Sunday, October 17News That Matters

NFTs Are Shaking Up the Art World. Are They Also Fueling Climate Change?

Saying, “Don’t worry! We’ll pay for carbon offsets” is the equivalent of setting a house on fire then placing a single potted plant on the burned property as “compensation,” the freelance illustrator Bleached Rainbows said on Twitter.

Ethereum has said it is reducing its footprint by moving toward a different model called “proof of stake,” which doesn’t require miners to compete to add assets to the blockchain. The new model instead rewards participants based on how much cryptocurrency they already own, vastly cutting down on the computational work, and by extension, associated emissions.

But since announcing the idea several years ago, Ethereum has been vague on when the change will actually happen. Dankrad Feist, a researcher at the Ethereum Foundation, a nonprofit that is working with the network on the switch, said by email that the effort would take another six to 12 months.

“Switching to proof of stake is not trivial for a network that currently already secures hundreds of billions of dollars in value, that’s why it unfortunately can’t happen overnight or there would be a high risk of failure,” Mr. Feist said.

A version of proof of stake has been live on Ethereum since late last year, but merging it with the main platform will be tricky, he said.

“I’m quite impatient about this and trying to push the merge as much as possible without overly compromising Ethereum’s security.”

Some smaller NFT platforms, including one known as Hic Et Nunc, have already started using proof of stake, attracting artists like Mr. Lemercier.

By cutting down on the number-crunching required, Hic Et Nunc doesn’t just reduce energy consumption; it also seeks to roll back the cost of listing NFTs, which can reach many hundreds of dollars, according to Rafael Lima, the founder of Hic Et Nunc. “It’s just a more efficient algorithm,” he said.