As technical roadblocks continue to hamper Bitcoin’s use as a functional currency, many have taken to defining it as digital gold. But if Bitcoin were to replace gold as a commonly accepted store of wealth, a recent comparison of Bitcoin mining and gold mining suggests that it would be bad for the planet, environmentally speaking.

Even though they’re not identical activities—bear with me on this point—according to blockchain consultant Alex de Vries at Digiconomist, Bitcoin mining is at least 3.25 times more energy-intensive than gold mining, per dollar mined. That’s if all Bitcoin mining were to use the most efficient machines—Bitcoin mining may be closer to 6.91 times more energy-intensive under the more pessimistic assumption that many Bitcoin miners are running old (and less efficient) equipment.

Bitcoin was originally labeled as peer-to-peer electronic cash, and this use may have justified the waste inherent in Bitcoin mining. But since the system became active in 2009, transaction fees and network congestion climbed, making Bitcoin less viable as an everyday currency.

For some, this has repositioned Bitcoin—which has always been a sort of “reserve” cryptocurrency, accepted as “stable” payment for alternative coins—as having a future as a gold-like digital store of value. Bitcoin Is Unsustainable De Vries compared some available numbers estimating the energy intensity of gold mining to figures from the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index he previously created.

He compared the figures for gold mining to his own estimate of Bitcoin’s power consumption, as well as a simpler measure that multiplies the total network hashrate by the power consumption of the most efficient miner available. There are unaddressed considerations in De Vries’ calculations, like the pollution stemming from mine tailings, or the extraction of raw materials to produce the computer chips that mine Bitcoin, for example. Read more from…

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