1. 33
  1.  

  2. 11

    This is shameful:

    To Kaminska’s point, in April a once-shuttered coal power plant in Australia was announced to be reopened to provide electricity to a cryptocurrency miner. And just today, a senator from Montana warned that the closure of a coal power plant “could harm the booming bitcoin mining business in the state.”

    At a small scale, heavy residential electricity users in certain U.S. locations where marijuana remains illegal are sometimes checked out in case they are running a growing operation. I wonder if this idea of investigating grid usage by crypto miners could be applied at a large scale, or are they simply too big, coordinated, and powerful to be regulated through anything but national-scale action?

    1. 8

      Mining Bitcoin or other crypto is entirely legal. So it’s just a question of the miners signing a commercial power deal with whomever sells electricity. So there’s no need for miners to use subterfuge like illegal growers.

      1. 10

        If anything, people who are illegally growing marijuana might want to disguise their suspicious power useage by pretending to be mining cryptocurrencies!

        1. 5

          There could be zoning restrictions, though I would guess you’d build the mine in a commercial area anyway.

        2. 8

          This is shameful:

          What is the problem?

          We already expend huge amount of electricity on distributing cat videos and movies of men in cape flying around blowing stuff up. How is mining bitcoin any less ‘productive’ than beaming photons into people’s eyeballs?

          We already have huge established industry involving people betting on whether or not something will happen. Sports betting, futures market, roulette etc. If you want to save on some carbon emission, then turn off your computer and surrender your car to the nearest recycling plant. But you won’t because you think those things are ‘worthwhile’ because you like them.

          Maybe bitcoin will be useless technically, maybe it won’t. This is just a decentralised R&D program and a gambling pool rolled into one.

          The problem isn’t bitcoin. The problem is clean energy scarcity.

          1. 5

            “This is just a decentralised R&D program and a gambling pool rolled into one.”

            Best, concise description of it I’ve ever seen. ;)

          2. 2

            There’s a pretty good study on the electricity/carbon burden of marijuana manufacturing in California.

            https://sites.google.com/site/millsenergyassociates/topics/energy-efficiency/energy-up-in-smoke

            1. 2

              It seems to me that electricity is hilariously underpriced, if the best usage anyone can think of for it is a sad desperate attempt to circumvent Chinese capital controls.

              1. 7

                Or… bitcoin is hilariously overpriced if it’s worth the electricity to make it?

            2. 6

              Electricity usage is a huge concern even within the cryptocurrency community. There is a lot of work going towards more energy efficient solutions. However, proof-of-work is still the defacto method. At Merit we still use PoW but I chose a memory-bound algorithm called Cuckoo Cycle which is more energy efficient since it’s memory bandwidth bound. I hope to move away from proof-of-work completely in the future, but it’s not easy to get the same properties. Since in some ways, Merit is half PoW and PoS (Proof-of-Stake) via our Proof-of-Growth (PoG) algorithm, we are already halfway there.

              Proof-of-Work is fascinating because it’s philosophically the opposite of Fiat money. Fiat money is one of the few things in the world where you can expend less effort and produce more of it. Cryptoccurrencies with PoW are the opposite, where you produce fewer of it in the proportion of effort expended.

              1. 2

                How much more memory efficient is Merit (on the scale of the top 100 countries electricity consumption)?

                The article points out that ASIC miners have found ways of solving algorithms that have previously been thought to be resistant to a bespoke hardware solution.

                Consuming the same amount of electricity as a large’ish country is certainly fascinating.

                1. 4

                  Warning! this will be a bummer reply, nothing I will say here will be uplifting…..

                  Notice of course, the difference between the #1 country, and the #2 country is large. It likely follows zipf’s law. The issue with ASICs is that they are not accessible to acquire and therefore insiders get access to them first and have a huge advantage. It’s anathema to the goal of having anyone download the software and mine.

