Furthermore, the “green energy” of cryptocurrency mining generally does not operate on a separate power grid. Digital files also require power to access and maintain, and are incredibly unstable over time as new operating systems, plugins and standards render things unviewable- often within a decade. Per usual, they are better but not best. Best is simply to reduce consumption as much as possible. However, in a digital context scarcity must be constructed- there is nothing that demands the next block in the blockchain be harder to make than the last. We know how to reduce energy waste, to reconsider block sizes, to use sidechains, to move to alternate proofs. This is because as the network grows, the relative rate of new coins mined stays stable (for Bitcoin, about 1 block is mined every 10 minutes). They are also vulnerable to bitrot and physical degradation of storage media- the stable shelf life of a CD-ROM, for instance, is less than 20 years.

Proof of stake is, and always has been, valuable as a bait and switch, but there are other, obvious problems with PoS (and various other proofs), which are that to more or less degrees they don’t address any of the problems with access to cryptocurrency relying on existing wealth. Proof of work places a direct lien against the future. Isn’t empowering individual artists to sell their work a good thing? Proof of work is not the only schema around. Proof of donation gives you a lottery ticket per donation to a charitable organization. Proof of capacity gives you a lottery ticket per available hard drive segment. Proof of stake coins use a variety of mechanisms to determine “lottery ticket” allocation, but it essentially boils down to: 1 coin in your wallet, one lottery ticket. There is no “my rig is solar” or “we plant a tree for every coin” or “we’re moving to proof of stake” or “we have a bounty for a less devastating NFT” or “my smart contract is a viable alternative”. I doubt it will be very long before there is a “more ethical” NFT marketplace, one that has taken these steps to ensure a slower, more considered NFT minting and selling model.

I’m sure you’re seeing the problem here- there is not a schema that doesn’t reward those who already are already wealthy, who are already bought in, who already have excess capital or access to outsized computational power. A recent article by NFT marketplace Superrare, who may have, uh, some skin in the game would like to remind you that Ethereum’s carbon emissions are tied to price NOT volume. You can think of each NFT as a trading card or a collectible with an individual value that is also affected by the general market value of NFTs as a concept, the Ethereum network and cryptocurrency in general. You can think of it as a lottery, with every kilowatt-hour a ticket. To borrow a metaphor from their article- you can think of the Ethereum network as a train, which will run whether or not the seats (NFTs) are filled. If the other parts of cryptoart are useful then is it worth stopping just because of energy cost? It can be cut in half and then you have 1/2 of a bitcoin. No one who has watched the price of food staples go up in a crisis has to imagine how scarcity can affect the market.

This means any scarcity is artificial, a process that demands ever more energy, ever more resources lost to continue to operate and return, for no other reason than to insure that tomorrow it will be even more expensive- which makes the wastefulness of today a good investment. But even if they did, you cannot use lifestyle or credits as an offset when you are actively building a system that does harm. Can we use offsets and green energy to power the cryptoart market instead? Because of this, some artists have opted for carbon offset credits instead, promising to reinvest some portion of their sales into forest restoration, wildlife conservation, green energy infrastructure or any of the thousands of other greenwashing schemes that allow you to purchase peace of mind. Some have said that the contemporary art market’s sudden interest in NFTs is due in part to this year of quarantine, where art markets are having to look at other models than the traditional wine-and-dine at Basel to attract buyers, but my bet is just that the art market is just remarkably good at smelling money. I am capable of hating cryptocurrency AND capitalism AND art fairs. This is why cryptocurrency is valuable.

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