Bitcoin Could Churn Out 130 Million Tons Of Carbon, Undermining Climate Action. Here’s One Way To Tackle That emission

The power demands and carbon emissions of bitcoin mining could undermine global efforts to combat climate change if stringent regulations are not placed upon the industry, a Chinese study has found. By 2024, mining of the cryptocurrency in China alone could use as much power as the entire nation of Italy uses in a year, with greenhouse gas emissions equalling those of the Czech Republic.

But rather than recommending increased taxation on bitcoin mining to curb emissions, or simply an outright ban on the practice, the paper, published today in the journal Nature, suggests that miners should be encouraged to shift their operations to regions that provide abundant low-carbon electricity.

The research is significant because China carries out at least 65% of the world’s bitcoin operations. Shouyang Wang, one of the report’s authors and chair professor at the Academy of Mathematics and Systems Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, told Forbes.com:

“While everyone has focused on bitcoin’s great profitability, we want people to become more aware of its potential issues and start thinking about these questions: is this industry actually worth the associated environmental impact, and how can we make profitable bitcoin mining operation more sustainable in the future?”

Using simulation-based models, the researchers found that, short of any policy interventions, bitcoin mining in China will peak in 2024 consuming 296.59 terawatt hours of electricity—as much as a medium sized country—and generate 130.50 million metric tons of carbon emissions. The authors further note that this consumption and the resulting emissions could derail China’s efforts to decarbonize its own energy system.

“It is important to note that the adoption of this disruptive and promising technique without [taking into account] environmental concerns may pose a barrier to the worldwide effort on GHG emissions management in the near future,” Wang said, adding that the research team was “surprised by the energy consumption and carbon emission assessment results of bitcoin blockchain operation in China.”

But the solution to the challenge, the authors argue, is “moving away from the current punitive carbon tax policy to a site regulation policy”—in essence, ensuring that mining operations move to areas that guarantee high rates of renewable electricity. Under such a policy, they found, only 20% of bitcoin miners remained in coal-intensive energy regions, resulting in lower carbon emissions per dollar earned, compared to a higher taxation scenario.

Under the site regulation model, the researchers found bitcoin operations generated 100.61 million metric tons at peak, as opposed to 105.19 million tons under an additional taxation scenario. Wang said government regulation of the industry was needed, but that bitcoin miners would likely be amenable to his team’s proposed solution.

“Site regulation should be carried out by the government, placing limitations on bitcoin mining in certain regions that use coal-based heavy energy,” Wang explained. “That being said, we think that there are enough benefits to this policy which will incentivize the miners to move their operation willingly. For example, since energy prices in clean-energy regions of China are lower than that in heavy-energy regions, the miners can effectively lower their individual energy consumption cost, which would increase their profitability.”

That isn’t to say, however, that regulation is the only method by which China should be reducing the emissions impact from bitcoin mining. “The government should also focus on upgrading the power generation facilities in clean-energy regions to ensure a consistent energy generation,” Wang said. “That way, the miners would definitely have more incentives to move voluntarily.”

Crunching The Numbers

Bitcoin operates by using blockchain technology—publicly recorded peer-to-peer transfers on encrypted computer networks—which eliminates the need for centralized authorities or banks. Bitcoin miners use arrays of processors to determine results to algorithmic puzzles that verify transactions that are added to the blockchain, for which they are in turn rewarded in bitcoins.

With the value of a single bitcoin having risen from $1 in April 2011 to around $60,000 in April 2021, and with yesterday’s news that the value of the cryptocurrency market has exceeded $2 trillion for the first time, the financial incentives to mine bitcoin are obvious.

But there is a finite supply of bitcoins: they are limited to 21 million in total. To control the currency’s circulation, the supply of new bitcoins is halved every four years, which also halves the miners’ rewards. This has helped ignite fierce competition, attracting an increasing number of bitcoin miners to get into the race, utilizing ever more powerful processing arrays requiring more electricity.

So, in at least one sense, bitcoin is self-regulating. Or as Wang puts it, “this is the industry’s natural built-in way of phasing itself out.”

Silver Linings?

