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Discussing the Environmental Impact of NFTs and Blockchain Tech

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Sillytuna - Eufloria

On this week’s episode of Huh?, Tyler Schmitt speaks with Sillytuna, a longtime crypto/NFT enthusiast who pretty much understands the space better than anyone. Their conversation, keeping in step with the wider discussion culturally right now, is focused on the environmental impact of NFTs. “The environmental impact of NFTs” is actually a bit of a misnomer, as Tuna makes very clear during the conversation. There are certainly environmental impacts created by Ethereum, the primary blockchain technology used for minting NFTs, but the process of minting itself absolutely does not have an independent negative effect on the environment.

Sillytuna begins: “We work in an area that is immensely complicated with a lot of nuance.” In the discussion of the impact of NFTs, a lot of that nuance has been lost. Speaking on the blanket statement that NFTs are “bad” for the environment, Sillytuna says: “It is actually true… to an extent. The problem is, there’s a lot of detail to that. And it’s quite hard to understand that detail unless you’re prepared to sit and listen to it.” The conversation moves on to how, so often, the responsibility for mitigating climate change falls on the consumer, when the consumer really contributes a miniscule fraction of pollution. “The vast majority of the pollution is done by large corporations, manufacturing, governments not dealing with plastic recycling properly or allowing too much plastic to be manufactured. Corporations have worked very hard to make sure that consumers take the blame,” he says. 

Sillytuna covered a lot of what’s discussed in this episode in this tweet thread of his:

Back to NFTs. He puts it concisely: “NFTs do not pollute the environment.” As mentioned before, the conversation is nuanced; he adds: “So if you’re minting an NFT on Ethereum, although your NFT doesn’t use energy, you’re sitting on a platform that does.” But here’s the thing. The ethereum blockchain can only perform 12 transactions a second. That load is full and has been full for a long time. When minting an NFT, you’re just trying to get into one of those slots which will be used regardless of whether or not an NFT is minted. Using a passenger train as an analogy for the Ethereum chain, Sillytuna says: “If we removed all NFTs from Ethereum, it would make no tangible difference on how many people get on that train.”

There are other options of other blockchain technologies people can use to mint their NFTs, but none of them have the same size community or longevity. Anyone is welcome to use other platforms, but here’s the thing. Ethereum already has plans to move away from their current model, which is based on “proof of work,” which requires an immense amount of energy. By continuing to use Ethereum, we can actually put pressure on the creators to expedite their process of moving to a new system. In the meantime, you could put some money into carbon credits or choose other avenues to offset the environmental impact of Ethereum. 

It’s important for ETH to move to a new system successfully, “because the bigger energy users need to see ethereum make that change.” Almost all contemporary blockchain technologies do not use proof of work, but many of the older ones (Bitcoin, Dogecoin, etc.) still do. “If and when Ethereum proves that it can work, migrating a major chain to a new system, there is no excuse for proof of work to exist,” Sillytuna says. 

There are also misrepresentations floating around that Ethereum is some large, faceless corporation. In reality, it is a community of developers who are incredibly transparent about all of their work, are not beholden to any sort of board and who have built the entire project with the intent of “creating something of utility for its users.” So as users demonstrate that the environmental impact of Ethereum mining is bad (as it is), they developers have begun to look for other solutions.

A throughline throughout the entire conversation? Harassing artists for minting NFTs is simply unproductive and uninformed. We should aim to change systems, not harass individuals online who are just trying to distribute their work. 

The short answer? NFTs do not independently hurt the environment. For the long answer, listen to the full episode, it’s truly one for the books. 

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