Are NFTs Killing Our Planet?

Kaylea Hetzer

Image by Medi2go via Copyright-free
This is what the creator’s vision of climate change looks like with the changing of color of the atmosphere and loss of green habitats.

The thought of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, can be a hard concept to wrap your head around. But, first, what even is an NFT? According to CNN Business, a NFT or non-fungible token is a cryptocurrency, similar to bitcoin or ethereum, which is a kind of currency that only exists digitally and isn’t physical like the money that we are used to. Unlike cryptocurrencies, you can’t exchange NFTs like a currency because no two are the same. Instead of an actual currency, NFT are usually pictures or videos with a signified “owner”; people buy and trade them because they are like collectables, think like a really expensive baseball card or Pokémon card. Unlike Pokémon cards though, NFTs use a lot of energy to make and produce a lot of greenhouse gases and are strictly online.

A New York Times article on NFTs states that, “the creation of an average NFT has a stunning environmental footprint of over 200 kilograms of planet-warming carbon, equivalent to driving 500 miles in a typical American gasoline-powered car.” This shows us just how much carbon is released when a single NFT is made, now imagine how much carbon is being emitted into the atmosphere with the 1,000s of NFTs being produced per day. You may be thinking, why is the carbon and amount of energy so bad? 

Carbon is what’s called a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases and what’s called the “greenhouse effect” is what makes our planet livable, without the atmosphere and the gases that are kept in, our world certainly wouldn’t be what it is today. According to NASA, “Humans have been interfering with the planet’s energy balance, mainly through the burning of fossil fuels that add carbon dioxide to the air. The level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has been rising consistently for decades and traps extra heat near Earth’s surface, causing temperatures to rise.” Naturally, the earth needs this greenhouse effect to keep the surface at a good, liveable temperature, but because of the extra amounts of carbon dioxide being added to the atmosphere we’re seeing the planet start to become warmer.

 “I know it’s hard to comprehend, you just click on a button or type a few words, and suddenly you burn so much energy,” says Susan Köhler, a life cycle analyst at Aalborg University in Denmark. It can be hard for people to think about the impact these things can have, especially when it’s something going on that we can’t really see. There’s no way to just see a picture or video of the damage you’re causing by buying an NFT or cryptocurrency. Many people probably don’t think that it’s an issue because they can’t really imagine the damage being done. When someone litters, the negative impact is pretty apparent and it isn’t hard to see how it may affect the wilderness around it; with greenhouse gases, you can’t exactly see the issues right away.

Susan went on to talk about how most technologies and energies evolve over time to not cause such a big carbon footprint, but NFTs don’t. A way that companies who make NFTs could use carbon free energy would be using things like solar panels or wind turbines. Using ‘clean’ energy would bring down the amount of cryptocurrencies being made, and also would take away the energy that could be put toward things like heating peoples homes.

One of the main upsides of NFTs is that they benefit the artists involved. Having this boom in people wanting to buy the NFTs, artists can make a good bit of money and do what they love for work. However, according to a CNN Business article about NFTs, there are a lot of NFTs that aren’t people’s artwork and are instead things like basketball highlight reels or even just screenshots of someone post off of Twitter. A lot of smaller artists can finally get recognition for their art and get paid a good sum of money because of it. While the exposure is good for actual artists, people can make about the same amount of money, or even more, for just posting a screenshot and barely doing any work. 

Several sources have said that ‘NFTs are the future,’ while in reality they are what’s ruining our future. While a lot of us can’t even buy or sell an NFT yet, because you have to be 18, we should spread awareness on why this new wave isn’t really a good thing. Sure they are fun and people can make a lot of money by selling them, but sometimes you have to think about the bigger picture.