It has until recently proved difficult to determine the total emissions impact of bitcoin mining. Industry advocates have long claimed that miners tend to rely on low-carbon energy due to its relatively low cost, but those claims have been disputed.

Now, using more advanced modeling techniques, Chinese researchers have been able to more accurately estimate the energy uses of specific industry operations. According to the China Emissions Accounts and Datasets platform (CEAD), for example, bitcoin mining accounts for more than 5.4% of emissions from electricity generation in China.

In response, various policy solutions have been suggested, including heavier taxation of bitcoin mining operations. The new research suggests site regulation could be the preferable option. But did Wang think this could result in too many miners moving into areas with abundant renewables, gobbling up energy supply?

“There would be an influx of bitcoin miners into clean-energy regions,” he said. “However, we don’t think that this increase in bitcoin mining operations would place burdens on the local energy grid. The energy-generation infrastructures in the clean-energy regions of China are still being improved and developed … we think that increases in energy generation capacity would outpace the increase in bitcoin mining operations in these regions, which would reduce the potential burdens.”

Even so, with a forecast of 100 million tons of carbon emissions at the industry’s peak, would it not simply be better, in environmental terms, to ban the practice outright?

“We think that simply banning bitcoin mining altogether is not ideal,” Wang said. “Even if bitcoin mining is completely banned, its increasing profitability would drive miners to continue their activities through other measures, such as stealing electricity. That is why we are suggesting a push for moving the miners to clean renewable energy regions would be more ideal.”

Asked whether future cryptocurrency operations could potentially result in the same or similar energy demands as bitcoin, Wang offered a note of optimism.

“Cryptocurrency communities have become increasingly aware of the carbon emissions generated through mining activities,” he said. “As a result … we think the development of these new consensus algorithms would improve the energy efficiency of cryptocurrency mining activities, which would be beneficial for China’s sustainability efforts.”

 

My key interests are in decarbonization and the development of circular economies.

Source: Bitcoin Could Churn Out 130 Million Tons Of Carbon, Undermining Climate Action. Here’s One Way To Tackle That

.

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Work-Life Balance: What Really Makes Us Happy Might Surprise You

Finding the right work-life balance is by no means a new issue in our society. But the tension between the two has been heightened by the pandemic, with workers increasingly dwelling over the nature of their work, its meaning and purpose, and how these affect their quality of life.

Studies suggest people are leaving or planning to leave their employers in record numbers in 2021 – a “great resignation” that appears to have been precipitated by these reflections. But if we’re all reconsidering where and how work slots into our lives, what should we be aiming at?

It’s easy to believe that if only we didn’t need to work, or we could work far fewer hours, we’d be happier, living a life of hedonic experiences in all their healthy and unhealthy forms. But this fails to explain why some retirees pick up freelance jobs and some lottery winners go straight back to work.

Striking the perfect work-life balance, if there is such a thing, isn’t necessarily about tinkering with when, where and how we work – it’s a question of why we work. And that means understanding sources of happiness that might not be so obvious to us, but which have crept into view over the course of the pandemic.

Attempts to find a better work-life balance are well merited. Work is consistently and positively related to our wellbeing and constitutes a large part of our identity. Ask yourself who you are, and very soon you’ll resort to describing what you do for work.

Our jobs can provide us with a sense of competence, which contributes to wellbeing. Researchers have demonstrated not only that labour leads to validation but that, when these feelings are threatened, we’re particularly drawn to activities that require effort – often some form of work – because these demonstrate our ability to shape our environment, confirming our identities as competent individuals.

Work even seems to makes us happier in circumstances when we’d rather opt for leisure. This was demonstrated by a series of clever experiments in which participants had the option to be idle (waiting in a room for 15 minutes for an experiment to start) or to be busy (walking for 15 minutes to another venue to participate in an experiment). Very few participants chose to be busy, unless they were forced to make the walk, or given a reason to (being told there was chocolate at the other venue).

Yet the researchers found that those who’d spent 15 minutes walking ended up significantly happier than those who’d spent 15 minutes waiting – no matter whether they’d had a choice or a chocolate or neither. In other words, busyness contributes to happiness even when you think you’d prefer to be idle. Animals seem to get this instinctively: in experiments, most would rather work for food than get it for free.

