Imagine you own a painting. This painting is the original one, created directly from the artist, with their own sweat and tears still drying on the canvas. People come by to view your painting sometimes, and they take pictures of it, they share it around the internet, they tell their friends. And even while they do this, you don’t mind because you know that you still own the real thing in your own home.
Essentially, that is the premise of owning an NFT.
A Non-Fungible Token (NFT) is your painting, and you own it. However, an NFT is devoid of any actual tangible presence. Rather, you own it on your computer, and that’s about it. Within the NFT is coding and encryption that secures that file, making it wholly unique and safe from anyone “stealing” it from you.
It’s simple, right?
Well, no, obviously, since so many people are still desperately trying to get a grasp on what the point of owning an NFT even is. And the point is that there is none.
Someone may stake claim on an NFT, and post it on their social media platforms to show it off, boast about how they own something so unique, but the reality of it is that the picture will still get stolen. Spend less than 15 minutes on Twitter, and you will find an endless supply of those monkeys and lions, copied and pasted and shared around the entire platform, ownership of the NFT completely unnecessary. There is no visible marking on the file itself to show off any ownership, nothing to differentiate the NFT from a mere screenshot of it. Basically, Ethereum (the most popular NFT distributor) hands you a digital receipt that says “This is yours now!”, and the NFT will remain floating around the digital world for anyone to grab. If someone does grab it, you can go, “Hey, that’s mine!” and the person who grabbed it will grab it anyways, and then leave.
Seems pointless, agreed?
Don’t worry, it gets worse! Not only do NFTs benefit no one at all, they are actively harming the environment. But how does a computer file, something totally online, have any outside effect on carbon emissions of all things?
This is a little less simple than before.
Remember how NFTs are inlaid with layers and layers of coding and encryption to actually mint them? This process is known as “mining,” and if it sounds familiar, it’s because this is the exact process that Bitcoin uses. The usage of powerful computer programming to solve increasingly complex “puzzles” is what cryptocurrencies and NFTs do to mint their products, making them as unique as possible. Ethereum and Bitcoin are both companies that mine their digital products in a blockchain system. Everything online needs to be stored somewhere in the physical world, and the storage capacities still, and somewhat magically, get too full. When one “block” of computer hardware fills, then another is built to continue harboring the growing supply. These two blocks are connected, creating a “chain.” Over time, these blocks will fill once more, and new ones will have to be made and connected, all to continue these companies and their mining processes. In order to store these massive amounts of data, NFTs and cryptocurrencies, large-scale mining facilities are being built in order to keep up with the growing demand.
The mining facilities take up an enormous amount of energy – so much so that cryptocurrency companies are taking the place of old, unused power plants to feed their businesses. The situation has been exacerbated exponentially by the growing popularity of cryptocurrency and NFTs, and now these facilities are threatening China’s goal of cutting back on the country’s carbon emissions. In other places, such as upstate New York, energy bills are being raised by hundreds of millions of dollars per year in the surrounding areas of the mining facilities in order to keep them up and running.
Those are large-scale transactions, though. To put it more into perspective: EnergyStar says that completing one crypto transaction consumes enough energy that could power six houses in the U.S. for a day.
Furthermore, NFTs have an unnecessary, and quite obnoxious, presence on the internet alone, environmental impacts aside. People who own and buy NFTs tend to buy them so they can brag about how they spent millions of dollars that many others don’t have, on something they claim is the “one and only,” while they could probably care less about the art itself. The monkeys and lions going around are enough of a testament to their taste in art.
Don’t buy NFTs. There is no point – you’re wasting money and an alarming amount of energy. The bragging rights aren’t and never will be worth it. Instead, if your desire to buy and support artists in the digital world is true and valuable to you, contact the artists directly. Ask if they sell or are willing to sell commissions, and only buy from them what they are willing to sell you. Oftentimes it’s cheaper, and much more customizable.