[OPINION] A Rundown on Bitcoin and NFTs (and why you as an artist should stay far, far away from them)

If you’ve been on the internet in the past month or so, you may have heard of the terms NFTs, or maybe even seen your favorite artist selling NFTs (see: Gorillaz, Halsey, the Weeknd, and others) as part of their brand, much to the dismay of their fans. 

Why are people mad about this? Well, let’s learn a bit about NFTs.

When I first heard about NFTs, I assumed it was one of those passing trends that would come and go and ultimately be something I’d never have to worry about. Bitcoin has been a relatively new thing, and the most I’d heard of it before the NFT trend was that it took obscene amounts of energy to complete transactions and nothing more.

But to learn anything about NFT, we need to know what “bitcoin” is in the first place. Simply put, it’s a virtual currency created around 2009 (but in more primitive forms beforehand) that is created by a complex, decentralized process called “mining”. Bitcoin isn’t owned by any country around the world. One of the early incentives for Bitcoin was that they were untraceable, but as expressed by companies in recent times, they are now traceable

Check out this short video for more information:

A short Youtube video on what Bitcoin is.

Now that we know what they are, why have they become so popular recently? Well, different sources have different answers, but many attribute the sudden surge to the recent pandemic. When stock market IPOs suddenly dove in value in March 2020, many found it an opportune time to diversify their portfolio and invest in bitcoin as means of possibly striking it rich in the future. Huge companies such as Tesla also invested in cryptocurrency which pushed the price upwards. The price of bitcoin is extremely volatile in general, but after being recognized by larger companies, the overall price surged from buyer’s support.

So what’s an NFT? NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token: what that means is that it’s a unique piece of information that no one else has that is attached to the token in the transaction. If you were the owner of an NFT, it means that you have a unique key to that image/video/file. You can attach anything: A youtube video? Yes! A picture of the first tweet ever? Yup. But there are some setbacks.

No, it doesn’t mean that only you own the file. No, it doesn’t stop others from saving the exact image you paid $5000 for as their own for the low, low price of free. So what’s the point of taking part in this?

Making money.

As the market surges and the price for any one piece can go for as high as 69 million dollars, the conversation around the environmental impact of cryptocurrency has moved back into the spotlight as the popularity of the new format rises.

Check out this video from Matt Lohstroh(@lohstroh). This physical farm that they’ve created mines bitcoin using fossil fuels:

This type of farm uses fossil fuels in order to run 24/7.

I have no idea if this was common knowledge or not, but it’s simply never occurred to me that we as a society create Co2 emissions when we surf the web. Through the use of the internet, our carbon footprint can literally be calculated into grams of CO2, thanks to the heat and energy required to run internet servers around the world.

After I gathered more information on our carbon footprint via the web, here are some (maybe not so fun) facts about the way we use the internet:

– The average 1-megabyte email creates about 8g of CO2.

– The average Australian uses about 81kg of CO2 every year.

– As of 2019, the average Google user uses about 8 g of CO2 emissions a day: That’s “25 Google Searches, 60 minutes of Youtube, A Gmail account, and other services one might use…”

Let’s compare that to the energy bitcoin uses :

– Bitcoin consumes a similar amount of power to the Netherlands annually.

– Bitcoin uses between 40 and 445 TERAwatt-hours ( or about 1.3 trillion kilowatt-hours) annually. By comparison, the average American household uses about 10,649 kilowatt-hours per year.

Outside of the environmental impact, there is also a problem with what people are doing with them: people are stealing other’s artwork and using bots to farm other people’s work off of popular social media sites such as Twitter.

For someone like me. who constantly posts online in order to get her work seen, this is terrifying. Digital artists are already seen as “less than” traditional artists because we do work on a computer rather than an actual canvas. Now that people are attempting to steal our work and make thousands of dollars off of it, it becomes more and more difficult to make a living for ourselves in the online world.