Eudaimonic happiness

The idea that work, or putting effort into tasks, contributes to our general wellbeing is closely related to the psychological concept of eudaimonic happiness. This is the sort of happiness that we derive from optimal functioning and realizing our potential. Research has shown that work and effort is central to eudaimonic happiness, explaining that satisfaction and pride you feel on completing a gruelling task.

On the other side of the work-life balance stands hedonistic happiness, which is defined as the presence of positive feelings such as cheerfulness and the relative scarcity of negative feelings such as sadness or anger. We know that hedonic happiness offers empirical mental and physical health benefits, and that leisure is a great way to pursue hedonic happiness.

But even in the realm of leisure, our unconscious orientation towards busyness lurks in the background. A recent study has suggested that there really is such a thing as too much free time – and that our subjective wellbeing actually begins to drop if we have more than five hours of it in a day. Whiling away effortless days on the beach doesn’t seem to be the key to long-term happiness.

This might explain why some people prefer to expend significant effort during their leisure time. Researchers have likened this to compiling an experiential CV, sampling unique but potentially unpleasant or even painful experiences – at the extremes, this might be spending a night in an ice hotel, or joining an endurance desert race.

People who take part in these forms of “leisure” typically talk about fulfilling personal goals, making progress and accumulating accomplishments – all features of eudaimonic happiness, not the hedonism we associate with leisure.

The real balance

This orientation sits well with a new concept in the field of wellbeing studies: that a rich and diverse experiential happiness is the third component of a “good life”, in addition to hedonic and eudaimonic happiness.

Across nine countries and tens of thousands of participants, researchers recently found that most people (over 50% in each country) would still prefer a happy life typified by hedonic happiness. But around a quarter prefer a meaningful life embodied by eudaimonic happiness, and a small but nevertheless significant amount of people (about 10-15% in each country) choose to pursue a rich and diverse experiential life.

Given these different approaches to life, perhaps the key to long-lasting wellbeing is to consider which lifestyle suits you best: hedonic, eudaimonic or experiential. Rather than pitching work against life, the real balance to strike post-pandemic is between these three sources of happiness.

By: Lis Ku , Senior Lecturer in Psychology, De Montfort University

Source: Work-life balance: what really makes us happy might surprise you

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A NASA Scientist Explains Why The Weather is Becoming More Extreme

Across China and Western Europe in July, the amount of rain that might typically fall over several months to a year came down within a matter of days, triggering floods that swept entire homes off their foundations. In June, the usually mild regions of Southwest Canada and the US’s Pacific Northwest saw temperatures that rivaled highs in California’s Death Valley desert. The severe heat was enough to buckle roads and melt power cables.

Yesterday, a landmark United Nations report helped put those kinds of extreme events into context. By burning fossil fuels and releasing planet-heating greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, humans are fueling more dangerous weather. Researchers have been able to connect the dots between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change for decades.

But the new report showcases a big leap forward in climate science: being able to tie the climate crisis directly to extreme weather events like the June heatwave, which would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change according to recent studies.

The Verge spoke with Alex Ruane, one of the authors of the new report and a research physical scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He walks us through the phenomena that’s supercharging extreme weather events. And he explains why scientists have gotten so much better at seeing the “human footprint” in each weather disaster.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The new United Nations report ties many changes in extreme weather to a more intense water cycle. What is the water cycle and how does it affect the weather?

The water cycle is basically the way that we track moisture moving through the climate system. So it includes everything from the oceans to the atmosphere, the clouds, ice, rivers, lakes, the groundwater, and the way that those things move and transfer moisture and water from place to place.

So when we’re talking about the intensification of the water cycle, we’re basically saying things are moving faster. Air is pulling the moisture out of the oceans and out of the land faster. It’s moving more moisture from place to place on the planet. And when it rains, it can come down hard.

The fundamental difference is that there is more energy in the system. There’s more heat. And as the temperature goes up, there is an overall increase in the amount of moisture that the air is trying to hold. So that means when a storm happens, there’s more moisture in the air to tap into for a big, heavy downpour.

