As the ether passes the energy-saving software, will bitcoin follow?

LOS ANGELES – Ethereum, the blockchain behind the world’s second largest cryptographic token ether, is poised for a software update that will reduce the amount of energy it uses, a step that could increase the pressure on bitcoin to take action similar in favor of the climate.

The shift to software, known as “the union,” comes amid the growing debate over the environmental impact of cryptocurrency mining in the United States, with green groups claiming its use of fossil fuels undermines efforts to reduce emissions. of warming the planet.

“Cars are shifting from diesel fuel to electric cars, so why can’t we do the same with cryptocurrencies?” said Carmine Russo, a researcher at the Center for Climate Finance & Investment at Imperial College Business School and author of a recent report on cryptocurrencies and climate change.

Switching from an energy-intensive process known as proof-of-work (PoW) to the more energy-efficient proof-of-stake (PoS) method is expected to reduce the energy consumption of digital currency by more than 99%, according to the Ethereum Foundation, a nonprofit organization that claims to support ethereum.

Ethereum is estimated to use nearly 6 gigawatts, roughly enough to power more than 1 million homes in the United States.

Ethereum, as well as the largest bitcoin cryptocurrency, currently uses the PoW mechanism to secure its networks and distribute new tokens.

This requires miners to run millions of powerful, energy-hungry computers competing to verify chunks of data, earning new crypto tokens.

With the PoS system, ether owners will freeze predetermined amounts of their coins to check new records on the blockchain, earning new coins in addition to their staking cryptocurrencies.

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Aside from bitcoin and ethereum, most other cryptocurrencies rely on mechanisms other than PoW, Russo said, even though the two networks make up most of the value in the crypto economy.

The merger, which has been in the works since 2020, is expected to be implemented between September 13 and 15, Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin said on Twitter.

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There has been growing criticism from investors and climate activists about the large amounts of energy devoured by most blockchain transactions, prompting policy makers to take notice.

New York State is considering a partial moratorium on certain types of fossil fuel-intensive cryptocurrency mining, and US senators are pressuring companies to disclose their impact on the climate.

“Over the past two years, the use of energy from bitcoin and ethereum has cast a rather dark climate shadow over much of the cryptocurrency industry,” said Mike Brune, the former executive director of the Sierra Club. , an environmental non-profit organization.

Brune is part of a coalition of green groups – including Greenpeace and the Environmental Working Group – that are calling on bitcoin to perform a similar energy-saving code change.

“In just one day, ethereum will reduce its energy consumption by up to 99% – that’s quite significant and exposes bitcoin as the largest outlier in the industry,” Brune said.

“It’s exciting,” he said, adding that the move shows other cryptocurrencies can follow suit.

Cambridge University researchers estimate that the bitcoin network uses around 100 terawatt hours of electricity per year, roughly the amount consumed by Malaysia or Sweden.

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Defenders of Bitcoin say the sector is being unfairly identified for its energy consumption, which a recent White House report estimated at 0.09% to 1.7% of total US electricity consumption.

Industry groups have released data showing that more than half of the energy used by miners comes from renewable sources and say the sector has the potential to help expand renewable energy grids by funding new green energy projects.

Margot Paez, a colleague at the Bitcoin Policy Institute, a pro-bitcoin think tank, acknowledged that changing the Ethereum code would likely lead to more pressure on bitcoin to make a similar change.

“People who say, ‘if they did it, why can’t you do it,” he said, but he defended the PoW mechanism currently in use as a way to keep the system safe and democratic.

“These people don’t understand the social benefit of bitcoin and proof-of-work,” he said, noting that the system makes it harder for a wealthy player to conquer the network simply by purchasing a large portion of existing tokens.

“A choice to move from PoW to PoS is placing less value on the ability to secure your network in a way that doesn’t lead to unfair power dynamics,” he said.

(Reporting by Avi Asher-Schapiro @AASchapiro; Editing by Helen Popper. Plase credits the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Thomson Reuters’ charitable arm, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

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