                  In the scheme of things, the amount of electricity used to mine cryptocurrencies pales in comparison to the amount of electricity wasted on countless other things. We should just acknowledge that there is something fundamentally wrong with the global economic system that allows for gross externalities that aren’t accounted for. And that there is such a gross disparity of wealth where some countries have such excess capacity for electricity while others struggle with brownouts and blackouts every day.

                  Global warming itself is an incredibly complex problem. Using a slow scripting language for your software? How much hardware are you wasting running at scale? Buying a Tesla? Too bad your electricity is likely dirty, and the production caused 5 years worth of CO2 a normal car puts out. Switching to solar and wind? Too bad the air will be cleaner causing more sunlight to hit the earth heating it up faster because even stopping now, we have decades of warming built in, and that a cleaner atmosphere accelerates that warming.

                  Global warming is such an insanely difficult, complex, and urgent problem that we are missing the forest for the trees.

                  Cryptocurrencies are not tackling the problem of Global Warming, but so aren’t most technologies we are creating every day. I would love to hear how many people on Lobsters are tackling global warming head on? I suspect almost zero. And isn’t that just the most depressing thing? It is for me, I think about this every day when I look at my children.

                  EDIT: Holy poop I was right, totally zipf’s law https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_electricity_consumption .

                  1. 9

                    NB: this may be ranty ;)

                    In the scheme of things, the amount of electricity used to mine cryptocurrencies pales in comparison to the amount of electricity wasted on countless other things.

                    how about not doing things which have currently no value for society, except from being an item for financial speculation, and burning resources. that would be a start. i still have to see a valid application of cryptocurrencies which really works. hard cash is still a good thing which works. it’s like voting machines: they may kinda work, but crosses made with a pen on paper are still the best solution.

                    the electricity wasted on other things is due to shitty standby mechanisms and lazyness. these things can be fixed. the “currency” part of “cryptocurrency” is to waste ressources, which can’t be fixed.

                    Global warming itself is an incredibly complex problem.

                    so-so.

                    Using a slow scripting language for your software? How much hardware are you wasting running at scale?

                    see the fixing part above. fortunately most technology tends to get more efficient the longer it exists.

                    Buying a Tesla? Too bad your electricity is likely dirty, and the production caused 5 years worth of CO2 a normal car puts out.

                    yeah, well, don’t buy cars from someone who shoots cars into orbit.

                    Switching to solar and wind? Too bad the air will be cleaner causing more sunlight to hit the earth heating it up faster because even stopping now, we have decades of warming built in, and that a cleaner atmosphere accelerates that warming.

                    the dimming and warming are two seperate effects, though both are caused by burning things. cooling is caused by particles, while warming is caused by gases (CO2, CH4, …). there are some special cases like soot in the (ant)arctic ice, speeding up the melting. (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_cooling#Physical_mechanisms , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming#Initial_causes_of_temperature_changes_(external_forcings) )

                    Cryptocurrencies are not tackling the problem of Global Warming, but so aren’t most technologies we are creating every day. I would love to hear how many people on Lobsters are tackling global warming head on? I suspect almost zero. And isn’t that just the most depressing thing? It is for me, I think about this every day when I look at my children.

                    as global warming doesn’t has a single cause, there isn’t much to do head on. with everything theres a spectrum here. some ideas which will help:

                    • don’t fly (less CO2).
                    • buy local food when possible, not fruit from around the globe in midwinter. don’t eat much meat (less CO2, CH4, N2O).
                    • use electricity from renewable sources (less CO2).

                    those things would really help if done on a larger scale, and aren’t too hard.

                    1. 2

                      how about not doing things which have currently no value for society, except from being an item for financial speculation, and burning resources. that would be a start. i still have to see a valid application of cryptocurrencies which really works.

                      Buying illegal goods through the internet without the risk of getting caught by the financial transaction (Monero and probably Bitcoin with coin tumblers).

                      1. 4

                        mind that i’ve written society: a valid reason are drugs, which shouldn’t be illegal but be sold by reliable, quality controlled suppliers. i think other illegal things are illegal for a reason. additionally, i’d argue it’s risky to mail-order illegal things to your doorstep.

