Surging bitcoin prices have left many people feeling rich – and many more regretful that they didn’t buy into it when it was much cheaper. But it might be having a much more damaging effect on the world, too.

The sheer amount of computing power and energy required to run the bitcoin economy means that the surging prices could literally be damaging our planet, experts have warned. And as the price of the cryptocurrency surges, that problem is likely to get worse.

Already, the power used to mine bitcoin around the world takes up more energy than 159 individual countries. And each bitcoin transaction uses the same amount of energy required to power a US household for nine days, according to Digiconomist.

Bitcoin has been praised for the way that it is has created a currency specifically designed for computers and the internet. The currency is mined using computers that can generate more money by doing complicated calculations, and payments are verified by using specific technology called the blockchain that spreads the ledger of money all across the world.

But that same computing power requires electricity to power it. And as the value of bitcoin surges, more and more people are looking to do that – directly contributing to huge amounts of demand for fossil fuels.

As bitcoin grows, the calculations required of bitcoin mining machines get more complicated, so that they take longer to solve. That is intended as a protection on the amount of bitcoin in the world – but also means that the power demanded by computers is growing all the time.

Much of that mining is done in China, according to a University of Cambridge study, and it relies directly on energy from fossil fuels to power it. The site Digiconomist, which conducted a major survey of the energy use of bitcoin, found that one mine in China was using as much energy as a Boeing 747 to try and generate more of the increasingly valuable cryptocurrency. 

If the surge in the price and the interest in bitcoin continues, then it will soon start having direct impacts in the real world.

“In just a few months from now, at bitcoin’s current growth rate, the electricity demanded by the cryptocurrency network will start to outstrip what’s available, requiring new energy-generating plants,” wrote climate expert Eric Holthaus. “And with the climate conscious racing to replace fossil fuel-base plants with renewable energy sources, new stress on the grid means more facilities using dirty technologies.

“By July 2019, the bitcoin network will require more electricity than the entire United States currently uses. By February 2020, it will use as much electricity as the entire world does today.”

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