The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has released a report examining the connection between distributed ledger technologies (DLT) and climate change.
The office determined that crypto’s relationship with the environment is a mixed bag. While acknowledging the positive impact that mining can have on grid stability and renewable development, it can also exacerbate “environmental justice issues” due to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other factors.
As such, the office suggested that the administration may have to consider banning the use of proof of work as a consensus mechanism.
Crypto: An Environmental Threat?
The report – titled “Climate and Energy Implications of Crypto Assets in the United States” – is a response to President Biden’s crypto executive order in March. The president directed over 20 administrative figures and agency heads to submit research reports and recommendations on various crypto-related topics to help foster responsible industry regulation.
“Crypto-assets could hinder broader efforts to achieve net-zero carbon pollution consistent with U.S. climate commitments and goals,” stated the OSTP in the report.
In particular, it stated that blockchains using a proof of work (POW) consensus mechanism – especially Bitcoin – use a “significant amount” of electricity and contribute to air, water, and noise pollution in some areas. In total, Bitcoin and other large-cap POW networks result in 0.3% of global annual GHG emissions.
As such, the report suggests that federal government action is required to ensure the broad adoption and responsible development of digital assets. One recommendation is that federal agencies collaborate with states and the crypto industry to develop environmental performance standards for the use and development of crypto-asset technologies.
These standards would target low energy usage, low water usage, low noise generation, and clean energy use by mining operators. However, should these methods prove ineffective, the OSTP suggested using executive or congressional action.
“Congress might consider legislation, to limit or eliminate the use of high energy intensity consensus mechanisms for crypto-asset mining.” it read.
Is Proof of Stake the Answer?
CFTC Chairman Rostin Benham has previously suggested creating incentives to transition the Bitcoin network to a Proof of Stake (POS) consensus mechanism. In March, Ripple co-founder Chris Larsen funded a $5 million campaign to empower the transition.
However, Bitcoiners have long opposed such a change, claiming that POW is needed to maintain a sufficiently decentralized network.
Ethereum disagrees, however. The network is set to undergo a similar transition next week, which is expected to reduce network energy consumption by 99.5%.