Bitcoin mining has become a power play. Literally. The power now needed to mine a single coin could run the average household for 10 days.
Huge bitcoin mining operations are springing up all over the world, located close to power sources for their huge needs. We are actually using valuable physical resources to mine for a virtual currency. Further, bitcoin mines create few, if any, new jobs as they are virtually maintenance free. In my home state of Washington, the town of East Wenatchee is being taken over by these bitcoin mining operations.
The problem here as I see it is that energy, even if coming from 100% renewable resources, isn’t free. Nearly all energy plants are built, financed, and managed by public utilities. That means the public has a say in how and where these plants are built and used.
If a plant generates excess energy, we the public should have some say in how to use that energy (and our tax money). If the public wants to address social issues such as poverty, hunger, homelessness, addiction, health, incarceration, or any other social shared problem with the proceeds of energy production, that should be the right of the people to decide. On the other hand, if the public wishes to de-prioritize these issues, that’s their right too. We’re not just talking about the profits on energy here, we’re counting the monetary value of the energy itself as a public good.
Automated cryptocurrency mining plants generate excess heat and little else for the public good. They don’t create jobs, improve neighborhoods, or train workers with valuable skills. Rational economists would say they are simply going to where the raw material is cheapest, and a free market would support that. We should then use the money from selling the power however we wish. But life is rarely as simple as that, and we have a responsibility as a planet to make good decisions.
Where do you come in on this issue? Please share your comments below.
This article explains the bitcoin mining problem in greater detail.