It also means that when air moves over a region, it has the potential to suck more moisture out of the ground more rapidly. So the same phenomenon is leading both to more intensive rainfalls and floods and precipitation, and also to more stark drought conditions when they do occur.

How are people affected by those changes?

So, I personally live in New York City. We are affected by the water cycle, for example, when there’s a heavy downpour it can flood subway stations. It can lead to surface flooding in rivers and streets that can affect transportation.

Other parts of the world have different engagements with the water cycle. They may be concerned about the snow fall or river floods that affect broad areas. And then of course huge parts of the world are concerned about drought. When we look at something like drought, it doesn’t just affect agriculture. It also affects ecosystems and urban parks. It affects water resources and infrastructure like power plants and roads and buildings.

So in all of these climate factors, we see that more than one sector is affected by these changes. We also see that if you take any specific thing that we care about, like agricultural fields, they are affected by more than just one type of climate change.

A specific set of climate conditions can lead to two extremes at the same time. So for example, heat and drought often go together because as conditions become drier, all of that sunshine, all of that energy, all of that heat goes into warming the air. That is a reinforcing cycle that can make hot and dry conditions even more extreme.

The big picture, as we’re seeing it, is that climate change is affecting all of the regions on Earth, with multiple types of climate changes already observed. And as the climate changes further, these shifts become more pronounced and widespread.

I’ve read that “weather whiplash” is becoming more common because of climate change — what is “weather whiplash”?

This idea that you can go from extreme to extreme very rapidly is giving society this sensation of a whiplash. This is part of the idea of an intensified water cycle. The water is moving faster, so when a wet condition comes it can be extremely wet. And then behind it could be a dry condition that can quickly get extremely dry.

That type of shift from wet to dry conditions is something that we explore and understand in our climate models, but the lived experience of it can be quite jarring — and not just uncomfortable, but a direct challenge for ecosystems and other things that we care about in society. They really are connected in many cases to the same types of phenomenon, and this new report connects the dots between this phenomenon and our human footprint.

How do scientists study how climate change affects extreme weather events?

There have been big steps forward in the methodologies and the scientific rigor of detection and attribution studies, which is another way of saying: understanding the human influence on these events.

The basic idea behind the extreme event attribution is that we need to compare the likelihood that an event would have happened without human influences against the likelihood of that event happening, given that we have influenced the climate.

We are able to use observational records and our models to look at what conditions were like before there was strong human influence. We look at what we call a preindustrial condition, before the Industrial Revolution and land use changes led to greenhouse gas emissions and other climate changes.

If we can understand how likely events would have been before we had our climate influences, and then compare it against the likelihoods today with those climate change influences factored in, that allows us to identify the increased chance of those events because of our influence. It allows us to attribute a human component of those extreme events.

How have researchers gotten so much better at attributing extreme weather events to climate change?

This is a really exciting, cutting-edge field right now. Methodological advances and several groups that have really taken this on as a major focus of their efforts have, in many ways, increased our ability and the speed at which we can make these types of connections. So that’s a big advantage.

Every year, the computational power is stronger in terms of what our models can do. We also use remote sensing to have a better set of observations in parts of the world where we don’t have weather stations. And we have models that are designed to integrate multiple types of observations into the same kind of physically coherent system, so that we can understand and fill in the gaps between those observations.

The other thing, of course, is when you look at any single attribution study, you get a piece of the picture. But what the new report does is bring them all into one place and assesses them together, and draw out larger messages. When you look at them all together, it is a much stronger and more compelling case than any one single event. And this is what the scientific community is showing us, that these things are part of a larger pattern of change that we have influenced.

What should we expect in the future when it comes to extreme weather? And what might we need to do to adapt?

First of all, it’s not like drought is a new phenomenon. There are parts of the world that are dealing with these conditions every day of the year. What we’re seeing, however, is that the overall set of expected conditions is moving into uncharted territory.

I want to emphasize it’s not just the record levels that we care about. We also care about the frequency by which these extremes occur, how long they last, the seasonal timing of when things like the last frost occurs, and also the spatial extent of extreme events — so where are conditions going to happen in the future that are outside of the observed experience of the last several generations.

