NFTs are 92 times worse for the climate than regular art

The Eco Experts

An NFT artwork is responsible for 92 times more carbon emissions than a physical piece of art.

The average NFT creates 211kg of CO2, compared to the 2.3kg emitted by an artwork that exists offline, according to Quartz analysis.

At the time of writing, 147,719 NFTs have been sold over the past 30 days, according to market tracker

That means a monthly emissions total of 31,169 tonnes of CO2, placing NFTs above nations like Burundi – which has a population of 11.5 million.

Everydays: The First 5000 Days

Beeple’s $69 million artwork can be displayed here with no problem

What is an NFT?

NFT stands for ‘non-fungible token’.

It’s a digital certificate that means you own a unique item. Unlike regular money, bitcoins, or most Pokémon cards, it can’t be traded for an identical item.

It’s like the certificate you’d have if you owned the Mona Lisa, Newcastle United, or Leeds Castle – but it’s digital, and so is the artwork.

NFTs are formed on the Ethereum blockchain, and paid for in Ethereum, which is a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin.

Artists retain the copyright over their works, so they can continue to reproduce pieces of art that they’ve sold, and other people can copy the artwork or simply download it from the internet, for free.

So in many ways, an NFT is a status symbol. It simply proves that you’re the official owner of the original, affording you all the bragging rights this fact brings you.

And for collectors, each NFT is an investment – just like physical art.

Why do I keep hearing about NFTs?

Because NFTs are in fashion, in a big, expensive way.

In March 2021, digital artist Mike Winkelmann – known as Beeple – sold his opus of 5,000 artworks, titled “Everydays: the First 5,000 Days”, for $69.3 million (£50.5 million) at Christie’s auction house.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has sold his first tweet for $2.9 million (£2.1 million), a piece of art by Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland sold for $1 million (£730,000), and a unique edition of the beloved GIF Nyan Cat (seen in the header) was bought for $590,000 (£428,000).

But it’s not just about the priciest purchases. The past 30 days’ sales add up to $207.8 million (£151.5 million).

And considering each bid produces 23kg of CO2, every sale emits 51kg, and each transfer is responsible for 30kg, the NFT market is clearly having a major impact on the environment too.

This is big business, with all the opportunities and pitfalls that come with a new, expensive trend – including fears that NFTs are being used for money laundering, and a backlash against the effect it’s having on the climate.

Written by:
josh jackman
Josh has written about eco-friendly home improvements and climate change for the past four years. His work has been displayed on the front page of the Financial Times, he's been interviewed by BBC One's Rip-Off Britain, and he regularly features in The Telegraph and on BBC Radio.
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