Why do NFTs have the potential to hurt our environment?

April 17, 2023
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If you've lived under a rock or are just unaware of what's had the internet by storm, the world is obsessed with the latest in blockchain news – NFTs. Cryptocurrency fans and art enthusiasts alike have been curious about the latest online investment.

However, many are still trying to wrap their heads around this form of online art for the rest of us. And while we do that, there is a potentially dark eventuality that could have long-lasting damage to our world.

So, just what is an NFT?

NFT or Non-Fungible Token is a unique token in the blockchain that cannot be replaced. The blockchain is a digital ledger made up of unique transactions (blocks) across a network of computer systems. An NFT can represent any asset in a digital format – an artwork, a book, a poster, domain names, in-game avatars – you can own an NFT.

NFTs have piqued peoples' interests, particularly celebrities looking to display their wealth like the latest Birkin Bag. The Bored Ape Yacht club, the most extensive NFT collection with 10 000 unique images to purchase, has attracted buyers like Paris Hilton and Eminem,

A single ape drawing costs about 94 ether, or about $288,000.

Though this digital currency has an untapped potential which we could only imagine, why should we be wary?

As we know, the internet is powered by a vast network that connects computers across the globe. More than half of our 7.7 billion (and counting) people worldwide are active users.

The cloud, referring to a network of servers accessed remotely through the internet, has made accessing data anywhere in the world just a click away.

However, considering the human affinity for self-inflicted trouble, these kinds of technologies require much of our natural resources to be sustained, like fossil fuels used for electricity.

We live and breathe dirty power. South Africa, the 6th largest coal-exporting nation, consumes about 202,298,474 tons of coal a year, while 30% is exported.

According to environmental scientist John Koomey, from the years 2000 to 2006, it is estimated that the total global internet traffic rose by 32,000,000%, skyrocketing power consumption across the globe.

And considering the coronavirus pandemic leaving many working from home, it was found that in the first two weeks of the initial 2020 lockdown, internet usage rose at least 18% in the U.S.

Our newly found invention of the NFT requires a lot of cloud space, raising eyebrows about its future in terms of sustainability. Given its popularity, more and more cloud space is projected to be needed in our future.

Adding fuel to the fire that is the internet's impact on the environment will undoubtedly pave the way for new technology but callously overlook it.

It's not the cutting-edge modern technology that NFTs raise concerns for scientists.  

Instead, it's how this new kind of technology will fall into a system that already perpetuates and exacerbates environmental damage.