It is a set of challenges that we have to face in terms of how do we adapt or manage the risk of these changes. Also, how do we prepare knowing that they may come in combination or in overlapping ways, with more than one extreme event happening at the same time, or in the same season in a sequence, or potentially hitting different parts of the same market or commodities trade exchange or something like that.

We are facing a situation where we have more information about these regional risks, but also know that every increment of climate change that occurs makes these changes more prominent. That sounds scary, but it also gives us agency.

It gives us the ability to reduce these changes if we reduce emissions, and if we can eventually limit them to something like net zero — no total carbon emissions into the climate system. And in that sense, I still remain optimistic despite all this information that you’re seeing in the report about the changes that could come. The bottom line is we have the potential to reduce those changes, if we can get emissions under control.

Source: A NASA scientist explains why the weather is becoming more extreme – The Verge

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We Can’t Fight Climate Change Without Valuing Nature

new study in Nature Sustainability incorporates the damages that climate change does to healthy ecosystems into standard climate-economics models. The key finding in the study by Bernardo Bastien-Olvera and Frances Moore from the University of California at Davis: The models have been underestimating the cost of climate damages to society by a factor of more than five.

Their study concludes that the most cost-effective emissions pathway results in just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) additional global warming by 2100, consistent with the “aspirational” objective of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

Models that combine climate science and economics, called “integrated assessment models” (IAMs), are critical tools in developing and implementing climate policies and regulations. In 2010, an Obama administration governmental interagency working group used IAMs to establish the social cost of carbon – the first federal estimates of climate damage costs caused by carbon pollution. That number guides federal agencies required to consider the costs and benefits of proposed regulations.

Economic models of climate have long been criticized by those convinced they underestimate the costs of climate damages, in some cases to a degree that climate scientists consider absurd.

Given the importance of the social cost of carbon to federal rulemaking, some critics have complained that the Trump EPA used what they see as creative accounting to slash the government’s estimate of the number. In one of his inauguration day Executive Orders, President Biden established a new Interagency Working Group to re-evaluate the social cost of all greenhouse gases.

IAMs often have long been criticized by those convinced they underestimate the costs of climate damages, in some cases to a degree that climate scientists consider absurd.

Perhaps the most prominent IAM is the Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy (DICE) model, for which its creator, William Nordhaus, was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Judging by DICE, the economically optimal carbon emissions pathway – that is, the pathway considered most cost-effective – would lead to a warming increase of more than 3°C (5.4°F) from pre-industrial temperatures by 2100 (under a 3% discount rate). IPCC has reported that reaching this level of further warming could likely result in severe consequences, including substantial species extinctions and very high risks of food supply instabilities.

In their Nature Sustainability study, the UC Davis researchers find that when natural capital is incorporated into the models, the emissions pathway that yields the best outcome for the global economy is more consistent with the dangerous risks posed by continued global warming described in the published climate science literature.

Accounting for climate change degrading of natural capital

Natural capital includes elements of nature that produce value to people either directly or indirectly. “DICE models economic production as a function of generic capital and labor,” Moore explained via email. “If instead you think natural capital plays some distinct role in economic production, and that climate change will disproportionately affect natural capital, then the economic implications are much larger than if you just roll everything together and allow damage to affect output.”

Bastien-Olvera offered an analogy to explain the incorporation of natural capital into the models: “The standard approach looks at how climate change is damaging ‘the fruit of the tree’ (market goods); we are looking at how climate change is damaging the ‘tree’ itself (natural capital).”

In an adaptation of DICE they call “GreenDICE,” the authors incorporated climate impacts on natural capital via three pathways:

The first pathway accounts for the direct influence of natural capital on market goods. Some industries like timber, agriculture, and fisheries are heavily dependent on natural capital, but all goods produced in the economy rely on these natural resources to some degree.

According to GreenDICE, this pathway alone more than doubles the model’s central estimate of the social cost of carbon in 2020 from $28 per ton in the standard DICE model to $72 per ton, and the new economically optimal pathway would have society limit global warming to 2.2°C (4°F) above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100.

