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How Bad is Bitcoin Mining for the Environment? New Research Suggests Not So Bad.

Bitcoin mining emissions were on par with Estonia, suggesting that the climate change impact of the first digital asset is less than previously reported. Furthermore, the research seems to suggest that where Bitcoin is mined contributes to how much carbon Bitcoin emits. With so much of the mining being done in China, one might wonder if that country’s infrastructure is more to blame than Bitcoin.

Past research demonstrated that emissions from mining bitcoin could be as high as 63 megatonnes of CO2 per year. Reports surfaced suggesting Bitcoin mining put out as much carbon as some Scandinavian countries. But, Susanne Köhler and Massimo Pizzol at Aalborg University in Denmark suggested previous researchers had built misguided axioms into their studies. Poor assumptions about carbon emissions from electricity generation across China, in part, led to the doomsday conclusions about bitcoin mining.

Köhler and Pizzol instead broke emissions down within China to take into consideration regional levels of CO2 produced, as reported by The New Scientist. They came up with a lower carbon footprint for Bitcoin: 17.29 megatonnes of CO2 in 2018. The new numbers result from facts such as coal-heavy Inner Mongolia accounts for 12.3 percent of bitcoin mining, resulting in more than a quarter of the total emissions.

“On the one hand we have these alarmist voices saying we won’t hit the Paris agreement because of bitcoin only,” said Köhler. “But on the other hand there are a lot of voices from the bitcoin community saying that most of the mining is done with green energy and that it’s not high impact.”

Köhler and Pizzol say the affect of Bitcoin mining on the environment won’t truly be known until more accurate data on where it takes place is available.