                        1. 2

                          cryptocurrencies solve a much harder problem than hard cash, which is they have lowered the cost of producing non-state money. Non-state money has existed for thousands of years, but this is the first time in history you can trade globally with it. While the US dollar may be accepted almost everywhere, this is not true for other forms of cash.

                          1. 4

                            but what is the real use case?

                            • if globalized trade continues to exist, so will the classic ways of payment. cryptocurrencies are only useful in this case if you want to do illegal things. there may be a use case in oppressed countries, but the people tend to have other problems there than to buy things somewhere in the world.

                            • if it ceases to exist, one doesn’t need a cryptocurrency to trade anywhere in the world, as there is no trade.

                            i’m not a huge fan of the current state of the banking system, but it is a rather deep local optimum. it bugs me that i have to pay transaction fees, but thats the case with cryptocurrencies, too. i just think that while theoretically elegant, cryptocurrencies do more harm than good.

                            anecdote: years ago, i payed for a shell account by putting money in an envelope and sending it via mail ;)

                            1. 2

                              Cryptocurrencies are a transvestment from centralized tech to decentralized. It’s not what they do, but how they do it that’s different. It’s a technology that allows the private sector to invest in decentralized tech, where in the past they had no incentive to do so. Since the governments of the world have failed so miserably to invest in decentralized technology in the last 20 years, this is the first time that I can remember where the private sector can contribute to building decentralized technology. Note cryptocurrencies are behind investments of decentralized storage, processing, and other solutions, where before the blockchain, they would have been charity cases.

                              The question you can ask is, why not just stick with centralized solutions? I think the argument is a moral one and about power to the people, vs to some unaccountable 3rd party.

                              1. 1

                                It’s a technology that allows the private sector to invest in decentralized tech, where in the past they had no incentive to do so.

                                i still don’t see exactly where the cryptocurrencies are required for investment in decentralized technology. we have many classic systems which are decentralized: internet (phone before that), electricity grid, water supply, roads, etc. why are cryptocurrencies required for “modern” decentralized systems? it just takes multiple parties who decide that it is a good solution to run a distributed service (like e-mail). how it is paid for is a different problem. one interesting aspect is that the functionality can be tightly coupled with payments in blockchainy systems. i’m not convinced if that is reason enough to use it. furthermore some things can’t be well done due to the CAP theorem. so centralization is the only solution in these cases.

                                Note cryptocurrencies are behind investments of decentralized storage, processing, and other solutions, where before the blockchain, they would have been charity cases.

                                I’d say that the internet needs more of the “i run it because i can, not because i can make money with it” spirit again.

                                1. 1

                                  i still don’t see exactly where the cryptocurrencies are required for investment in decentralized technology.

                                  You are absolutely right! It isn’t a requirement. I love this subject by the way, so let me explain why you are right.

                                  we have many classic systems which are decentralized: internet (phone before that), electricity grid, water supply, roads, etc. why are cryptocurrencies required for “modern” decentralized systems

                                  You are absolutely right here. In the past, our decentralized systems were developed and paid for by the public sector. The private sector, until now, failed to create decentralized systems. The reason we need cryptocurrencies for modern decentralized systems is that we don’t have the political capital to create and fund them in the public sector anymore.

                                  If we had a functioning global democracy, we could probably create may systems that “i run it because i can, not because i can make money with it”.

                                  That spirit died during the great privatization of computing in the mid 80s, and the privatization of the internet in the mid 90s.

                      2. 2

                        I love rants :-) Let’s go!

                        “currency” part of “cryptocurrency” is to waste ressources, which can’t be fixed.

                        Some people value non-state globally tradeable currencies. Google alone claims to have generated $238 billion in economic activity from their ads and search. https://economicimpact.google.com/ . The question is, how much CO2 did that economic activity create? Likely far greater than all cryptocurrencies combined. But that’s just my guess. It’s not an excuse, I’m just pointing out we are missing the forest for the trees. People follow the money, just as google engineers work for google because the money is there from ads, many people are working on cryptocurrencies because the money is there.

