Big Tech produced more carbon since 2019 than all Bitcoin mining ever

Big tech’s carbon footprint continues to balloon as generative artificial intelligence products and services proliferate, with Amazon alone producing more carbon dioxide emissions per year than all the Bitcoin mining in the world. 

According to the data, big tech has put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since 2019 — when most of the largest U.S. tech firms began disclosing their emissions — than Bitcoin has since 2014.

Bitcoin’s carbon footprint

It’s virtually impossible to calculate the exact amount of carbon dioxide produced by Bitcoin operations throughout the globe. To the best of our knowledge, no research team has access to power grid usage and cost data from all the countries involved in Bitcoin mining.

That being said, researchers have shown that cost estimates compared against actual mining activity can lead to feasible estimates.

An oft-quoted study conducted by the United Nations University found that “the global Bitcoin mining network consumed 173.42 Terawatt hours of electricity” between 2020 and 2021.

Were Bitcoin a country, the researchers concluded, its energy use would be greater than that of Pakistan, a nation with 220 million citizens.

A separate study estimated that Bitcoin mining “may be responsible for 65.4 megatonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) per year” as of around 2022. According to the researchers, this puts the Bitcoin network’s carbon footprint around the same size as the entire country of Greece.

Critics have used these numbers to argue that Bitcoin’s value prospect isn’t high enough to offset the potential damage to our climate through carbon emissions. But what if we compare these numbers against companies instead of countries?

Big tech’s carbon footprint

Right off the bat, we can eclipse Bitcoin’s estimated annual impact with Amazon’s reported carbon footprint. Amazon self-reported that it generated 71.54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2021. Compared to Bitcoin’s estimated 65.4 million metric tons, Amazon is clearly the bigger offender.

If we add Google — who self-reported that it produced 14.3 million tons of carbon emissions for 2023 — and Microsoft (15.3 million tons emitted in 2023), then we’re above the 100 million tons per year mark without even adjusting for Amazon’s growth from 2021 through 2024 or adding in Apple’s 15.6 million tons.

While a direct comparison between a company’s reported carbon emissions and Bitcoin’s estimated emissions is hardly scientific, we can still glean that big tech’s footprint is much greater than that of Bitcoin’s.

Assuming data centers for AI, Bitcoin, and cloud computing are generally equivalent in their power demands and carbon emissions, the data indicates that big tech companies in the U.S. have emitted more carbon emissions since 2019 than all global Bitcoin mining operations have during the cryptocurrency’s entire existence.

Related: World’s largest Bitcoin miner didn’t sell any BTC in June

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Written by Tristan Greene on 2024-07-03 16:24:22.

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