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Are NFTs the Literal Worst for the Environment?


I hate the crab mentality. It’s when other people or groups pull you down just when you are doing something good. In my case, I’m invested in helping artists and digital fashion designers make a living through non-fungible tokens or NFTs for short. Before I get into details, let me explain what NFTs are. They're Digital assets, in the form of music, art, or gaming skins, to name a few. But unlike Ethereum or Bitcoin, you cannot trade NFTs for each other. Instead, you can only buy them at specific marketplaces.

NFTs allowed artists to make a living out of their creations which can be challenging if they go the traditional art or fashion route. If they’re lucky enough, designers get to sell their creations after a fashion show or an auction. However, there are also auctions in NFT marketplaces. Interestingly, the demand and use cases for NFTs are growing, and it’s easy to sell these tokens. In fact, I have a friend who lives off selling wardrobes for in-game characters.

However, while the NFT market provides an avenue to help creators gain control over monetization, some find satisfaction in pulling these designers down. Their main argument is that the machines needed to store these tokens increase the carbon footprint, which largely contributes to global warming. They claim that one NFT uses as much energy as an EU resident would consume in a month!

Unfortunately, the rise of NFT offerings makes it easy prey, especially to environmentalists. But I find it hard to conclude that it is the biggest polluter of planet Earth. Although NFTs may rely on the proof of work consensus protocol, which is known to generate a significant carbon footprint, is it comparable to oil refineries?

Interestingly, not all NFTs rely on PoW. NBA Top shot, one of the most notable NFT platforms, uses the Proof of Stake consensus protocol on the Flow platform and does not need a lot of energy. Therefore, I find it foolish that critics generalize NFTs into one basket when it has multiple branches. For those who don’t understand the platform, let them know that not all NFTs are harmful. Yes, PoS may have security issues, but concerned parties are already working on a solution. Once PoS becomes the dominant mechanism, then NFTs’ detrimental impact on the environment fades away.

Real talk about NFTs

NFT transactions do not have any environmental impact at all. Simply put, I feel sorry for you if you can’t accept the fact that NFTs are not the primary culprits in destroying the environment. Go ahead and make protests out of it. Make shirts or create articles to destroy this blossoming industry even further. It’s not like NFTs are free from carbon footprints; however, would you put the blame on one token, or would you put it on an entire oil field? The choice is yours.

Besides, artists can be some of the most environmentally aware people you’ll ever meet. So much that some digital artists even organized a fundraiser for Yale University’s Open Earth Foundation by selling NFT masterpieces. With a significant amount of proceeds going to Yale University's project, they can continue providing accurate accounting for the atmosphere’s carbon footprint.

Interestingly, each artwork in the online exhibit had a unique and special token representing carbon credits from a deforestation registry in Peru. This is not to say that the NFT community is guilt-free. However, this is just to prove that the NFT community is taking necessary measures to correct the negative impact they have on the environment. See, I just shared with you proof that those involved in NFTs care for the environment. For now, they are offsetting whatever carbon footprint they expel to the atmosphere. Can we say the same thing for the heavy industry?

If you’re still not convinced that I’m right, perhaps you will bring up the figures shared on Cryptoart.wtf. Allegedly, that website calculates the energy needed for various NFTs. But let me remind you that the founder of that website called his data misleading and inaccurate. Third-party experts did not validate his reviews which makes them all but systematic fake news.

NFTs are not the mastermind.

Tess Riley of The Guardian concluded that only 100 companies are responsible for over 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. That claim comes from the Carbon Majors Report, which focused on producers of fossil fuels. Normally, data regarding greenhouse gas emissions are collected per country. But these unprecedented findings by CDP, in collaboration with the Climate Accountability Institute, are a major eye-opener.

This report aims to highlight the responsibility that big companies and their investors have in addressing climate change. Those who worked on the report used publicly available emissions figures to complete their findings. Speaking of which, suppose the extraction rate of fossil fuels continues from 2017 to 2045, the average global temperature will increase by four degrees Celsius by 2100. That doomsday scenario will make several species extinct, which makes food scarce.

Interestingly, there’s no mention of NFTs in that report. In fact, oil companies like Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, and Chevron emit the highest volume of greenhouse gases. The question now is if they can sacrifice profitability for environmental conservation. I’m not betting on them changing their ways because they’re making a ton of money. However, If you’re an investor in these companies, you’re not safe from the blame because 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions get public investment funding.

It’s a good thing that the biggest culprits are investing in renewable energy. At least they are trying to reverse their wrongdoings. Shell established a renewables arm for $1.7 billion, while Chevron invested in two large-scale projects that will store carbon.

But perhaps they are changing course not because they care for the environment but because the death sentence for their business model has been written. Chatham House’s Paul Stevens published a research paper stating that oil companies may be phased out in ten years if they don’t change their business model. They’re forced to change course because they might not earn money anymore.

Aside from oil companies, I believe that fast fashion is destroying the environment as well. The pressure to produce new designs translates to a multitude of garment factories that produce round the clock. Let me ask you, where do garments come from? How do they dispose of excess cloth? How are wastewaters from textile factories left untreated? 

Speaking of water, boy oh boy, do they consume much! Morgan McFall-Johnsen of the World Economic Forum pointed out that around 700 gallons of water are needed to make one cotton shirt. Meanwhile, a pair of jeans will need 2,000 gallons. In fact, cotton farming in Uzbekistan dried up the Aral Sea after 50 years! Moreover, I need not remind you that clothes are non-biodegradable, meaning they stay as-is for long.

I’ve shared enough facts here to rest the case for NFTs. If you’re going to attack this peaceful and fun-loving community, at least know who are significant contributors to the earth’s destruction. As a final note, if you’re into fashion, why not turn to digital instead?  The possibilities are endless when it comes to NFTs. So, what are you waiting for?

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