                        see the fixing part above. fortunately most technology tends to get more efficient the longer it exists.

                        While true, since our profession loves pop-culture, most technologies are replaced with more fashionable and inefficient ones the longer they exist. Remember when C people were claiming C++ was slow? I do.

                        the dimming and warming are two separate effects, though both are caused by burning things.

                        They are separate effects that have a complex relationship with our models of the earth warming. Unfortunately, even most well-meaning climate advocates don’t acknowledge dimming and that it’s not as simple as changing to renewable resources since renewables do not cause dimming, and god knows we need the dimming.

                        those things would really help if done on a larger scale and aren’t too hard.

                        Here is my honest opinion, we should have done this 30 years ago when it wasn’t too late. I was a child 30 years ago. The previous generation gave me this predicament on a silver plate. I do my part, I don’t eat meat because of global warming, I rarely use cars, use public transport as much as possible. Work from home as much as possible. etc, etc,

                        But I do these things knowing it’s too late. Even if we stopped dumping CO2 in the atmosphere today, we have decades of warming built in that will likely irreparably change our habitat. Even the IPCC assumes we will geoengineer our way with some magical unicorn technology that hasn’t been created yet.

                        I do my part not because I think they will help, but because I want to be able to look at my children and at least say I tried.

                        I think one of my next software projects will be helping migrants safely travel, because of one of the biggest tragedies and sources of human suffering as a result of climate change has been the refugee crisis, which is going to increase more.

                        1. 2

                          Some people value non-state globally tradeable currencies. Google alone claims to have generated $238 billion in economic activity from their ads and search. https://economicimpact.google.com/ . The question is, how much CO2 did that economic activity create? Likely far greater than all cryptocurrencies combined. But that’s just my guess. It’s not an excuse, I’m just pointing out we are missing the forest for the trees. People follow the money, just as google engineers work for google because the money is there from ads, many people are working on cryptocurrencies because the money is there.

                          i won’t refute that ads are a waste of resources, i just don’t see why more resources need to be wasted on things which have no use except for speculation. i hope we can do better.

                          While true, since our profession loves pop-culture, most technologies are replaced with more fashionable and inefficient ones the longer they exist. Remember when C people were claiming C++ was slow? I do.

                          Javascript has gotten more efficient in the order of magnitudes. Hardware is still getting more efficient. There is always room for improvement. As you’ve written, people go where the money is (or can be saved).

                          They are separate effects that have a complex relationship with our models of the earth warming. Unfortunately, even most well-meaning climate advocates don’t acknowledge dimming and that it’s not as simple as changing to renewable resources since renewables do not cause dimming, and god knows we need the dimming.

                          But I do these things knowing it’s too late. Even if we stopped dumping CO2 in the atmosphere today, we have decades of warming built in that will likely irreparably change our habitat.

                          Dimming has an effect. As reason not to switch to renewable energy it isn’t a good argument. Stopping to pump more greenhouse gasses would be a good start, they tend to be consumed by plants.

                          […] we will geoengineer our way with some magical unicorn technology that hasn’t been created yet.

                          lets not do this, humans have a tendency to make things worse that way ;)

                          1. 1

                            i hope we can do better.

                            I don’t think our economic system is setup for that.

                            Javascript has gotten more efficient in the order of magnitudes. Hardware is still getting more efficient. There is always room for improvement. As you’ve written, people go where the money is (or can be saved).

                            I think because moore’s law is now dead, things are starting to swing back towards efficiency. I hope this trend continues.

                            Dimming has an effect. As reason not to switch to renewable energy it isn’t a good argument. Stopping to pump more greenhouse gasses would be a good start, they tend to be consumed by plants.

                            I didn’t provide dimming as a reason not to switch to renewables, I provided it because JUST switching to renewables will doom us. As I’ve said, there are decades of warming backed in, there is a lag with the CO2 we already put in. Yes, we need to stop putting more in, but it’s not enough to just stop. And in fact, stopping and not doing anything else will doom us faster.