The second pathway incorporates ecosystem services that don’t directly feed into market goods. Examples are the flood protection provided by a healthy mangrove forest, or the recreational benefits provided by natural places.

In the study, this second pathway nearly doubles the social cost of carbon once again, to $133 per ton in 2020, and it lowers the most cost-effective pathway to 1.8°C (3.2°F) by 2100.

Finally, the third pathway includes non-use values, which incorporate the value people place on species or natural places, regardless of any good they produce. The most difficult to quantify, this pathway could be measured, for instance, by asking people how much they would be willing to pay to save one of these species from extinction.

In GreenDICE, non-use values increase the social cost of carbon to $160 per ton of carbon dioxide in 2020 (rising to about $300 in 2050 and $670 per ton in 2100) and limit global warming to about 1.5°C (2.8°F) by 2100 in the new economically optimal emissions pathway.

(Note for economics wonks – the model runs used a 1.5% pure rate of time preference.)

Climate economics findings increasingly reinforce Paris targets

It may come as no surprise that destabilizing Earth’s climate would be a costly proposition, but key IAMs have suggested otherwise. Based on the new Nature Sustainability study, the models have been missing the substantial value of natural capital associated with healthy ecosystems that are being degraded by climate change.

Columbia University economist Noah Kaufman, not involved in the study, noted via email that as long as federal agencies use the social cost of carbon in IAMs for rulemaking cost-benefit analyses, efforts like GreenDICE are important to improving those estimates. According to Kaufman, many papers (including one he authored a decade ago) have tried to improve IAMs by following a similar recipe: “start with DICE => find an important problem => improve the methodology => produce a (usually much higher) social cost of carbon.”

For example, several other papers published in recent years, including one authored by Moore, have suggested that, because they neglect ways that climate change will slow economic growth, IAMs may also be significantly underestimating climate damage costs. Poorer countries – often located in already-hot climates near the equator, with economies relying most heavily on natural capital, and lacking resources to adapt to climate change – are the most vulnerable to its damages, despite their being the least responsible for the carbon pollution causing the climate crisis.

Another recent study in Nature Climate Change updated the climate science and economics assumptions in DICE and similarly concluded that the most cost-effective emissions pathway would limit global warming to less than 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100, without even including the value of natural capital. Asked about that paper, Bastien-Olvera noted, “In my view, the fact that these two studies get to similar policy conclusions using two very different approaches definitely indicates the urgency of cutting emissions.”

Recent economics and climate science research findings consistently support more aggressive carbon emissions efforts consistent with the Paris climate targets.

Wesleyan University economist Gary Yohe, also not involved in the study, agreed that the new Nature Sustainability study “supports growing calls for aggressive near-term mitigation.” Yohe said the paper “provides added support to the notion that climate risks to natural capital are important considerations, especially in calibrating the climate risk impacts of all sorts of regulations like CAFE standards.”

But Yohe said he believes that considering the risks to unique and threatened systems at higher temperatures makes a more persuasive case for climate policy than just attempting to assess their economic impacts. In a recent Nature Climate Change paper, Kaufman and colleagues similarly suggested that policymakers should select a net-zero emissions target informed by the best available science and economics, and then use models to set a carbon price that would achieve those goals. Their study estimated that to reach net-zero carbon pollution by 2050, the U.S. should set a carbon price of about $50 per ton in 2025, rising to $100 per ton by 2030.

However climate damages are evaluated, whether through a more complete economic accounting of adverse impacts or via risk-based assessments of physical threats to ecological and human systems, recent economics and climate science research findings consistently support more aggressive carbon emissions efforts consistent with the Paris climate targets.

Dana Nuccitelli

By

Source: We Can’t Fight Climate Change Without Valuing Nature – The Good Men Project

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Nature Boys from the ‘Hood

Above timberline, with sustained winds around fifty miles per hour and gusts approaching ninety, while the temperature hovers somewhere just under thirty below, Pierre and Jon hunker down behind a rock for shelter, Pierre’s side screaming in pain. He calls out to Jon, his brother, “Dude, for some reason the side of my body is […]

via Nature Boys from the ‘Hood — The Buddha Blog

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