The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Crushing Costs of “Bitcoin Mining”

May 29, 2023

Worldwide, massive amounts of energy are consumed yearly for “mining” cryptocurrency. According to University of New Mexico scientists, the production of Bitcoin alone consumes more energy than countries like Austria (9 million people) or Portugal (10.2 million people) each year. This also creates enormous pollution. On average, each $1 in Bitcoin market value created was responsible for $0.35 in global climate damage.

Until June 2021, most production of Bitcoin took place in China. But over the last few years, the United States has become the global leader in producing Bitcoin. According to the New York Times, there are now 34 large-scale computer installations, known as “Bitcoin mines,” in the United States. These plants consume as much electricity as all of New York City.

Some forms of money, like gold and silver, are mined and then minted. The value of gold or silver money is protected because they are minted from rarely available, therefore precious, metals. Other forms of money, like dollars, euros, and yen, have government backing.

Bitcoin is another type of money, existing only in computer memories and “mined and minted” through extensive computer systems comprising thousands, if not tens of thousands, of computers. Replication or creation of uncontrolled copies of Bitcoins by others is prevented through very complex mathematical problems written in computer codes. To register (i.e., print or mint) a Bitcoin, a Bitcoin “miner” must solve these challenging mathematical problems using ever-faster computer systems, requiring ever-increasing amounts of energy.

Solving these complex problems becomes a competition between “miners” of Bitcoin. The reward of registering one Bitcoin goes only to one miner who solves the problem first. On average, if there are 100 Bitcoin miners, only one miner gets the prize. All 100 Bitcoin miners use incredible amounts of energy during mining, but the colossal energy consumed by the remaining 99 miners, who lost the competition, is wasted.

Because the competition is fierce among the Bitcoin “miners,” they use a massive number of high-speed computers to solve the mathematical problem first. Since computers advance each year, a Bitcoin mine’s computers become obsolete within a few years. The slow “old” computers are then junked every other year and replaced by faster “new” computers, further increasing energy consumption and waste.

Money is an exchange tool for buying and selling goods like bread, eggs, milk, cars, housing, etc. The printed money in paper form would be sufficient for such an exchange. It is hard to imagine how an electronic money form, which is hugely wasteful and environmentally damaging, like Bitcoin, could be used to purchase goods, like underwear.

Sounds crazy? You bet! This capitalism is currently at its most “creative,” destructive, and wasteful stage.