                            lets not do this, humans have a tendency to make things worse that way ;)

                            I totally agree. I don’t want countries to start launching nuclear weapons, for example. The only realistic thing that could possibly work is to do massive planting of trees, like I mean billions of trees need to be planted. And time is running out, because photosynthesis stops working at a certain temperature, so many places are already impossible to fix (iraq for example, which used to be covered in thick forests thousands of years ago).

                            1. 1

                              I don’t think our economic system is setup for that.

                              aren’t we the system? changes can begin small, just many attempts fail early i suppose.

                              And in fact, stopping and not doing anything else will doom us faster.

                              do you have any sources for that?

                              The only realistic thing that could possibly work is to do massive planting of trees, like I mean billions of trees need to be planted. And time is running out, because photosynthesis stops working at a certain temperature, so many places are already impossible to fix (iraq for example, which used to be covered in thick forests thousands of years ago).

                              well, if the trends continues, greenland will have some ice-free space for trees ;) just stopping deforestation would be a good start though.

                              1. 1

                                aren’t we the system?

                                We did not create the system, we were born into it. To most, they see it as reality vs a system that’s designed.

                                do you have any sources for that?

                                https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170731114534.htm

                                well, if the trends continues, greenland will have some ice-free space for trees ;) just stopping deforestation would be a good start though.

                                Sorry if I’m wrong, but do I sense a bit of skepticism about the dangers we face ahead?

                      3. 5

                        That was such a non-answer full of red herrings. He wanted to know what your cryptocurrency’s electrical consumption is. It’s positioned as an alternative to centralized methods like Bitcoin is. The centralized methods running on strongly-consistent DB’s currently do an insane volume of transactions on cheap machines that can be clustered globally if necessary. My approach is centralized setup with multiple parties involved checking each other. Kind of similar to how multinational finance already works but with more specific, open protocols to improve on it. That just adds a few more computers for each party… individual, company, or country… that is involved in the process. I saw a diesel generator at Costco for $999 that could cover the energy requirements of a multi-national setup of my system that outperforms all crypto-currency setups.

                        So, what’s the energy usage of your system, can I participate without exploding my electric bill at home (or generator), and, if not, what’s the justification of using that cryptosystem instead of improving on the centralized-with-checking methods multinationals are using right now that work despite malicious parties?

                        1. 3

                          How much more memory efficient is Merit (on the scale of the top 100 countries electricity consumption)?

                          Sorry, That’s his question. I can answer that easily, it’s not on that scale. My interpretation of that question was that he was making a joke, which is why I didn’t answer it. If derek-jones was serious about that question, I apologize.

                          As I mentioned, the algorithm is memory bandwidth bound, I’m seeing half the energy cost on my rig, but I need to do more stringent measurements.

                          1. 1

                            More of a pointed remark than a joke. But your reply was full of red herrings to quote nickpsecurity.

                            If I am sufficiently well financed that I can consume 10M watt of power, then I will always consume 10M watt. If somebody produces more efficient hashing hardware/software, I will use it to generate more profit, not reduce electricity consumption. Any system that contains a PoW component creates a pushes people to consume as much electricity as they can afford.

                            1. 1

                              If somebody produces more efficient hashing hardware/software, I will use it to generate more profit, not reduce electricity consumption.

                              This is true for any resource and any technology in our global economic system.

                              I wasn’t trying to reply with red herrings, but to expand the conversation. It’s really interesting that people attack cryptocurrencies for wasting electricity when there is a bigger elephant in the room nobody seems to want to talk about. Everyone knows who butters their bread. Keep in mind I’m not defending wasting electricity, but focusing on electricity is like, to use a computer analogy, focussing only on memory and creating garbage collection to deal with it, while ignoring other resources like sockets, pipes, etc. That’s why I like C++, because it solves the problem for ALL resources, not just one. We need a C++ for the real world ;-)

                      4. 2

                        I answered your question more directly, see response to nickpsecurity.

                    2. 3

                      I find it very sad that we use so much of our planet for direct speculative tasks (what bitcoin and al are mostly ATM)…