a decentralized peer-to-peer basis. The blockchain is a technologically sophisticated form of distributed digital record-keeping that keeps track of every transaction.
Cryptocurrencies, while digital, are distinct from digital currencies issued by governments, which are digital versions of the sovereign currencies that now exist in paper form.
Governments that issue digital currencies will be able to follow the paths of virtually all monetary transactions, gaining enormous information about what individuals are up to. The age of digital currencies is fast approaching.
In this area, China has been in the lead and the country plans to introduce its digital currency during the upcoming Winter Olympics. As digital currencies emerge, they are likely to give further impetus to the already growing use of cryptocurrencies, to the benefit of investors who have gotten aboard.
But not all cryptocurrencies are created equal. Bitcoin is the best known, but it has major drawbacks and I think it should be banned (or at least shunned).
Voracious Energy Consumer
The huge knock against Bitcoin is how much electricity it uses. The currency is created by using computers to solve very complex problems. Running those computers requires electricity.
With Bitcoin, the problems are far more difficult than for some other cryptocurrencies, requiring far more electricity. Most estimates today are that Bitcoin mining requires about 10 times more energy than, for example, Ethereum.
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The world needs to get to where it can rely entirely on renewable energies. That goal is non-negotiable. Whether you believe in climate change or not, the need to transition to renewables is still essential because of rising resource scarcities.
If we run out of commodities, it will literally be lights out. Over the earth’s long history, millions of species have become extinct. Bitcoin is a threat that increases the odds that human beings will join that list.
To achieve the essential transition to a sustainable world, the first step is to shift as much of our activities as possible to electricity. A plentiful supply of electricity, which is a primary clean energy carrier, will in turn let us produce abundant amounts of the second clean energy carrier, hydrogen. This is a tall order that will require a remarkable global effort.
Bitcoin Is a Threat to Renewables
Conducting some additional Bitcoin math helps show why this grandfather of all cryptocurrencies is such a disastrous phenomenon. When you compare Bitcoin electricity usage to total electricity usage, you still come up with what might sound like a pretty small number, around half of 1%. Still, that’s more electricity than Norway uses and twice as much as Switzerland uses.
And it’s just the start, because it vastly understates the damage that Bitcoin inflicts. About 99% of Bitcoin miners’ costs come from what they pay for electricity. According to the International Energy Agency, solar energy’s cost per watt is the cheapest electricity source in history. Solar also is the most scalable energy source. In sum, solar is the world’s most important source of energy: cheap, scalable, and clean.
Bitcoin’s current electricity usage is equivalent to around 20% of worldwide solar electricity usage. Bitcoin miners are seeking to use as much solar energy as they can, since it’s cheap and carbon-free.
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It’s not hyperbolic to say that continued use of Bitcoin is a threat to humanity. If we have any prayer of exponentially increasing renewable energy, as is absolutely essential, we must be utterly committed to devoting all the cheap energy we have to that purpose.
Using more expensive energies to build out solar won’t work because it would end up making solar more expensive and less appealing. For every product produced on this planet, the cheaper the energy costs, the cheaper the product, creating greater demand.
Why China Has Banned Bitcoin Mining
Solar prices have begun to rise. Why? Because a shortage of cheap electricity in China has prevented that country from building the factories to produce the polysilicon needed to accommodate soaring solar demand.
Ultrapure polysilicon is essential both for solar panels and integrated circuits. Without ultrapure polysilicon, not only will solar be hammered but so will semiconductors, the heart of all our information technologies.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to believe that Bitcoin’s outsized electricity consumption explains why China has banned Bitcoin mining. Clearly China took that step in its own best interests, but it benefits everyone else as well. That, too, is in China’s interests, since China needs a viable world in which to live.
It’s another illustration of why it makes so much sense for countries to come together and cooperate on the critical issues that will shape everyone’s future. Cheap energy is the most valuable resource the world has. Let’s hope the world has enough sense to realize this and to shun Bitcoin and use other cryptocurrencies.
In the meantime, as an investor, you should consider the advice of my colleague, Dr. Stephen Leeb. He’s an expert on China, commodities, and the energy markets.
I work closely with Dr. Leeb on The Complete Investor. As chief investment strategist of the publication, Dr. Leeb just pinpointed a $128 trillion megatrend that’s poised to make early investors rich. Click here for details.