[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.