“It’s like having a toothache for 24 hours a day, every day,” Bryan Maacks, a Niagara Falls, NY resident.
In 2020, China controlled over sixty-five percent of the world’s processing power for cryptocurrency. Hydropower and dirty coal powered the computer calculations of a currency that did not exist in physical form, no yuan, dollar, gold, or coin.
Cryptocurrency exists only electronically, and it can buy cars, furniture, yachts, a trip to the Caribbean, and other goodies. China kicked those industries out of the country in 2021. The reasons were financial risk and the enormous energy required for computations of transactions processed by millions of investors worldwide for twenty-four hours a day.
Cryptocurrency is also not regulated and answers to no government authority. There is no transaction fee for those who use crypto, and the purchaser, but not the transaction, is anonymous. It is ‘permissionless,’ writes Bitcoin Magazine. So anyone can use it, traitors, terrorists, criminals, and insurrectionists, along with users of good and evil will.
Since the industry lost its home base, it is desperate for a new home. Some have gone to neighboring countries with lots of fossil fuels to run the enterprise.
But the industry has found homes in the United States as some governors and mayors work to attract start up’s. “U.S. miners themselves are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in bitcoin mining and converting abandoned factories and power plants into large bitcoin mining facilities,” writes Renee Cho in an outstanding article published by the Columbia Climate School.
Besides the incredible environmental and climate damage, they are pretty loud. When located near residential areas, people cannot sleep due to the noise of thousands of fans running non-stop to keep the computers cool.
In Niagara Falls, Blockfusion and U.S. Bitcoin found a home in western New York. Blockfusion took over an abandoned coal warehouse for their operation, while U.S. Bitcoin occupies a former sodium plant. The hydropower on the Niagara River was too tempting not to relocate there.
The AFP writes:
“I get four hours of sleep, maybe, because of that constant noise,” says Elizabeth Lundy, a resident of Niagara Falls who lives about two blocks from the US Bitcoin plant.
“I can hear the noise even through the storm windows.”
From Elizabeth’s front porch the noise can be heard loud and clear. And it only gets louder as you get closer to the plant on Buffalo Avenue.
Another local, who lives more than 1.5km from the plant, compares the sound to a 747 jet. Once, he could hear the sound of Niagara Falls – over 3km away – from his back garden, but now it’s just the whirring sound of the Bitcoin plant.
Faced with a flood of complaints, mainly regarding US Bitcoin, the mayor of Niagara Falls decreed a moratorium on any new mining activity in December 2021. In early September 2022 he set a strict noise limit of 40 to 50 decibels near residential areas.
In early October, City Hall ordered the closure of the two bitcoin farms until they comply with new local statutes.
“The noise pollution of this industry is like nothing else that has been there,” says Robert Restaino, Niagara Falls’ Mayor.
That’s quite a statement in a city that’s embraced heavy industry for decades.
Blockfusion cooperates somewhat to mitigate the noise, but U.S. Bitcoin has made little progress in responding to the city’s request.
The most consequential environmental impact is the amount of freshwater needed to operate, carbon emissions, e-waste, rising lake and river temperatures, and intake pipes that kill wildlife after they get sucked in.
Renee Cho writes:
The process of trying to come up with the right nonce that will generate the target hash is basically trial and error—in the manner of a thief trying random passwords to hack yours—and can take trillions of tries. With hundreds of thousands or more computers churning out guesses, Bitcoin is thought to consume 707 kwH per transaction. In addition, the computers consume additional energy because they generate heat and need to be kept cool. And while it’s impossible to know exactly how much electricity Bitcoin uses because different computers and cooling systems have varying levels of energy efficiency, a University of Cambridge analysis estimated that bitcoin mining consumes 121.36 terawatt hours a year. This is more than all of Argentina consumes, or more than the consumption of Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft combined.
Power plants such as Greenidge also consume large amounts of water. Greenidge draws up to 139 million gallons of fresh water out of Seneca Lake each day to cool the plant and discharges it some 30 to 50° F hotter than the lake’s average temperature, endangering the lake’s wildlife and ecology. Its large intake pipes also suck in and kill larvae, fish and other wildlife.
Earth Justice and the Sierra Club sent a letter to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation urging it to reject the renewal of Greenidge’s permit that would allow it to increase its greenhouse gas emissions. They also warned that there are almost 30 power plants in upstate New York that could potentially be converted to bitcoin mining operations; if this occurred, it could foil New York State’s efforts to eliminate virtually all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Globally, Bitcoin’s power consumption has dire implications for climate change and achieving the goals of the Paris Accord because it translates into an estimated 22 to 22.9 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year—equivalent to the CO2 emissions from the energy use of 2.6 to 2.7 billion homes for one year. One study warned that Bitcoin could push global warming beyond 2°C. Another estimated that bitcoin mining in China alone could generate 130 million metric tons of CO2 by 2024. With more mining moving to the U.S. and other countries, however, this amount could grow even larger unless more renewable energy is used.
And even if it one day becomes possible to run all bitcoin mining on renewable energy, its e-waste problem remains. To be competitive, miners want the most efficient hardware, capable of processing the most computations per unit of energy. This specialized hardware becomes obsolete every 1.5 years and can’t be reprogrammed to do anything else. It’s estimated that the Bitcoin network generates 11.5 kilotons of e-waste each year, adding to our already huge e-waste problem.
The issue of crypto mining is not on the agenda at COP 27 nor calculated in any climate model.