MLS plans to enter the world of non-fungible tokens this weekend, with two live art battles taking place on Friday afternoon – one between artists representing the Timbers and Galaxy, and the other between artists representing the Sounders and Atlanta United. The resulting digital artworks will then be auctioned off as NFTs.
Whatever you think of NFTs in general, the decision to participate in this event goes against everything the Sounders are trying to promote as a “carbon neutral” organization, and it’s particularly infuriating that it has was announced on the same day as the league’s annual meeting. unveiling of “Parley” kits to promote environmental awareness.
For those unfamiliar, NFTs are essentially a certificate of authenticity stored on a blockchain, which verifies that someone is the owner of a specific asset. The real asset can be anything in the real or digital domain identified by the blockchain entry, but most often NFTs represent digital images, videos, or audio clips. In the abstract, the idea of a fully public and verifiable chain of custody is fine, but the proof-of-work blockchain technology that currently underpins NFTs faces myriad problems, both ecological, technical and legal.
We won’t delve into legal or technical issues here (except to note that your ownership of the “original” digital art does not prevent anyone else from making a copy and sharing it), focusing instead on ecological red flags. In short, the cryptocurrencies used to support these blockchains are a major source of pollution. The computer systems that mine currencies and validate transactions are highly specialized, have driven up demand for rare earth metals and skyrocketed the price of high-end graphics cards. Systems are also rapidly becoming obsolete and compounding the growing problem of e-waste and pollution.
The energy requirements of these systems are also immense. In February, it was calculated that the bitcoin network alone consumed more energy than the entire country of Argentina. In some areas, fossil fuel power plants that would otherwise be idle or decommissioned are being brought back online to meet demand, and even in areas with relatively green power, the additional electricity consumption is not without worry. Increased demand for hydropower, for example, can tap into reservoirs and influence local ecology, making areas more susceptible to future weather disturbances.
NFTs require a transaction on the blockchain (and therefore the cryptocurrency expenditure and resulting pollution) at each stage of their life cycle. There is an expense when they are hit. There is an expense when they are offered for sale or auction. There is an expense when they are sold. People who want to bid on the token must acquire cryptocurrency, which must be mined by someone. Each of these steps adds greenhouse gas emissions for little tangible benefit that could not otherwise be achieved with something like a notarized Certificate of Authenticity.
Although the Sounders claim that a portion of the proceeds will be used to offset carbon emissions, which will make the collaboration “completely carbon neutral”, carbon offsets are known to be over-promising and under-delivered. It is noble for the Sounders to make an effort to fully offset things related to their necessary day-to-day operations, such as travel to away games and stadium energy consumption, but the end goal should be to reduce overall energy consumption, not just throw away money. to an easily avoidable problem of their own making and wash their hands of it.