Some bigger artists embrace this trend and sell their own works in order to make a quick buck. Other artists claim that they’re utilizing the NFT book to help donate to underprivileged communities and “help them”. Of course, this opportunity might help poor and underrepresented communities financially in the immediate future, but as global warming continues to be a larger problem, the very communities that these artists say they want to help are going to be hit the hardest.

If you truly want to help these communities, I suggest giving back directly to charity organizations that have a track record of helping these communities directly, not investing in something like NFTs.

8 Replies to “[OPINION] A Rundown on Bitcoin and NFTs (and why you as an artist should stay far, far away from them)”

  1. Man, this is something that I recently heard about that is just pure crazy to me. That’s messed up that there have been people who have turned digital art into NFTs. I worry for the digital artists and this most certainly will mess up image copyright laws. I feel like the bitcoin market may potentially fall/ its values might decline. I never knew much about bitcoin and I didn’t think about the carbon footprint that our usage of the internet creates. Thank you for making me aware of this.

  2. Like Andreas, I recently heard about this too and I really, REALLY despise it. The entire idea of NFTs is the most superficially capitalistic thing in the last 20 or so years. Here’s the thing though – I never knew there were bitcoin farms that used fossil fuels. That’s disgusting. Thanks for giving a better rundown on just how awful all of this is. More people need to know just how harmful bitcoin and NFTs are.

  3. While I have heard of Bitcoin before, I never know how potentially scandalous the use of this cryptocurrency can be. This reminds me of the Great Recession that occurred from 2007 to 2009, which described a devastating economic downfall in the U.S. I would not be surprised if this type of global currency would replace the U.S. dollar in the future. I agree with both Willam and Andreas, there should be a growing awareness of this topic.

  4. Wow.. I did not know about NFTs and the bitcoin farms. It’s really scary to know that digital artists have to worry about NFTs, especially since people are stealing them and capitalizing off of them. I was aware that people would sometimes steal artists’ posts and repost them without credit, but artists were able to do something about it. It sounds like NFTs are a whole new battle. It’s especially sad to learn about the environmental impact that cryptocurrency has. I was completely unaware of the bitcoin farms, and I feel like it’s not common knowledge either. Hopefully posts like yours make more traction in the popular media so more can be done to fix this problem.

  5. I have heard of Bitcoin and NFTs, but I never really understood how they’ve affected the market and more recently, artists. I know that on Twitter I have seen many artists posting about how they found out their art was being used for NFTs without their knowledge or consent. It’s scary to know that people who just want to share their talent on social media are now in danger of it being used without their knowledge and making no money from it.

  6. I hear and see people complain about NFT’s often on twitter but I never really grasped what was actually going on until now. I think that it is absolutely horrible that artist can be screwed over because of this. I hope that somewhere down this line this issue can be fixed.

  7. I remember hearing about NFTs and not really understanding what they were, but now knowing that people are making thousands of dollars from work that isn’t their own is terrifying. It’s always been a danger that someone could steal an image from the internet and pass it as their own, but the way NFTs are selling just make that idea much more prevalent and damaging to the original artist who is just trying to share their work and possibly make a living from their art, and to the environment, which I am sure is not loving the massive increase in CO2 emissions. I’m not sure what the solution to this mess would be, especially now that this new form of payment is out there. I doubt we’ll ever be rid of it now.

  8. Thank you for explaining this. The buzz surrounding bitcoin and now NFTs has been something I’ve heard of, but never fully understood. It’s quite sinister that both of these things are being marketed as liberating for the individual artist, when in reality they do more harm than good. Furthermore, it seems like NFTS could be overly limiting in the end. What’s even worse, as you mentioned, is the environmental impact, and I think it’s easy for a lot of people to brush that off, since we consider everything digital as leaving no physical trail, when in reality, it still uses resources, even the energy to power an email. Hopefully there will be more open discussions within artistic communities about this issue.

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