Crypto Art? NFT Drops? WTF is going on?

TL:DR — most current NFTs consume ludicrous amounts of energy, but we can do better, alternatives exist. Read on to learn more…

The blockchain (symbolic image). Coal in, NFTs out.

2032, Den Haag

In the final verdict of the climate trials, the international court of justice analysed all blockchains and convicted the perpetrators of the NFT and Crypto Boom of the early 20s to their just sentence.

Comrade leader Luan Egorova de Santos will wave them goodbye on their flight as robot maintainers to Gukoglebsk 城市, formerly Tesla Mars colonies.

We live in heady times as the digital artist beeple just became the third most valuable artist in the world. All he had to do was to make an image every day for 14 years straight, easy peasy. All the power and success to him, he sincerely earned it!

Unfortunately, his current success is intertwined with the rise of NFTs. Non Fungible Tokens are a digital message on what is called a blockchain, a theoretical construct that makes digital information artificially scarce and hence reinstates the concept of the “original” in the digital space. You might have heard about them in the form of Ethereum — a digital currencies on which most NFTs are “minted”. Unfortunately the practical implementation of those blockchains, and hence the NFTs that are stored there, carry a very high ecological cost.

The Problem is Scale!

But how high is very high? Let’s do a bit of of math. An average transaction on Ethereum, and so a single “minting” of an NFT emits about 100kg of CO2. Well, how much is this? I’m glad you asked. This is roughly the equivalent to a EU resident’s electricity consumption for 2 weeks. But “only” the equivalent to a EU resident’s CO2 emissions for 3.3 days.

If someone makes a life-changing sale for 3 days’ worth of extra CO2, that sounds OK, right? At least this person doesn’t have to work ever again, no need to help making advertising to sell more products that are bad for the environment.

The emitted 100kg of CO2 are also about as much as driving 800km with a car. That really goes to show that we don’t realise how bad cars are. The whole emission topic is just as much a perception issue because we don’t know what causes how many emissions, so it’s very difficult to be aware of the impact.

The problem is scale. 99% of NFTs don’t make any money at all. And the more people flock to the space, the worse it will get.

People defending PoW NFTs (couldn’t identify the original image source)

An argument that is brought up a lot in favour of NFTs is along the lines of: yeah, ok, but we all live in a wasteful culture our lives are all inherently wasteful. Implying that a little bit of NFT CO2 on top isn’t a big deal.

When you look at the numbers, comparing the use of crypto currency to the vanilla internet becomes laughable. An example: All Facebook Datacenters consumed about 5 TWh of energy in 2019. Ethereum is estimated to currently consume about 27 TWh yearly. That is a factor of 5x.

Scale is important!

Watching beeple make one of his images in this 3 minute video emits about 2g of CO2. Remember, minting that image as an ETH NFT emits about 100kg! A staggering factor of 50.000x — Again, it‘s about scale.

So now we know that that it is a big deal in comparison, but secondly and more importantly the argument is flawed. Because it’s next to impossible to extract yourself from culture/life, but it is a completely free decision to mint an NFT.

In short, people are either unaware of the ecological cost or they are actively approving of it. Hence, I am very disheartened by this reaction to the issue, basically answering with whataboutism.

I always considered an artist’s job, our all reason for being, to understand the world, and share those insights with other people.

Everybody has to eat, so you make compromises. I hate advertising, yet I worked in advertising my whole life. The reasoning was, well, if a client wants to put their logo at the end of my art, why not.

It’s bad enough that huge corporations pollute our world, or that greedy Wallstreet and crypto bros do the same, but us? Artists, makers, musicians, all of US?

It gets worse!

Take a look at the art. While of course art is, and always was subjective, I hope we can agree that different works have different technical or conceptual skills needed to do them. Now just take a look and decide for yourself — in the spirit of art being subjective — what percentage of cryptoart feels like someone really made an effort. It is about the artificial scarcity that attracts the money, and now the money has a new pool to flow in.

Granted, most traditional art is probably not amazing either… but most traditional art is not burning down the planet.

So from the artists’s perspective, not only are they approving of the environmental impact, but they are being exploited by a (monetary) system (or effect thereof) that doesn’t care about the art or artists.

They are doing the wrong thing — for the wrong reason.

The result of the beeple auction is as much a bet on NFTs as it is on beeple’s art. This poses that for the artworld it was never about the art, always about the greed.

On the other hand — in a way it’s the world biggest art piece imaginable. An art that takes the world with it, destroys it in it’s own ironic reflection.

Themes of greed and destruction are staples in beeple’s work. In a way he became a symbol for a the things he points at in his work.

Cue Sorcerer’s Apprentice quote.

Alternatives exist!

The wasteful technology of blockchains is called Proof of Work. Yet there is an alternative called Proof of Stake. So called PoS consumes a fraction of the energy compared to PoW, making it’s impact negligible (Although it’s hard to find specific numbers). Ethereum, the blockchain most NFTs are minted on, claims to be moving to Proof of Stake. While that sounds great, sadly Ethereum was supposed to move to PoS since it’s inception 5 years ago.

Gladly, there are other PoS alternatives available, such as the very cryptic looking hic et nunc which became popular recently.

Everybody agrees that it’s great news that artists finally have the opportunity to get paid for their work! But please let’s try to make this happen without destroying the planet along the way!

I look forward to a future in which alternative PoS platforms transcended their currently horrible UX and offer artists an aesthetically pleasing and well functioning option to embrace clean NFTs.

Currently, most people are not even aware of the issue, or if they are, they don’t fully comprehend the scale. It’s apparently a reflex to attack the messenger, but this doesn’t change a thing.

The climate won’t care, but your children will.

If you want to engage in NFT, please consider PoS alternatives and send me your Tezos Wallet, I will gift you the amount to mint your first NFT on hic et nunc — but please don’t do PoW crypto.

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